Monday, March 29, 2010

A Little Spiral of Pain

Okay, so I'm a little stressed out. I know I'm stressed. I can feel my face twisting into a little spiral of pain which looks more like worry or anger to those who see it. The soft, lightly etched skin around my left eye twitches, flinches really. Yesterday a muscle on the right side of my nose tensed repeatedly against my will. I'm gritting my teeth and the muscles involved are tired. My temples beat with tension. I left my glasses at home today and maybe it's a good thing because they have been weighing heavily on the veins in my nose, light as they are. My shoulders are hiked up as high as they'll go. I might as well be tensing for a physical blow.
We're on our way to New York to visit my husband's parents. When I tell people we're going to New York for spring break, I can see they imagine a fun-filled week of Broadway plays, museums, walks through Central Park. But that's not what it's like. It's seven days in a dark overheated apartment, trying to shield those I love (my husband, my son) from the psychological gnawing they'll suffer at the hands of my in-laws. It's not emotional abuse, not quite, but my husband will never please them, give them enough of himself, get the praise he works so hard for. It's never going to happen.
I have to practice detachment. I have done it before and I will do it again. My capacity for stress is pretty high, maybe too high, and I have worked hard to try to spread it out, not take on too much, but my capacity is not infinite and I don't want to find out what my breaking point is.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What I'm Trying to Do

I wish I knew. If I did know, maybe I wouldn't have to write so much stuff down. All I do know is that it won't fit on a cocktail napkin, in a photo caption, on a list of how-tos. The story, my story, the way I see the story is too complex for a sound byte, a blurb, or a movie poster. What happened before, how it came to this, is too important to me to leave out. And I'm finding telling my story to friends and family is not as satisfying as it once was.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Joan Didion said, and it's so true it's frightening. The chaos of our biology, flattened and mutated by our cultural overlays requires us to think up a new story almost every day about why wake up in the morning, why put one foot in front of the other. If we fail to come up with a convincing story, we might not get out of bed, we might just stop dead. And the curious thing is, that story doesn't have to satisfy anyone but you. Circumstances continually shift and our lives are in constant rewrite. What seems like a perfectly acceptable reason to do something at 25 is a terrible reason at age 50. But does that mean that it was a mistake at age 25? No. Not at all.
I'm trying to explain how I feel. I'm trying to explain what I know and how I know it. I'm trying to understand how to live in the particular, highly peculiar situation I find myself in. I don't know if I'll succeed. But I have to try.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Act Your Age

It's vaguely embarrassing to be hit with the writing bug so late in life. My family, my friends were quite used to me being just like them, muddling through with no more than the next day's to-do list on my mind. Which is plenty, believe me, for anyone in our complicated world, but they can't quite believe my defection. Am I expecting--gasp!--to be famous? Or rich? Or what, exactly? They don't get it. And why am I not watching TV and reading the newspaper like normal people do?
Isn't this something I should have gotten out of my system back in my adolescence, or at the latest, in my twenties? It's almost shameful at my age, to be thinking that I could start such a big project and expect to be able to finish it. It's too late to do things like go back to college, or start a whole new career--isn't it? I should act my age.
And then of course, because I have a teenaged son, why am I not focusing more of my efforts on his behalf? Why not live vicariously through him? All this naked striving on my own behalf, impossibly ambitious and unseemly. What can I be thinking? Isn't it time to rest on my laurels (what laurels?) and think about retiring or my 401K plan or my living will?
All I can answer is I paid attention, maybe too much attention, to what everyone else wanted me to do for too long already. Right after college, I was urged to be practical, get a job, start supporting myself. I did. Then when I had a baby, of course the baby came first. Now that he's in high school, I have more time to pursue my own plans and I'm going to. If not now, when?

Up next: what I hope to accomplish at this late date.

