Obligatory First Post of the Year: Pookiebottoms Sweetmunch

“…[Y]ou have to walk through time. A clock isn’t time, it’s just numbers and springs, pay it no mind, just walk right on through!”

–The Skull
“The Last Unicorn” (film)

Happy New Year to you, my most dashing and darlingest inklings! I hope your 2014 is off to a safe and pleasant start.

As ever, I am mindful that the calender is naught but a human construct for making our lives more convenient (or less so, as it were), so in reality there’s little difference between calling today “January 1st” or calling today “Pookiebottoms Sweetmunch.” All this talk about “new year’s resolutions” and “let’s make this the best year yet!” doesn’t make much sense when you consider that there’s as much difference between December 31st and January 1st as there is between April 3rd and April 4th.

But.

There’s also this whole collective subconsciousness concept, this idea that when the majority of us humans are celebrating the new and the fresh and the forward-looking, it’s not a bad thing to get caught up in what it all really boils down to, and that is: hope.

This is a hopeful time of year, a time of new beginnings, and I would consider myself particularly jaded if I went around believing and telling everyone that their hope-filled joy is nothing but a chemical response in their brains to the continuance of a human construct. If I believed that and tried to shove it down people’s throats, I might as well stake out my spot on the porch and start yelling at everybody to get off my lawn.

So. HAPPY NEW YEAR, PEOPLE. And yes, let’s make it a good one…and a better one than last year.

Let’s make changes that are beneficial to us and to those around us.
Let’s practice kindness, compassion, and empathy.
Let’s dream big, go out, do things, and make lots of somethings.
Let’s say no to bigotry, no to oppression, and no to hate.
Let’s say no to security and yes to vulnerability.
Let’s give without expecting anything.
Let’s help people when it doesn’t make any sense to help them.
Let’s love people when it doesn’t make any sense to love them.
Let’s read things that disagree with our worldview.
Let’s make friends with people who disagree with our worldview.
Let’s watch less TV and play fewer video games.
Let’s spend more time outside and more time in face-to-face conversation.
Let’s open the windows and let the air in.
Let’s drink more water.
Let’s smile and laugh more.
Let’s say no when we mean no and yes when we mean yes.
Let’s tell the truth kindly but firmly.
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Let’s face reality.
Let’s give ourselves a break.
Let’s enjoy the ice cream without thinking about the scale.
Let’s take that vacation.
Let’s write that book.
Let’s write that email.
Let’s write that letter.
Let’s speak those words.
Let’s paint that picture.
Let’s jump out of that plane (with a functioning parachute).
Let’s play more.
Let’s quit that job.
Let’s stop waiting.
Let’s forgive.
Let’s step out boldly.
Let’s dance.
Let’s sing in inappropriate places.
Let’s take the stairs.
Let’s revel in the sunshine.
Let’s revel in each other.

Let’s live.

Happy Pookiebottoms Sweetmunch. : )

That’s not a corset, mate. THIS is a corset.

Gone with the Wind

When I was a kid and teenager, I watched Gone with the Wind at least a couple of times a year. (I read the book for the first time at age 14 or 15.) And every time, I viewed it with an odd mixture of enjoyment, disgust, fascination, and horror.

This isn’t a post about slavery or bigotry or racism or women’s equality or war or politics, though Gone with the Wind contains plenty of fodder for each. (Not to mention a kaboodle of interesting stuff relating to the psychology of Scarlett O’Hara herself; man, did I ever get a doozy of a shock concerning her when I finally rewatched the movie as an adult! Also: Vivien Leigh? Brilliant.)

No, I’m not delving into any of that today. What I am going to talk about, though, is corsets.

scarlettmammycorset

As a kid and a teen, I watched the corset-lacing scenes with horror. How could any woman do that to herself? How could she breathe? No wonder she couldn’t eat. No wonder there was fainting all over the place. These women had to be crazy to think fashion and other people’s opinions were worth putting themselves through this kind of torture — putting themselves into this kind of torture device.

Corset. Torture device. Every bit as effective as the iron maiden, thumbscrews, and the rack, I had no doubt.

