Crying in a greenhouse.

At the beginning of the year, I house-sat for a friend. I had grand plans to begin screenwriting class, and make progress on my novel. Finally, I’d have a house to myself and no one to interrupt me. What actually occurred was a sad sack of a body wallowing in a strange building. I was away from my husband, my dogs, and my new apartment that I had yet to settle into. I felt like a ghost in someone else’s home. Their fridge was full of food but I refused to let myself eat it. Their dogs and bunny were lovely and sweet and wild in that way animals are, but I knew they missed their true family. I didn’t belong and nor could I let myself sneak back home because, what if something happened while I was gone? It was my responsibility, right?

The home was close to a friend and I agreed to spend lunch away from the house with her. We went to a local green house turned restaurant. She had asked me how my week had gone. I confessed that I was miserable. I hadn’t eaten a true meal, or slept well, or even allowed myself to adjust the thermostat in the house. My friend listened as I joked: It was like I was dangling food and home and comfort on the end of the stick, so I could just get through the week.

My friend asked me, did I think I wasn’t worthy. I tried to answer but couldn’t. Tears stung my eyes, and my throat constricted–her words hitting a bullseye but my body deciding it wouldn’t be true if I didn’t confess it with my own words. But I couldn’t hold it any longer. Maybe it was the moist air or the scent of hummus and hot cider that lulled me into a state of vulnerability. I cried right there in the middle of the crowded restaurant.

I’m still working all that out, trust me, but the point of this back story is to explain how my friend and I decided 2023 would be a year where we proved to ourselves we were worthy of pleasure, and joy, regardless of the cost. We didn’t need to earn it either. We already deserved it.

The first thing I did, was subscribe to audible. My previous habit had been to wait for their deals to arrive in my inbox. Other wise, I’d wait for loans from the public library or for second hand copies to show up at Half Price Books. I couldn’t justify spending money on a new book, just so I could enjoy a story. I wasn’t worth that.

The second thing I did, was buy merino wool clothing. (I’m actually still making payments on these.) As a loyal thrifter, I don’t remember the last time I spent money on new clothes, much less clothes that required a payment plan.

The third thing I did, I did with aforementioned friend. We made appointments at a spa. Neither one of us really liked the idea of getting a massage so we opted for a Warmed Spice Mud Wrap. The website describes it as so:

“Featuring seaweed infused with aromatic spices of ginger and orange to revive the senses, this wrap is firming, toning, detoxifying and a natural anti-aging boost. A gentle scalp massage is also offered in this relaxing treatment.”

When we arrived, signs asked us to turn off our phones and speak in low volumes so as to keep the spa a space for relaxation. (Rude. I wanted to laugh, deflecting my way through this scary new experience.)

We hadn’t known what to wear (or not wear). When they asked us to undress to our comfort level, I joked, “I’d rather undress to YOUR comfort level” but they assured me there was no issue with nudity. So, in effort to remove anything that made me feel shame for being there, for spending the money or allowing myself to be pampered, I decided to strip completely naked: judgement be damned.

First our skin was exfoliated with a cactus brush, abrasive at first and then soothing. Then, one folded corner of a warm blanket at a time, our legs, arms, chest and back were slathered with the black mud and we were cocooned like little caterpillars. While the mud sucked the moisture (and toxins) from our freshly sandpapered skin, the masseuses rubbed our scalps. I’d be lying if I said this was my favorite part. I, unfortunately, spend most of the time wondering how bad my dandruff was. Wondering if my arm pits smelled: Wondering how long my leg hair had gotten; Why couldn’t my shoulders and neck relax; Why is it still so hard to accept that I am naked? Aren’t we all just flesh and bones? Aren’t my secrets still hidden under the surface?

As our time came to an end, hot steamy towels were used to wipe the mud from our bodies. Half asleep, our legs were picked up and wiped clean. Then our arms were picked up cleaned. Then our backs and our chests. All the while melodious music and dim lights left the room feeling like we aught to close our eyes if we knew what was good for us. Otherwise we watch someone wipe towel our bodies and have to fight the urge to stop them and say, “Oh I can do that, how about you sit and rest there in the corner.”

Missing the point entirely.

So I closed my eyes knowing, this is what I was there to practice–to let someone do this gentle job and let my self enjoy it. I wasn’t worthy of this joy because I paid some obscene amount of money for this, or tipped the recommended amount. I was worthy because we all deserve pleasure and sometimes that looks like doing nothing as someone else holds the weight of your limbs. (And sometimes it looks like black paste smothered over your skin like a weird hippy mummification.) (Just Kidding.)

It’s amazing how we cling to all the obstacles we put in our own way. How pleasure can sometimes be this impossibly far destination on the horizon or at the top of a mountain. Let me ask you: if the journey isn’t a uphill battle, have we earned the pleasure of arriving? I don’t know.

When I made it home, I hopped back in the car and drove an hour in the opposite direction to work my part time job with potato chips, instead of telling my boss I was unavailable that day. The next day, I sat at a desk and wrote, calculating the progress in my novel as if all the pleasure and relaxation could be offset by productivity. I worked that night too, despite my sprained wrist begging for a break.

And so I confess, the Spiced Mud and Ginger and Hot Towels didn’t cure me. One extravagant expense at a spa wasn’t quite enough to cement the feeling of worth. Maybe it’ll take more wraps or more monthly subscriptions or more payment plans to convince myself I’m worthy of the art of pleasure. Maybe it will take time: Just one lunch at at time, and then one more warm green house, and one more hot cider, and one more book that is so good you cry in your car parked on the side of the street.

When the ticking time bomb in your chest says you don’t have time to linger–you have placed to be, remind it that time is relative and joy is fleeting. You will hold it as long as you can. And when you’re tired and you need a break but there is a voice that says you haven’t earned it yet, try to tell it to kindly shut the hell up.

Instead savor the music that threatens to lull your body to rest. Snuggle into the cacoon of warm mud spiced with orange and ginger that promises rejuvenation when you emerge. Let someone clean your body with the warmest towel your nerves can stand. And when the hot towel reminds you of how your husband wipes his cum off your belly (have you been enjoying spiced spa treatments all this time?)–don’t stifle the laugh. Don’t worry about how inappropriate the thought is–or how others are trying to relax and how dare you impose on their spa date.

Laugh. Release yourself from your dumb reasons and self-righteous morals. Steal these little joys earned without a single arm or leg lifted. Pleasure has a way of sneaking up on you at the wrong time and in the wrong place and isn’t that the point? That you and I were worthy all along?


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