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What the Fluff?! A Health Coach Serves People WHAT?! at Somerville's Annual Fluff Fest

  Each year for the past nine years, the city of Somerville has hosted the Fluff Fest. It's a celebration of Marshmallow creme Fluff, created in Somerville (the city of my current residence and office location) by Archibald Query in 1917. During WW1, sugar became scarce and he sold the recipe to two guys, H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower. There's a really great article with more information here, feel free to read it.

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Instead of capturing the festival like any other reporter may have, commenting on the sights and sounds and various Fluff flavors to be found, I wanted to share my personal experience of three gifts I received from volunteering for Fluff Fest.

WHAT IS IT?

“What the Fluff?”, the brainchild of Mimi Graney, executive director of  Union Square Main Streets, is part of ArtsUnion, an initiative shepherded by the Somerville Arts Council and funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the City of Somerville. The event is made possible thanks to generous sponsors, local business support, talented team leaders and a magnificent group of volunteers.

-from the Union Square Main Streets website

According to Mimi, "everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood. Whether born in the 1940’s or ’50s, or ’60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it.”

And that includes this health coach, right here. I may come from New Jersey, and not New England, but I grew up eating Fluff on triple-decker sandwiches. Oh yes, I took the fluffernutter one step further by adding grape jelly. No, I'm not kidding.

So, it's safe to say I had a particular interest in this event. I am a newbie, this year was actually my first Fluff Fest even though I moved to this "side of the river" in 2009. I know. Shame, shame. I've either been working, traveling or doing goodness knows what else all these years but this year, THIS YEAR, I decided I wasn't going to miss it. In fact, I wanted to be a part of the whole ordeal. Earlier in the week, I received an emailing looking for last-minute volunteers and I replied. An enthusiastic and grateful reply came right back to me, telling me to show up at 6pm. As with most days in my life, I learned some great lessons too good not to share.

It was a long, humid day but by the time 6pm rolled around, I was really looking forward to going. I had no idea what to expect. Life is really, really fun the more I live from this place!

I strolled around Union Square, carefully walking through and around the thousands of Fluff Fest attendees. There were tables and music and people all over the place. I managed to find the table for volunteers and was given my assignment: Fluff Fear Factor.

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WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

Dodging fluff fanatics left and right, I made my way to the Fear Factor table. I saw a few folks behind the table with a myriad of containers around them. My mouth gaped in (slight) horror as I watched them pile the ingredients onto saltines and hand them to people.

I jumped right in when I was asked to cut up a can of Vienna sausages. I had not known Vienna sausages prior to this moment. From that point on, things just got weirder and even better.

Our ingredients on the table included:

Vienna sausages. SPAM. Canned green beans. Hot sauce. PEanut butter. Nutella. Gummy worms. Coco-puffs. Fruit Loops. Canned clams. Marshmallows.

I think that's it.

Oh, yeah. And molasses.

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It was my job to ask people what they wanted, put the assortment together on a cracker and hand it to them to eat. It took me a few minutes to overcome my own judgments and hesitations but what a lesson in non-attachment for this practicing Buddhist! As I greeted one person after another with a huge smile and "what can I get you?", I realized how little my opinion mattered. Did these people care if I was giving them food with ingredients on my gloves from the previous customer's cracker concoction? NO! Did they think about cross-contamination? Nope. Did they worry about the food dyes and ingredient lists of each and every ingredient? No, sir.

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They were just having fun being daring and adventurous and trying something new and scary and thrilling and weird! They were living with reckless abandon! I know there's a theory out there that says our bodies metabolize food we enjoy (no matter what it is) better than that which we don't, so I couldn't help but toss my own opinions aside and get caught up in the sheer joy of the whole thing.

OK, I will admit that after years of focusing on good nutrition and lifestyle habits with my clients (and myself), it took me a few minutes to adjust. And maybe a few mutterings to my colleagues of, "how are they doing this? Won't they get sick?" to which my fellow Fear Factor friends simply replied, "not our problem!"

INDEED! Fluff ON!

It was truly refreshing and transformative for me to stand there piling stuff onto crackers and giving it away with all the joy and love my heart could hold. And more than a few prayers that people wouldn't end up praying to the porcelain gods later that night.

All in all, my Fluff Fest experience was one I'll remember forever.

I met new, fun friends within moments from just jumping in to help and throwing caution to the wind.

I stood behind a table and made horrendous concoctions of ingredients whilst managing a huge smile for the sake of the folks who were actively choosing to ingest said horrendous concoctions. My opinion didn't matter, their happiness DID!

Once the Fear Factor ingredients ran out, I was left with the task of working with several folks to roll up two massive bounce houses. It was hot. We were tired. We had probably consumed one too many Fluffernutters. But, within a very short amount of time, 10 complete and total strangers of varied identities successfully collaborated to roll-up hundreds of pounds of vinyl (? what the heck are those things made of, anyway) and using a tiny hand truck and our own brute strength, managed to transport the houses about five miles (ok, it was probably 200 feet?) to a shed for safe-keeping until next year. For anyone who has ever logged hours of committee-work like I have, I will say this was a case-study in how to "do it right and well". High-fives to my fellow team members for working quickly and efficiently!