Oh, and then there was this:

Mammy (referring to Scarlett’s waist measurement): Twenty inches.

Scarlett: I’ve grown as big as Aunt Pitty! You’ve simply got to make it eighteen-and-a-half again!

Mammy: You done had a baby, Miss Scarlett, an’ you ain’ never goin’ to be no eighteen-an’-a-half inches again — never. An’ there ain’ nothin’ to do about it.

Eighteen-and-a-half inches. You know what that is? That’s the circumference of…of…well, of I don’t know what. Something very small. Like maybe the head of a small child. Or my cat. (The whole cat, not the head.) Definitely not the waist of an average-height, adult, human female.

Corsets, thought I, shaking my head in amazed disgust. Those are for crazy people. NO DOUBT.

Down with the Corset!

Now. By which I mean, give heed, dear inklings, to meanderings mine as well as in the context of this narrative, we find ourselves in present day. If you recall, I recently gave you a candid look, both in description and in photographic evidence, of my post-pregnancy body. If you recall, in that post I jokingly used the word “corset” to describe the bodysuit thingamajig my physical therapist wanted me to wear in order to help heal my separated abdominal muscles (diastasis recti).

That bodysuit corset thingamajig is this:

Ooh la la. #no #notreally

Ooh la la. #no #notreally

I didn’t like it. It pulled on my shoulders, making them sore and straining my upper back. It slid down. It rode up. Sure, it slimmed down some of the fat pockets on my back and sides, but was a slightly (SLIGHTLY) streamlined silhouette really worth the discomfort? Nay, said the horse. Not to mention the part where I have to unhook it when I want to pee, which makes me feel like I’m wearing a superlarge version of my toddler’s onesies. Great, not only am I out of shape and in pain, I’m also reduced to wearing gigantic baby clothes. I CAN’T WIN.

I wouldn’t wear this thing if I didn’t have to. But if I ever want to heal my abs, get my back into shape again, and return to exercising with any semblance of gusto, wear this gigantic toddler onesie wedgie corset-thing I must.

I had no idea what was coming next.

gwtw-intermission

Physical therapy was still progressing, at least as far as my mobility was concerned. But the pain had plateaued, meaning that it wasn’t getting worse (most days), but it certainly wasn’t improving. My physical therapist suggested placing a sheet of plywood under my mattress. The husband installed it. I also started wearing my mouthguard at night so that I wouldn’t clench/grind my teeth. (Bruxism can contribute to back pain.)

Plywood and mouthguard helped a little; the pain dropped a notch. Then it plateaued again. My therapist was at a loss. My frustration level went up. The toddler kept doing this weird thing called getting bigger, which also meant getting heavier. Soon, every morning began with numb spots on the bottoms of my feet. I couldn’t turn my head.

My mother, wise woman that she is, suggested X-rays. My general practitioner, all-around awesome that she is, agreed. The X-rays showed something that shouldn’t have surprised me but was still fairly depressing:

Mild arthritis in my neck.

Mild scoliosis in my back.

Arthritis. At 36. I know it’s not unheard-of for someone my age or even younger to be diagnosed with this, but still. I figured out a long time ago that, powerful genes considered, I’d probably develop arthritis just the way my mother and grandmother did. But I thought that would be distant future, not imminent. I mean, seriously. Arthritis? Wasn’t I supposed to be at least 55 before this party started?

And scoliosis. Is this a new thing? Did this just develop during pregnancy? Can pregnancy cause it? Or have I always had it, and nobody ever realized? Isn’t this something that crops up in childhood? With all the bajillion doctors I’ve seen during the course of my too-short-for-arthritis life, if I’ve had scoliosis the whole time, how is it possible that nobody ever noticed?

It’s been a few days since the diagnoses, and I’m very definitely still *SIGH*ing over this. And feeling way older than any of this merits.

Done with the Corset; Or: That’s not a corset, mate. THIS is a corset.