Friday, March 19, 2010


My son is a vegetarian. We took him to the farmers market in Toulouse and there he got a good look at whole pigs hanging from the butcher's hook, cow tongues lolling in the meat case, and entire tetes de veau. He was horripilated. Then he watched a woman eat a whole bloody plate of steak tartare (with a raw egg broken over it) at the Brasserie Lipp in Paris. That was it. He said: "No more meat for me!" and after only six months of occasional bacon-eating, he has stuck to his philosophical guns for over half his life--from age seven to now, age fourteen.
I'm not a vegetarian, but at home we eat vegetarian--all of us--because it simplifies the cooking and leads to smoother relations all round. The only difficulties arise when we go to big family holiday dinners, like all of them, that feature meat. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Easter, and the usual summer barbeque season. Of course, the whole extended family has become a minefield of specialized diets--diabetics, low-fatters, South Beachers, low-cholesterolics, and then the myriad and various personal dislikes to be factored in. Deciding on one menu everyone might like is almost impossible, or as the Italian say, quasi-stratosferico. I am frequently begged to reassure my mother, my aunts, whoever, that my son will eat, and even more, will enjoy some cheesy casserole they believe he should like. I say yes. I don't know if he will, the track record is spotty, but better to deal with the fall-out when it arrives, rather than waste tons of time wringing our hands about it for days and days before the event. If he doesn't like something, they feel I betrayed them. They look at me as if I deliberately misled them, as if I encouraged him to be a vegetarian just to upset their menu plans.
Not me. I keep a secret stash of prosciutto in the fridge, carefully hidden in camoflaging wrapper and no one's found it there yet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Le Mot Juste

I had no idea how liberating writing a blog would be. I write down all my inner thoughts and fears, launch them out into cyberspace in perfect security that they will never be read. It's more secure there than in a diary with a little key. There it joins the vast tsunami of personal info that's sloshing about all over the blogosphere to the extent that no one ever looks at any of it. This is tremendously freeing. No sense of writing for an audience, no possibility of hurting anybody's feelings. And no sense that anything I write down on these little screens will ever come back to bite me in the ass. I see now that I had a last remaining magical notion that some opinion of mine, once written down in cold black ink would somehow clang through eternity as a given, rather than a talking point. If I had written more when I was younger, perhaps I would have abandoned this silly notion earlier. But I suffer from a common malady among writers: I think words are important. I think the right word is very important, sometimes even crucial. Le mot juste and all that, when perhaps le mot juste pour maintenant is a more workable notion.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

After It's Gone

So now I'm a formerly fat person. I now have the opportunity to leave that former self in the murky past. People I've met in the last ten years don't know this salient fact about me and now I have to decide whether and how much to tell them. And most people don't want to hear about it. If they've had the genetic good luck never to have to think about their weight, they don't want to hear about your weakness; if they are deep in their own struggle with extra pounds, they can't envision defeating them. I can see the look in their eyes, the look I used to share: the "you can't possibly know the pressure I'm under" look, the "easy enough to say, but try my life for a couple of days" look.
Yeah, I know.
So even though I'd like to be truthful and sympathetic, that's not how my story plays when told. Thin people don't care, heavier people can't hear. It's like the new boyfriend who doesn't want to hear about your past. He'd rather believe you were always like this and just waiting for him to come along and appreciate you. Anyway, according to thin women, I'm still fat. According to my kindred, the fat women, I'm thin. So I'm shit out of luck. Neither community will let me in.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How I Lost the 60 Pounds

Lots of hard work. It's like a full-time job. This won't read like your typical motivational story--if those actually motivated anyone, we wouldn't need so many of them.
First, the decision. I can't live like this anymore. Too painful.
Next, the research. Available in any library or bookstore. I decided to go the low-fat, high-fiber route, with increasing doses of exercise. Everyone knows what works.
Then, the commitment to cooking, menu planning, and portion control.
Lastly, limiting the challenges. Eating out, buffets, parties, holidays.
Sounds easy, right?
I probably spend more time each day planning what I'm going to cook and eat than most of the chefs in those quirky little start-up restaurants. But it pays off. My food is good. I feel satisfied. Every single day is easier now that I'm not lugging around an extra 60 pounds everywhere I go. I save so much time not berating myself for having eaten something I didn't even want. That time saved is applied to menu planning. I spend much less time worrying about how I look or examining the passing crowd for that one person who is bulkier than I am, the one I can feel thinner than. I don't do any of that anymore. When I see someone big--really big, like the strings judge at my son's music festival--I wonder instead what his story is. What hurt is he eating to keep from feeling? What anger is he unable to express in any other way than a slow strangulation of his own life?
Because it's not easy being fat. Not easy to eat beyond the point of comfort, into gastric distress. Not easy to beat yourself up every day about your own bad habits and then continue them. Not easy to walk around in the world absolutely positive everyone's looking at you and your excess bulk and judging you. It takes a great commitment to pain. I wasn't able to do it.