Sprinters And Marathoners

It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and the birds sound beautiful but I feel wretched. I am writing through the pain and waiting for the Icy-Hot and the Topricin and the ibuprofen to kick in. The CBD oil that I have been using to manage this muscle pain for the past several weeks has ceased to be effective.

I send some writing out into the internet most days on Facebook but this post is going to be too long for that format because, as I said, I’m writing through the pain and I’ll be at this keyboard until it lets up and I can sleep.

What I think I have is simple muscular pain. I know my body pretty well at the age of 53, and what I know about it is that I localize tension in one section of it (lower back! feet! now my jaw!) for a season and then pain in that location resolves and moves somewhere else. Since June, and in conjunction with playing a very bizarre character in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins,” I have had deep aching in my legs and thighs. That’s where Sara Jane Moore lived in me, I suppose, and it’s where I stored all of the new stage fright that has plagued me throughout this production. I’ve been performing since I was six years old and I never imagined that I would be standing in the wings of a theatre at this level of experience psyching myself up for my entrance while a jittery part of my mind just one level below keenest consciousness relentlessly murmurs (but not unkindly), “You’re going to fuck this up.  Just think about all the ways you could fuck this up!”

(If you have played Sara Jane, can we have a drink and vent about the RIDICULOUS number of complicated props she has to handle with split-second timing? The gun, the fried chicken, the joint, the lipstick, the dog, the bullets, the insane complexity of props in her verse of “The Gun Song?”)

While I was playing Ruth in “The Pirates of Penzance,” I got headaches so bad that pressure applied to a certain spot in my neck made me vomit (that wasn’t good for my voice but it did relieve the headache pain). When I played Emma Goldman, my ankles and feet froze into knots so debilitating I had to vist the chiropractor weekly so I could continue to perform.  During one cold Minnesota winter when I was in my mid-20’s, my feet cramped up so badly I couldn’t walk down a short flight of stairs until I had been awake for at least a half an hour. Since the only bathroom in the house was on the ground floor, this made for humiliating predicaments.

My body often acts out at the conclusion or during the aftermath of a big creative project or especially demanding and intense season of ministry. When I much more actively and perilously battled anxiety and panic disorder around ten years ago (I consider myself to be recovered, or perhaps recovering), my panic attacks would come in the days after I thought I was in the clear for breaking down from stress.

It was much the same when I was growing up: I inevitably caught a cold, or the flu or once a serious case of mononucleosis (leading to hepatitis) after closing one of the many musicals I performed in in addition to schoolwork and after-school jobs. I understand and accept by now that I am not a marathoner in this life but a sprinter, putting out intense bursts of energy and focus and then collapsing at the finish line while others keep trotting along in enormous, companionable phalanxes, waking early, setting out and staying hydrated throughout the day as they maintain a steady pace and retire at a reasonable hour when the sun sets.

It seems to me lately that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have thrown the sprinters and marathoners into a big ramshackle farmhouse together where we can keep each other up far too late into the night and wake each other up far too early in the morning conversing, reacting, agitating and goading.  I think sprinters may adjust to the relentlessnes  a bit more easily given our natural rhythms of intense engagement and withdrawal, but the farmhouse is just as often the set of a horror movie as it is a party.

So I’m returning to a longer-form communique at 4:51 this morning to slow things down a bit, to avoid being the wee hour *ping* on someone’s phone who follows my Facebook page, and to see how I feel about engaging in this slightly less ephemeral fashion than what is possible in Mark ZuckerbergLand. There are no ads here. The eye isn’t drawn to a thousand side comments. Maybe it’s a little more boring and a bit more peaceful.

I have heard that 3AM is the Mystic’s Hour, when the veil between the realms is most gossamer and those who are prone to commune with the gods are most likely to do so. I have very dear friends who are in the Iona Community in Scotland right now and I enjoy imagining them starting their day with a late breakfast at this hour.  Bangers and mash? Haggis? I just hope the coffee is good. I look forward to hearing whether the veil between the worlds at Iona is as permeable as reported.