My doctor says that if I have better back support, the pain of both conditions should/will decrease and go away. In order to gain better back support, I need core strength and stability — of which I’m clearly not getting enough via my onesie-corset-bodysuit. Those separated abs are THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. To heal the abs and reestablish core strength, the doc wants me to wear a thing. It’s called a “Belly Bandit.”

bellybandit

The Belly Bandit is supposed to be THE BEST for getting one’s stretched, now oddly-proportioned, post-pregnancy belly back into shape. It flattens and compresses. It squeezes separated abs back together so they can heal. It produces whangdoodles and zippetybobs, and it will most definitely endow one with those ever-elusive vorpal unicorn morphing powers. I guess it’s called a “bandit” because it steals away one’s oversized post-pregnancy belly. I guess.

I buy one. I haul it home and pull it out of the package. It’s a ca. 3-foot-long, 1-foot-wide piece of cloth-covered elastic with front panels of what feels like industrial-strength Velcro. I suck in the belly, flex what’s left of the abs, and wrap my new belly-thieving friend around my waist. I secure the Velcro that would make the Acme Corporation proud. I relax and immediately notice two things:

1. I suddenly feel like my top half and bottom half are finally connected again.

2. Gasp and egad, I AM IN A CORSET.

PRETTY.

PRETTY.

I can’t breathe. Did I get it too tight? I can’t sit down. Oh dear, it’s bunching up in the small of my back. But the package insert says it’s supposed to do this. I can’t breathe. And later, I will pull a Scarlett and eat like a bird because my stomach is too smooshed for more than half a meal to fit into my abdomen.

I remind myself that this is a good thing. I use all the force of my fingers, hands, and arms to pull the Velcro apart and strap the thing back on a little looser. Breathing recommences. A little. I pick up the baby, and my back doesn’t scream at me. Okay, Ms. Bandit, maybe we can be friends after all.

After a lifetime of looking down my nose at those frivolous, 19th-century Southern belles, I now am not walking around in their shoes, but in their underwear. The Belly Bandit slims my waist. I ain’t never goin’ be no 18 inches (never was in the first place; nor 20, nor 25…ET CETERA), but at least the waistband of my jeans now rests comfortably on my hips instead of pinching my flesh. Sure, sitting isn’t comfortable, but the moment I strap on my torture device, I feel my posture improve and my whole body stabilize. For the first time in over a year, I don’t feel like my top half is gonna slide all janky to the right when my feet are leading my legs and hips to the left.

The best and weirdest part is that I can actually feel my abs touching under my skin. I mean, what a testament to how messed up my body is. You’re not supposed to be able to feel your abs touching. What manner of crazy is this? And yet, I do feel it, and in addition to bizarre, it also feels like hope.

Maybe I can feel normal again. Maybe I can live without pain again (because, yes, after a week of wearing the Belly Bandit, I definitely have less pain, and my next pt appointment isn’t until the end of the week). Maybe I can get my abs back.

Maybe, just maybe, I can get my body back.

A Candid Look at My Post-Pregnancy Body

A mad scientist kidnapped me and dumped my consciousness into someone else’s body.

That’s the only thing I can figure.

This new body of mine moves funny. It’s looser in the hips, as though my top half and my bottom half aren’t hinged together right. I feel it when I walk: Sometimes, I have to pay conscious attention to which direction I’m aiming each leg. If I don’t, my janky hips might just send one leg diagonal left, the other diagonal right, and I’ll look like a puppet that’s had a couple of strings cut. Right before I sprawl flat on my face.

This new body aches in places that have never ached before. Muscles pull tight and strain not because they’re working hard, but because they’re working wrong. They’re compensating and overcompensating, trying to do work that my joints and ligaments used to do. But the joints are too loose now, and the ligaments are too stretched. So other parts of my body are trying to take up the slack. But they weren’t designed for the jobs they’re doing, and their extra effort leaves me more exhausted than I should be.

This new body of mine is softer and rounder in certain places. I wouldn’t mind that so much, except that those softnesses and roundnesses don’t fit into my old body’s clothes. It’s as though someone took all of my old clothes and replaced them with clothing that looks the same, but it’s all a size or two small and cut funny. A woman in my former yoga class once saw my side plank pose and said I looked like a chiseled work of art. Nobody would say that about this new body of mine, even if it did fit into the jeans that used to ride low on my hips.

