Lululemon is not a commercial

“Sometimes, I go into a Lululemon store just to feel better about myself. I get to browse, take mental notes for future purchases, and pick up on ideas that improve my personal goals of becoming more fit and living longer.”

A few months after our family was hit with cancer (my husband), I wandered into the new Lululemon store at a nearby mall on a random December. I’d needed new running clothes to shore me up for the cold winter. I hadn’t planned on buying my running clothes at this fancy designer place I (thought I) knew more for its yoga pants than anything practical. For that, I intended on making do at Walmart.

I never did make it to Walmart.

I expected the usual dismissive runaround I always got at every department store I ever walked into. You see, people don’t pay much attention to someone like me. They are super-friendly to the customers in front of or behind me at the registers, they bypass me to serve the white, middle-class soccer mom types… Annoying baffling bullshit I’ve had to put up with all of my life.

Imagine my surprise when the staff at Lululemon treated me like every other woman who walked through those doors, with courtesy, respect, and unbelievable consideration.

It didn’t matter that I carried a few extra pounds, lacked those coveted, curvaceous Venus de Milo hips, or looked like hell in old sweat pants and beat-up borrowed Nikes, no make-up, my greasy, gray hair in a disarray.

Overwhelmed by the selection, I was about to leave when — on a whim — I drummed up the courage to ask for help. A young pixie-ish lady hovering around the dressing rooms immediately dropped what she was doing, led me over to the winter running pants and tops, and helped me find my size, explained the compression feature (wow, these are tight!), and even picked out a color (bright purple) that matched my skin tone. All without my asking.

She walked me through the scary process of trying on clothes, and never left me until I was satisfied with the first pair of pants and top she picked out in a size 10 (I haven’t worn that size since the ’90s).

She made me feel normal, valued and a welcome addition to Lululemon, another satisfied convert. She had no idea the hell I’d been through, and how much her authentic kindness lifted my spirits during the busiest time of the season.

When I visited family in Hawaii a few months later, I tried out another Lululemon store in Waikiki, assuming my first time was a fluke.

It was not. I received the same tender, loving care from those ladies.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Portland, tagging along on my husband’s gig. While he set up the sound for a Rotary Club Conference at the downtown Hilton, I went out exploring with a friend. We checked out the Lululemon store there, my friend for the first time.

I happened to be wearing the same outfit I first bought back in Dec. of last year. It also happened to be the first time I walked for exercise since blowing my knee five weeks prior.

I helped my friend decide on her walking outfits, as she teetered on bailing. She, too, worried about the tight pants until I explained about the compression factor and how they would adapt quickly to her body and wouldn’t feel uncomfortably tight but like second skin.

I also scored a fast track bag, which I carry with me everywhere now instead of that expensive, bulky Coach bag my mom bought me when times were better. My friend grabbed one for herself too.

The ladies at the Portland Lululemon were as wonderful as my first time. When I tweeted about my experience, the Lululemon people on Twitter immediately responded, later on with a photo of a soft-as-butter pair of Align Pant II I plan on picking up for the spring/summer.

That’s the key about this place. Everyone there responds, personalizing their interactions and taking good care of you, as if you were a new friend or literally a part of their family.

I never felt embarrassed, left out, or awkward around any of the Lululemon staff. They know their stuff. They wear Lululemon, they live its natural message of empowerment for all women, not just a chosen few who stand out.

Lululemon’s gear is also tremendously practical. Every feature is so well-thought out, from the thumb holes, weather-resistant material, and hidden zippers, to the placement of pockets and the design of the crotch (to avoid camel toe). The products are expensive, but made to last.

Sometimes, I go into a Lululemon store just to feel better about myself. I get to browse, take mental notes for future purchases, and pick up on ideas that improve my personal goals of becoming more fit and living longer.

Every now and then, I even feel… beautiful, because of these beautiful women at Lululemon.

They’re definitely more than yoga pants. They represent the kind of world I wish we could all live in.

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Why I Love Bev

“Sweet sun, send me the moon…” —Sara Bareilles

This is my friend, Bev. She met me at a hotel in downtown Portland this weekend.