Can't wait to go back next year!

Feeling All The Things

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"That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt." - The Fault in Our Stars

Haven't seen or read this book, but I heard this quote in a clip and I thought it was pure truth. :)

One of the greatest lessons I learned from all the stuff of my life was how to feel my feelings. The more I walk amongst others, I really get how few people actually do this or know how to do it.

And I get it. I really do. It doesn't actually feel very good, especially the hard feelings. The good ones are hard to feel, too, I think. For me, good feelings sometimes bring a bittersweet quality because I know they won't last.

This fun BBQ with friends will end and I will have to go home.

This great movie will end.

This book will be over.

This gorgeous sunset will become night.

etc., etc.

Welcome to why I became a Buddhist. I find it helpful to have a tool to manage impermanence. Impermanence is reality, it's what is real and true about life. Before I realized this, I suffered a lot.

My relationship to and with impermanence began long ago.

I struggle with "issues" around abandonment and attachment from my childhood. I put the issues in quotes because, well, I think it's bullshit to stigmatize something that almost every person experiences an "issue". How about we just call it, hmm, the human experience.

OK.

So, I struggle with the experiences of abandonment and attachment from my childhood. My parents divorced when I was year old and my father moved out, remarried and had two sons. I have one sister and two brothers. I don't call them half-brothers--there is nothing half about them. It really doesn't matter that we have different moms. They are my brothers, end of story.

Because psychology is what it is (whatever we understand it is, really) I experience the impact of this family arrangement. It trickled into my childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood and, presently, my adulthood. It impacts how I interact with other people and how I relate to work, exercise, food and spirituality.

It's good for me to know this so I can make sense of everything I think, do and say. Some people don't think this is a good use of their time. Different strokes for different folks, I say. I find it helpful to make meaning from life because it's how my brain works. Before I had tools to help me, I really struggled. Now, I apply the many tools I've acquired over the course of 15 years and they help me adjust and recalibrate to make my life more positive and so I can experience less suffering. As long as I'm here, I might as well enjoy it, right?!

One way I do this is to feel all the things. Even the dark, nasty, horrible things. One of the worst feelings I felt was at the end of romantic relationships. There were times I felt like my body was coming apart at the seams. I felt like I was being squeezed out like a sponge or like someone was reaching down into my intestines and pulling them out through my throat.

So, trust me, I know why people do anything in their power to avoid feeling hard feelings. I know how it feels. But I have spent years practicing how to do it because each time I do, it makes it a little bit easier, ironically. It doesn't seem like it would work, but it has for me.

Sort of like waves of nausea. We all know that feeling.  You know how sometimes you wait it out, and let it pass, it goes away? Sometimes it's the flu or food poisoning and it doesn't go away. I'm not talking about that kind. haha.  I'm talking about the kind that makes you sit down and stop for a minute. And when you take deep breaths and a sip of water, it passes. And you feel really relieved because what felt so horrible a minute ago now isn't there and you feel so much better.

You realize that you didn't need to do anything other than sit and wait it out. And you are ok. And maybe next time the nausea comes, you will know what to do and it won't feel so scary.

I tried this the other day when I felt incredibly restless. OMG. I was like a Tazmanian devil, moving from thing to thing, picking things up, putting them down, literally walking in circles. This went on for about two hours until my mindfulness practice kicked in. I caught myself and I stopped. I felt the twitches and tics in my body. I felt my muscles tense and relax. It was like I took a picture of myself. I watched myself from about two feet away. And I sat down, put my palms on my thighs and I sat there. I felt like my head was in a vice.

I took a lot of deep breaths. I realized what was happening and that I'd been here many times before. I knew I was safe but I said it out loud, just to remind myself. I knew I had nowhere to go and nothing important to do and this was a perfect time to be fearless and face whatever wanted to come up.

I allowed myself to REALLY feel the depth of the loss, the pain or the grief I was experiencing. I wanted to know what it was like to really FEEL it and not run or move around anymore, because all that moving around clearly wasn't making it go away.

WOW. Tears came up from the depths of somewhere. I let them pour out and down like they did when I was kid. Did you know that tears perform the essential physiological function of cleansing stress hormones out of our bodies? I didn't know that. Since I learned, I'm always thrilled when I can manage a good cry.

When the tears were over, I felt like someone had uncorked me. The tension was gone. The grasping, restless feeling was gone. The headache was gone. My focus was back. When I released my resistance on feeling those hard feelings and just allowed them to come up and out, something horrible didn't happen. Instead, I felt much better on the other side.

Let yourself ride the tide, the highs and lows of life. Don't try to feel "good" all the time, it isn't natural or realistic. Nothing in life or nature is like that. It isn't always sunny or rainy (well, depending on where you live, of course).

Feel all the feelings and remember none of them are permanent. Not the good ones or the not-so-good ones. 

 

"Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final."

-Rainer Maria Rilke, poet