This new body of mine is ruthless, vicious, vindictive. It reacts differently to my former favorite foods: taste, metabolism, where it chooses to store fat, all is changed. This body’s abdominal connective tissue is stretched and thin, so it can’t hold my organs in place where they should be. Over time and with certain exercises, this is improving — but the going is slow, and this new body mocks me every step of the way.

Related to this, the new body requires clothing I never thought I’d wear. The garment is something like a corset, made to pull my abs together so they can heal. I wear T-shirts over it and men’s dress shirts so that no one will catch a glimpse of the “corset” straps. More and more, I feel like the teenager I once was, hiding inside bulky clothes and hoping no one will look at me. I look forward to cold weather so that I can cover up the straps and my now chubby arms without baking in the Oklahoma heat.

This is how I have to tape my stomach if I want to exercise at all. Even just for walking.

This is how I have to tape my stomach if I want to exercise at all. Even just for walking.

This new body also enjoys waking me in the middle of the night to tell me how uncomfortable it is in the bed my old body luxuriated in. This new body doesn’t like the soft pillow-top mattress; it demands something firmer. But I can’t provide it with a better mattress, so the new body wakes me to whisper complain scream at me via my back and my right side. There’s no position that will alleviate the pain, so I get out of bed and start my day already weary. I hope that in the evening, I’ll have time to soak in a hot tub.

I am trying to acquaint myself with this new body. I am trying to make friends with it. With her. I remind myself that she did something momentous, creating and carrying a tiny and precious life inside of her for the better part of a year. It’s no wonder she’s marked, it’s no wonder that I’ve had to trade my old body for hers. It was inevitable, and in spite of all the headache and backache and heartache, I don’t regret a moment of this transformation.

Still….

A friend once told me I seemed unusually comfortable in my own skin, as though my (old) body was but a familiar and welcome extension of who I am on the inside. And I felt those things, and I was glad that others could see so clearly my comfortableness (hard-won after years of teenage and young adult self-deprecation).

But that comfortable, extension-of-me feeling is gone. Now, no matter how I try to make friends with this new body, this other woman’s body that even after a year doesn’t feel like mine yet, ours is a grudging relationship. There’s only so much I can do when she makes it so very clear that she doesn’t like me.

Well, the feeling is mutual. I don’t like her, either. And I want my old body back.

The One With Remarkablogger Michael Martine

“Money pays the bills but it doesn’t do anything for your heart.”

–Michael Martine,
Remarkablogger

Greetings, inklings! Today’s post is my interview with Remarkablogger Michael Martine, who blogs all sorts of fantabulous whats, hows and whys for blogging and business. His humor is dry, his style straightforward, and his advice spot-on. He loves helping others accomplish their business dreams. I hope he inspires you as much as he does me!

Plus, he’s as big a fantasy nerd as I am, which just makes him cramazing fun to talk to. ; )

Courtney: How did you decide to start coaching bloggers?

Michael — That’s a great question. Unfortunately, I don’t coach bloggers. Bloggers are cheap and broke and the worst clients. I coach business owners who use blogging and social media as marketing tools. This isn’t just semantics: the mindset, goals and–very important for me–budgets of the two groups are very different from each other. I decided to become a blog consultant because it dawned on me that it was sorely needed and would be fun as well as profitable. If there’s a gold rush, don’t run to the hills with everyone else, sell pickaxes and a prospecting manual instead. There is a whole new world of freedom available to anyone with the courage and means to live there. The means in this case is an understanding and strategy about how online business and marketing works. You bring the courage and I’ll help with the means.

CC: In your post What Narcissism Taught Me about Marketing, you share painful childhood memories and don’t shy away from honesty about your flaws. What gives you the courage to make yourself so vulnerable to all of your readers?

MM — I don’t care what other people think about me, but I have to live with myself, so honesty beats lying. It also makes for juicier reading.

CC: In that same post, you write:

“On the other hand, as a one-person business (which most of you are), you are also something of a one-person ‘cult of personality.’ Which is odd, because in the right situation, people actually will care about what you had for lunch.

“The way this works is that you have to connect your personal stuff to the lessons your followers want from you. You have to connect specific personality traits to your brand and express them in your content marketing.”