From the outside, it looked like a regular hang with an old friend. We walked up and down the sneaky corridors of the city, ending at the waterfront with salad and more conversation. Along the way, we passed aggressive panhandlers, the occasional tourist, and a horse (a young kid wearing a horse head like it was nothing — keep Portland weird).

We interacted with shop keepers, too. They mostly responded to my beautiful, kind friend, while I kept to myself and hung back in the shadows as is my habit.

I do this, because I learned long ago that people see through me. I don’t know whether it’s me or them or a combination of both. I grew up with strong personalities, popular life of the party types… My parents, my brother. I gravitate toward those types like a moth to the flame. They’re all I know. Kind of a vicious cycle.

I was also born looking like this:

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This is a picture from several years ago, when I was over 200 pounds.

I came from this:

20131128_112603As you can see, my mom is beautiful. As a baby here, I also started off with the potential to be her spitting image. Only, people scared me. I clung to her whenever she visited with her many friends. I cried whenever she left, which was often, to tend bar or party. I used to watch her put on make-up, fancy dresses and shoes, do up her nails. She never left the house without make-up on and her hair done, not even to go to the grocery store.

Somehow, even as a young child, I knew I could never measure up. I knew people would laugh at me for even trying (true story). So I stopped, somewhere between my birth and college.

I’d put myself out there in stops and starts, only to be put back in my place by a careless, thoughtless stranger, or one of my husband’s many musician friends who only gave me a passing glance or a friendly acknowledgement when they were forced to. Then, I’m sorry, what was your name again?

I grew into the habit early on of looking down, even when I walked. I avoided looking at people for fear they would attack me (true story) verbally or physically. Even when I tried to smile and strike up a conversation at the checkout stand, nine times out of 10, they wouldn’t respond. Then, the next customer would come up and the checker would suddenly come to life.

It was a million times worse when I showed up in public with my family. The world would show them the kind of respect and consideration of a Hollywood starlet slumming it.

Servers, nurses, teachers, the physical therapy staff my son sees twice a week…everyone practically genuflects at my husband’s, my mom’s, my son’s feet, remembering them weeks, months, years later, practically knocking me over to get to them.

At some point, I wanted to quit trying. Trying tired me out, shamed me, set me up for failure.

Unfortunately, the eternal optimist in me plus forgetting (to remember my place) would cause me to put myself out there again. This past Sunday, while my husband checked us out of the Hilton after his gig for a Rotary Club Conference, I went to the nearby food area for StumpTown coffee and a snack.

There, I heard the most beautiful voice coming out of a person working the HopCity Tavern & Market. I went over and told her so. I felt I was very approachable, kind, and complimentary about her voice. I said she should be singing, that she was better than most of the singers I hear, and on and on, things normal people say to one another.

She said thank-you, but the rest of her said, “Get away from me, weirdo.”

When I returned with my husband, she talked to him like they were old friends, engaging him in the kind of conversation she would’ve had with me had I been him.

I went back to get another snack less than an hour later, alone, and she acted like I was new. Right through me.

I don’t have many friends. On the surface, it looks like I do. Even my actual friend Bev commented on it.

They’re acquaintances, forced into my life because of activities related to my more popular family members, mostly my musician husband and my athlete son. They would never give me the time of day, if left to their own devices. I do not fool myself into thinking they would, although some days, when we are all getting along, I almost can convince myself this were real.

I met Bev through my musician husband to tell you the truth. He and her husband both played in the worship band of the same church.

But she wasn’t like the others.

She sought me out, not because of my husband, but because of me.

She was nice to me, because she liked me, not because she had to as the pastor’s wife, or the wife of Ed, the talented piano player in the band everyone wanted to get close to. Bev wasn’t a musician or a part of the church choir. She was the wife of a worship band musician too, with children of her own.

If I met Bev on my own, she’d still treat me with the same consideration, like I was a treasure in her life.

I feel safe, comfortable, and valued around her. I feel … normal.

We met in 2002. We’re still friends.

We bought their house when my son was three (he’s 15 now) and her husband had to move back to their hometown in Portland for work. We’ve kept in touch. When we visit Oregon, we try to make a stop to catch up with them.

