Staff Picks

Raising My Standards

image: flickr user mrlaugh

image: flickr user mrlaugh

I’ll admit – I was all geared up for 2013 to be the worst summer since that time I almost died of a brain infection when I was 12. I’d just gotten out of a couple of really bad relationships (demons! kink-shaming! general controlling behavior! My love life had it all!) and moved to the suburbs to rent the third floor the house owned by an ex of 8 years ago. Not a recipe for good times.

In spite of the none-too-encouraging setup, as August drew to a close I realized that the summer of 2013 had actually turned out to be the best one I could remember. Last week as I sat on the patio of a fancy restaurant with my partner and gazed out over their garden, toward the Milwaukee skyline, I understood why – I’ve raised my standards across the board.

It’s not that I’ve simply raised my standards when it comes to what I consume or how I think others should behave toward me or what I do with my time. I’ve also raised my standards for myself. I genuinely want to be better, and in that striving to be better, I’ve stumbled somehow into happiness.

Below, an absolutely non-exhaustive list of where my standards have been raised:

1. Honesty. When I left my husband this past spring one of the first things I decided I wanted to practice was radical honesty. I’d not been able to be myself with him, and certain elements of our relationship were understood as not to be shared with anyone. At the time I thought it was a matter of privacy on his part, but have come to see it more as a method of control and isolation. When I say radical honesty I don’t mean the kind where one runs roughshod over the people around them, saying everything on one’s mind and excusing it as “I’m just telling the truth.”  I mean the compassionate and fearless sort. The kind that is well thought out, gentle at times, but still truthful. I’ve done my best to not lie since the day I left.

2. Exercise. Last fall saw me at my highest weight of my life. When I stepped onto the bathroom scale and the number “137” popped up for a woman who before hadn’t drifted over 125 other than while pregnant, it was a wakeup call. I changed my diet and exercise habits that day. I dropped the pounds I’d gained and I’ve kept them off and I feel healthier than I have in years. I walk as much as I can, and I try my hardest to eat healthy even though I’m sort of the worst at cooking. If someone wants to give me an extra $50/week, I’d love to start doing Bikram regularly because apparently I enjoy suffering, but until then I’ll just walk everywhere and do weight training and crunches and lunges and whatnot at home.

3. Fashion. When I moved, while organizing my closet I came to the startling and deeply unsettling conclusion that my wardrobe had drifted much too far into the realm of long peasant skirts and tank tops. Nothing says “Margaret has given up for the day” like me wearing a long peasant skirt and a tank top, and I’m pretty sure weeks went by where that was all I wore. I have long legs and a decent figure, both of which were being utterly camouflaged by my amazing fashion decisions. So, over the past 5 months I’ve been making a concerted effort to dress for my body, replace parts of my wardrobe, and dress better in general. And it’s been noticed and commented on. A lot.

4. Body care. I’ve started going to the salon to get my eyebrows waxed (otherwise they become two fuzzy caterpillars attempting to mate, and I’m no Frida), getting my hair cut at all, getting my hair cut at places that are not Supercuts and in fact have the word “salon” in their title, and even getting mani/pedis every so often. While this and the above 2 points might sound like vanity (and I am a little vain, I will admit), they all work together to make me feel like I am actually taking care of myself and that I care about my appearance and how I present myself to others. I also took makeup lessons at the beginning of the summer, because I honest to goodness had no idea how to apply makeup. I recommend it highly.

5. Sex life. My last 2 relationships were rife with sex issues. I was told kink was a sign of mental illness, it was implied that my body and sexuality were possibly a vehicle for Satan (a post for another day, I promise), I was made to feel like my vagina was dirty and gross and should only ever be gone down on seconds after showering and only if I’d really washed it well. I wish that was an exhaustive list. And so I have vowed that from here on out I will only ever have a sex life with someone who respects and celebrates my sexuality as I do theirs. The result? I’m more sexually satisfied now than I’ve ever been in my life.

6. Friends. I’ve been working my hardest to build strong friendships with amazing men and women (one of whom I’m interviewing right now for Luna Luna) and to be a kind and caring friend and partner. I don’t always succeed, but I work to be the friend and/or significant other I would want. A few years ago I was out for coffee with an old acquaintance and he began gossiping about a dear friend of mine, saying terrible things about her. I admit I joined him for a moment, but then I pulled myself up short and thought, “this is deeply unkind, and if he’s saying these things about her, he’s saying them about me. What would I want her to do in this situation?” and I stopped and I told him we were done with the conversation. I want to be that person all the time.

7. Projects. Working hard on and making time for projects I love has been instrumental in life’s fabulousness. From editing Hyacinth Girl Press to blogging here to finishing up my first full-length poetry manuscript, it has been a summer of creation and I couldn’t be happier.

8. Travel. I’ve traveled more in the past year than I think I have in the rest of my adult life. When I was younger I didn’t travel much at all (I’ve actually never been out of the country other than to Canada), and I’ve only recently started flying places rather than taking the Megabus or driving. Travel has helped me open up to new experiences, to spontaneity and not only dealing with the unexpected, but celebrating it.

I would never say that everyone else should do as I do or take my advice (I mean, really – you should see some of my life choices), but I do think there is something to be said for taking a look at your life and seeing that you ARE worth so much more than perhaps you’re allowing yourself to have, to do, and to be.  I enjoy each and every one of the above points. I like dressing up. I like exercising. I like having worthy relationships. I like having amazing sex (well, obviously). Raise your standards. Make yourself happier, dammit.

Margaret Bashaar’s poetry has been collected in 2 chapbooks – Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011) and Barefoot and Listening (Tilt, 2009) as well as in many literary journals and anthologies. She edits the chapbook micropress Hyacinth Girl Press, attempts to repair antique typewriters, and spends far too much time at haunted hotels in coal mining towns for her own good. She’s only been suspected of being possessed once and hopes to someday become a rogue taxidermist. @myhyacinthgirl

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