How does “one-person cult of personality” in content marketing apply to honest, open bloggers who don’t consider themselves a business?

MM — It’s what makes people want to follow you, regardless of whether you have anything to sell to them. While it seems weird to say “be a slight caricature of yourself” and “be authentic” in the same breath, all I’m saying is that people remember certain things about you and you have influence over that. You also still have to decide on a logo and colors, which are also part of your brand. You’re deliberately crafting a certain look and feel in order to communicate specific ideals. Is this dishonest? No, of course not. So, neither is it dishonest when considering how to “color” your writing voice or your speaking. Deliberateness and purpose are not dishonest.

CC: A few weeks ago, one of your posts caused a ruckus because some of your readers took exception to your calling them either pimps and prostitutes. When you have a controversial idea for a post, do you always implement it?

MM — Controversy and shock value are somewhat related but I never post anything just for shock value. Dividing people is a great way to get comments and a reaction. Things are never so simple or black-and-white, but when you reduce the terms of the debate to an either/or situation in order to get people to think, it allows for great discussion. Whether you get that great discussion or your comments devolve into a FOX “news” show is up to you. It’s your blog.

I think about what kind of reaction or discussion that will happen before I post. I think about how the topic meshes with my brand. For a site with the tagline “No-Bullshit Blogging for Bitchin’ Businesses,” dividing the online business world into pimps and prostitutes to get a discussion started and drive traffic makes perfect sense. If you’re too squeamish or dainty to follow me down that road, I don’t want you on my site because you’re never going to be a client of mine.

CC: What’s your most effective way of dealing with readers’ criticism?

MM — Real criticism is valuable and I love to receive it. I will thank you for it. If somebody is just bloviating because they’re pissed off, well… they’ve already made themselves look bad. People can and will think whatever they want, and facts be damned. Having said that, it almost NEVER happens on Remarkablogger because my readers are smart and have good manners.

CC: What are your criteria for deciding whether or not to post the controversy?

MM — I kinda already talked about this (yay for reading the questions in advance… ) but let me add this: I don’t post because a topic is controversial. I post because I think it will help people who may need me as a blog consultant move closer to hiring me, which is how all businesses should decide to publish marketing content. Let’s not forget that’s what we’re doing here. We’re marketing. If we do it right, it doesn’t look like it. But it is.

CC: What’s your favorite part of helping others be more genuine in their blogging?

MM — Getting emails and having conversations with people who tell me their business is better because they implemented my advice and ideas. That’s the best feeling. Money pays the bills but it doesn’t do anything for your heart.

_______________________

Courtney here again. I want to thank Michael for saying yes to my interview request and for taking the time to give such thoughtful replies to all of my questions! And hope that you, my inklings, find his tips and openness as encouraging as I do! Here are a few of my favorite quotes from his interview:

There is a whole new world of freedom available to anyone with the courage and means to live there.

…[W]hen you reduce the terms of the debate to an either/or situation in order to get people to think, it allows for great discussion.

I don’t post because a topic is controversial. I post because I think it will help people…

…[M]y readers are smart and have good manners. 😉

So, dear readers, what do you have to say?

How difficult is it for you to be genuine in your blogging? How much do you worry about what others will think of you?

What are you going to do about it?

When Blogging Give You Laryngitis

Will the real Courtney PLEASE make some noise?

Or: A Blogging Voice Is Hard to Come By

If you’ve tweeted with me recently…

…or if you’ve read comments I’ve left on others’ blogs…

…or if you’ve paid close attention to my blog posts over the last month or so,

…you know that I’ve been worrying about my vision and my voice.

When I started this blog, I had a vision for it: I knew I wanted it to be my platform for launching my novels, and I knew I wanted it to be an encouraging, inspiring place to talk about writing.

What I didn’t know was just how to translate that vision into reality.

I still don’t know. I can’t give you a “5 How-Tos for Turning Your Blogging Vision into Reality.” That, however, would make a cramazing blog post, and if you write it, tell me. I will link back to you.

Anyway, I’m still figuring out the how-tos. Judy Dunn (of catseyewriter.com) and I have had several conversations about blogs as labs.