Bev’s also very much like me, not at all a strong personality. I personally think she should be the most popular girl in the room. She has so much class and grace, she’s funny and makes me laugh, and she sees the genuine in people, through the crap they put on.

I’ve always felt odd and not in a good way. I could hardly stand to see my own reflection, even by accident. I’m that self-conscious about my freakishness.

It’s rare to be around someone who can make me completely forget myself and feel so good about myself at the same time.

My friends could pick me out in a crowd every time. That they would want to even try… Well, I hold onto that like a life line.

 

 

 

Rings

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PHOTO: Dev Benjamin, Unsplash

“Mail it now. In a few days, this world will go away.”

By the time they took his soul, in fleshy parts he never knew he had, a stranger with a smirk knocked on this strange silvery door (I just walked through) and handed me an innocent package. The brown paper box reminded me of freshly mowed lawns, Easter Egg hunts, and you blocking the noon in the desert between then and now.

Your rings, gold and worn, almost warm, I wear them now, waiting for the men in the gray coats and the foreign accents to come for me.

gauze

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Even in my dreams I am initialing statements, hoarding books to put away. But for a brief moment, he was here lifting me as easily as a rag doll, his eyes shining, his laugh a warm compress for everything. His kisses… proof that I loved once.

For a brief moment, I felt undeniable, blinding happiness.

The pain now, almost unbearable. My body, a foreign object weighing me down.

I miss you.

bass

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PHOTO: Derek Truninger, Pittsburgh

For Jon …

obvious, by now he’s stationed himself directly in front of me naked save for the bass dangling around those long shoulders, those spider web fingers

in front of an audience of an even dozen, he pronounces my name, as if quoting Scripture, as if we are the only two people in this room outside — seconds before the first sounding notes

that naked laugh, I hear it in my head still as I lie awake, wishing I were back there, wishing I were the young, lithe girl he lifted in his skinny white-boy arms before sending me on my way to a scavenger hunt, where he knows I will sneak into the nearest fountain to wash my dirty hands, where he has a band mate shower my half-open blouse with perfectly geometrical ice cubes (because he likes the way my breasts look in the dying sunlight)

in this dream, I am someone else, another girl, his for the rest of time

in this life, I am nobody special other than the one who gave him one year’s worth of freedom

Facebook Creep

You can all come back now, it’s safe. I’ve long since left Facebook.

I can still see you responding to every indirect post about me, the ones who purposely cross the street when I approach, avert their eyes, and talk their shit.

You reject me, but bend over for my husband.

You make me wait forever for a public apology that will never come. I bore the weight of your disbelief for over a decade, yet I am the scourge of your in-bred society.

I fucking hate every one of you.

knit one, purl two

Your husband was once a man of God.

I only remember a sliver of sun, bearing down on my withered body during the furtive lessons designed to straighten my curved back, prepare me for the broken world ahead.

…I would never live to see.

He taught me how to read from the Latin version of His Bible, the one with the hand-crafted lyrical font, the one he made sing with a single swipe of his restless pianist finger, the one he would lead orchestras with subsequent lives later.

The man of God took me into his solitary world of stonings and sacrifices, a barbarian who only reveled in the blood of Christ’s fallen as I sank my fangs into live, pulsing human flesh.

I can still feel the weight of that flesh give in my dreams. My jaw aches from the bittersweet effort.

We both ran for the exit in due time. But I can still hear the heavenly choir, while he plays another gig for pennies on the dollar and cops a virtual feel from the online fallen, the savage and the holy.

grace is a four-letter word

JazzAlley

“Stealing gold from the silver they see. But it’s not me.” —”City,” Sara Bareilles

I thought he was your soul mate, the man of your dreams. The broken man in the corner right there, where you left him two years ago.

It’s amazing what reinvention does to the human spirit, aided and abetted by your 1,000-plus followers who don’t know your checkered past. Or maybe, don’t care.

Because you can always take out the trash in style.

Because you were poor.

Beauty buys so many things, loyalty, principle, truth.

I stand here in your shadow, wife of, two damaged knees, a magical hole in my heart and slits for brains. I will always be ugly. I will always be fat. I will always be your damaged, ultimately failed pet project.

I can’t and I won’t reach out for yet another empty gesture.

You chose her, now choke on it.