Mystical union aside, three and four o’clock in the morning are also existential crisis hours when many who keep vigil over sick bodies, agitated minds, crumbling relationships and frightening life circumstances feel most alone and desperate.  I hope it comforts you, as it comforts me, to know that monastic communities all over the globe are keeping vigil with you and praying for your well-being and spiritual safety. You aren’t the only one awake.

I have now been writing to you for an hour, during which I have also tended to the dog and cat who awakened to prowl and sniff around me in concern. I have had  a blueberry smoothie. The neighborhood is waking up and the ibuprofen has kicked in. I no longer entertain myself with dire imaginings about what terminal disease might be causing my muscle pain (I am certain that it’s the terminal disease called life). My day ahead involves attending a legal hearing as an advocate, having a conversation with my outgoing board chair, attending a Zoom call about local immigrant advocacy and doing some funeral preparation.  A demanding day, so I am going back to bed.

Here’s a little beauty from the Universalist Book of Prayer, 1895:

O Thou from whose fatherly hand sleep falleth nightly on the eyelids of man, whereby his body forgetteth its toil and his soul its sorrow; Teach us ever to receive it with grateful hearts, and grant that lying down this night with our souls at peace, and fearing no harm which man can do unto us, we may sleep secure in the guardianship of thy love. Amen. 






Naked Fat Bodies: A Mental Exercise For Dani Mathers

This story about professionally beautiful Playboy model Dani Mathers fascinates me.

I’m glad there was a huge outrage about her violation of someone’s privacy. She broke the rules of the club and also broke the unwritten decency code of social media. It is always interesting to see how those “best practices” get tested and established over just such violations as this.

We all have cameras now, and we record and photograph each other as strangers all the time. That’s normative. That cat is out of the bag, but this wasn’t a cat, it was a pterodactyl attack.

But I want to talk not about social media, but about the premise of most of the articles written about this story, which is that fat people who are naked or scantily clad in public live in terror of being judged.

No, we don’t.

I’m a fat woman who wears a two-piece bathing suit, strips down at the health club with no hesitation, and changes backstage in dressing rooms among fit, young dancers without thinking a thing of my body shape and size.  Anyone who is judging me is judging themselves far more harshly, so I chalk it up to human nature and wish everyone well in their struggle. When you’re writing an article about fat bullying, please do not assume that all fat people have internalized fat phobia.

Dani, you’re a mess, honey.

You’ve got the body beautiful thing down. Now please work on your spirit, which is already badly warped.

I think I read that you’re a model, which must mean that you’re spending your time in an appearance-obsessed population where a slightly rounded stomach or bit of butt jiggle can mean the difference between paying the rent that month or racking up the credit card debt.

I get it, but you need to liberate yourself from the Playboy bunny cage. Get out more. Spend time with a variety of humans of differing body types, abilities, fitness levels and ages. You will undoubtedly discover that your “#goals” are petty concerns to many of them. You need some perspective.

I personally would have felt less disturbed by what you did if you had simply violated the other woman’s privacy and written something critical about her weight. But you wrote, “You can’t unsee this,” which gives me the chills.  “You can’t unsee this” is a total erasure of a person, a complete dehumanization, and equates an ordinary naked body with a horrible grotesquerie that might scar someone for life upon beholding it.  No one says, “You can’t unsee this” about an image that is less than utterly shocking or disgusting. You can offer pathetic apologies all you want, but we all know what that phrase means.

You need to work out your mind, girl. I feel obliged to inform you that that’s all you’re going to have to support you when your body isn’t young and fit or suffers ill health at any point along the way.