Blogs Are Big, Friendly Dogs

I mean, no: Blogs aren’t big, friendly dogs who lick your face and make big, sad eyes at you. Blogs are laboratories, in which you can experiment with the crazed enthusiasm of a ten-year-old with her first chemistry set.

Mix things! Pour things into each other and see what happens! Sometimes you’ll get gunk, and you’ll get in trouble because you made the house smell like rotten eggs an hour before the neighbors come over for coffee and ice cream. (I might or might not be waxing nostalgically anecdotal here.)

Sometimes, though, you’ll pestle and mortar a few elements into your blog that create a spectacular bang. And that’s when it turns glorious.

So, that’s the blog-as-lab concept. It’s all fun and games, ’til someone gets a thumb burnt off. I’m learning not to be scared to try new stuff (see my recent first video blogs).

When The Dogs Worry Me

The operative word of the previous sentence is “learning.” As I hinted above, I still get nervous about my blog’s vision and voice. If my vision is the theory, then my voice is the practice. And I’m not talking about how my voice sounds in my videos (even though I personally don’t get the greatest thrill out of listening to that, lemme tell ya).

No, what I’m talking about are these questions:

When I write my blog posts, am I being genuine? Am I being sincere?

If I’m not being genuine and sincere, do I at least sound genuine and sincere?

Am I being myself?

How much am I holding back because I’m too freakin’ scared of getting rejected for whatever bizarre reason my subconscious chooses to drum up this time?

I know I’m connecting with readers — but how much more would I be connecting if I weren’t holding back?

Am I truly so terrified of making myself vulnerable?

Three weeks ago, my first novel came out. One would think that means I’m not afraid of being vulnerable. Sharing a novel with the world is a pretty soul-baring thing to do.

But still.

I blog. And I feel myself holding back.

Is it fear?

Or is it pride?

Does part of me still think I have to pretend I’ve got it all together? After all this time and after getting knocked off my self-gifted pedestal again and again, does part of me still believe I’ve gotta show the world some perfect example?

Am I too full of myself to share my true self with you?

In Every Job That Must Be Done…

I found a fun thing this week. Somebody tweeted it, and sadly I cannot remember who it was. But you can find said fun thing here:

Tweet Topic Explorer.

At the bottom of the Tweet Topic Explorer screen, you can type in any Twitter ID, and the system will generate a picture of all these nifty circles of different sizes and colors. Whichever words that Twitter ID tweets the most, those will be in larger circles. And they’re grouped together by color, showing which words appear together in most tweets.

If you click through that link above, you’ll see that I did this with my own Twitter ID. I also did it with several of yours. But I ain’t tellin’. ; )

And as soon as I saw what the Tweet Topic Explorer generated for me, I felt like a burden had dropped off my shoulders.

Sample of Tweet Topics for courtcan

There, my dear inklings, tweetlings, and darlings, is my vision for my blog. Why did the burden drop off my shoulders? Because what I tweet about, I’m blogging about. And if most of my tweets include those words you see up there, that means I’m tweeting and blogging about all the things that are part of my vision.

love
novel
book
color
coffee
read
tim — which is actually “time,” if you must know. ; )

Things I’m thinking as a writer. Things I care about as a writer. Things that keep me going as a writer. Not to mention the people. (Tweetlings, follow those IDs you see in my Tweet Topic cloud thingy. They’re pretty cramazing folks.)

All of these are part of my vision. ‘Twould seem I’m sharing more of that vision than I thought I was.

And as for my worries about my voice…well, if my mind weren’t sitting back and letting my fingers do the talking for this post, I probably wouldn’t have talked about slobber-happy retrievers and crazed ten-year-olds with chemistry sets.

Here’s to fun little hints that let me know I’m “doing it right.” (You know who you are.)

Here’s to keeping it real, and here’s to sharing more and more and more.

_______________________________

Speak up, y’all. What are the vision/voice concerns that keep you up at night?

Is your struggle with fear? With pride? With something else?

What keeps you from making yourself vulnerable?

What are the obstacles keeping you from your audience?

What’s the one obstacle you can pulverize right now?

Tweetlings, do the Tweet Topic thing — what surprises you about your results?