Here’s a mental exercise you can do while you’re at the gym or anywhere else. As you notice people around you, focus on them and really see them. They are a collection of fascinating individuals.  Try to imagine them as a tiny baby, then a toddler, then an elementary school age kid, and so on up the life path to elder years, and then end of life, and then death. Remember that you, too, will die, and that none of you knows how, where or when. Let humility touch your heart. As you breathe in and out, breathe in, “I am grateful to be alive in this moment.” As you breathe out, think, “I wish everybody around me the wellness that they, too, seek by being here.”

I hope that helps.  I hope it helps Dani and anyone who suffers from similar spiritual screwiness. For everyone else, let’s continue to challenge and dismantle the irrational belief that slim people are in any way morally superior to fat people.








A Different Fat Narrative

A friend sent me this article by Lisa Respers France, a Senior Producer for CNN, a woman struggling with compulsive overeating and weight issues.

I should start by saying that in America, it is assumed that all fat women are struggling with their weight. There is no existing framework in America outside a small, much- reviled Fat Acceptance movement that allows for the possibility of a woman being fat and not trying to lose weight. The same is becoming true for men, although there is still a wide chasm between public expectations for male and female bodies.

Unlike the author, I do not mind being called fat — it’s an accurate description, and since I don’t ascribe any moral value to fat, it doesn’t trigger any self-hate or shame for me. Unlike the author, I do not prefer to be called “fluffy.”  I love the word “zaftig,” which conveys a zest and juiciness that the word “fat,” in its plainness, does not evoke but “fat” is fine (Remember when Garp and his wife Helen in The World According To Garp named their son “Walt” — just Walt, not Walter — and John Irving described the word as the sound a beaver makes when thumping its tail on the ground? That’s how I feel when I hear “fat.” A nice, solid thwack of sound. I’m fat).

My friend who forwarded me the article assumed, as most people do, that as a fat woman, I would resonate with France’s narrative. I do not. I read France’s article with a weary sense of deja vu, in fact, mentally ticking off each generic trope found in the vast majority of narratives about fat women published in mainstream media, as each one appeared. They are, in no particular order:

The subject’s frustration with passive-aggressive messages about one’s looks and body given by friends (!). Hurt about male objectification that isn’t flattering enough (but the objectification itself is not a problem).

Dramatic moment in childhood when food becomes important, and eventually addicting.

Food is comforting, until it’s not, but at that point the fat person finds it impossible to stop overeating. Misery ensues.

Obligatory sad and tawdry detail about lonely binge eating (in this case, eating “squeeze cheese” and a box of Ritz crackers in  bed following a break-up).

Realization that food is a replacement for a “hole inside” or “deep yearning” that is probably spiritual in nature.

Lightbulb moment while reading the latest, most popular self-help book for weight loss/compulsive overeating, subsequent tears and sense of breakthrough (see Geneen Roth, When Food Is Love or Women, Food And God for the most current lightbulb books on women and fat).

Insight that food is a substitute for self-love.

Mention of male figure who “loves me just as I am.” Usually a husband.

Vows to “get healthy,” with recognition that this “will be hard” but with the help of God/my husband/my personal trainer/friends, the subject will accomplish this “healing.”

What happens next, the vast majority of the time, is that the subject will commit to a new lifestyle, a healthier and portion-controlled food plan (you don’t say “diet” in these narratives), will achieve success, and will write a follow-up article showing photographs of their “new” body with accompanying quotes about how much better and happier they feel and how much their medical condition has improved.

What happens after that is that they will gain back all or most of the weight they lost (or all that they lost plus more), return to the same habits they had before their conversion experience, and start the cycle all over again, only this time finding a new, more honest narrative about how food and fat work for them. After having done more work to understand their own bodies, their own personal and very complicated reasons for eating (surprise, it wasn’t just self-loathing after all), they may re-embark on the quest for weight loss and freedom from compulsive eating and achieve something that looks like success for them. Unless they are Oprah, this subsequent, more unique set of insights about overeating will never be reported.

Continue reading “A Different Fat Narrative”