I want you to read this book

I inhaled Hunger by Roxane (one n) Gay. I don’t mean it in the food metaphor way, I mean it in the breath-way, you know, the normal way we think of inhaling. I took it all in in three long breaths, filling not only my lungs with it, but my heart, my brain, and my body.

I want you to read this book if you are a parent, or a child. I want you to read this book if you have been in a family and that family dynamic has left you unable to tell the truth about you, about your body, about what you do with or has been done to your body. I want you to read this book if fat* makes you feel ashamed, or if you feel like fat is who you are. More, though, I want you to read this book if you think fat is a character flaw, a moral outrage, or a thing that only slovenly, lazy people become.

In a nutshell, I want YOU to read this book.

It’s an easy read, offered in 88 chapters, which may sound like a lot, but she serves it up in pieces that range from a paragraph or two to five to seven pages.

It’s an easy read more so because Gay is a gifted writer who tells the story as she needs to—going in and out and around an issue as she would if she were sitting next to you telling you the story.

It’s an easy read because the words are chosen carefully and provide you the exact words you need to understand her life.

And it is a hard read because the truth is never easy.

This truth, this memoir of her body, is both personal and universal and when I tell you I want you to read it it is not because I think you are fat, but because I think you are as afraid of fat as I am, even as I am swaddled in the protection it provides, keeping me from doing things that thin me would have done easily, recklessly, harmfully.

I want you to read this if you are thin and especially if you are parenting a fat child. I want you to read it because maybe you will see that what looks like laziness is actually fear, or horror, or a protective body response. I want you to stop trying to fix your kid’s “fat” and find out who they are and what they are hiding and how your family dynamic might be creating a distance that may, one day, be hard to draw back.

I was particularly moved by Gay talking about her family dynamic, about how her parents were persistent in changing her body, but not entering into a conversation about the why of it. Maybe her parents thought they were doing that but it isn’t how it was registered for Gay. How horrible to carry trauma around for decades—and how many of us do that?

I came away from this book wondering all the ways I used shame as my children were growing up—shaming them, shaming myself, amplifying the “bad” behavior. It’s only recently, as my children have become women, that I recognize all the signs of ignoring the why while focusing on how that why manifests. I remember a very hard conversation with one of my daughters that switched on a dime when I said “what’s really going on? This is not about a five dollar hamburger?”

Translate “fat” into drug or alcohol abuse, or self-harm, or perfectionism and ask yourself how am I really parenting this kid? What am I doing or not doing to find out the root of the behavior rather than responding only to the behavior.

I want you to read this if you are afraid of your body—of owning it, of expressing it, of loving it (just as you are), of being it.

People sometimes say that we are not our bodies or that our bodies are just a container for who we are. Hunger may make you rethink this. Who I am is shaped, in large measure by my body and while I could change my body and work harder to make it lean and then maybe fly more comfortably to a foreign land, my body is also shaped by who I am.

I want you to read this book.

I want you to read it for it’s lyrical nature and for the insights it might give you into your own body, but mostly, mostly, I want you to read this book because it will change you from the inside out.

I want you, too, to inhale it, deeply, and then exhale love and understanding to the people you know, but more so to those you don’t: the woman on the train, the homeless warrior, the mother who yells at her kids in Target, the people whose lives don’t fit your mold. I want you to wonder why you are the way you are and others are the way they are. I want you to consider that our culture offers only a limited number of “acceptable” or “normal” standards and how much you miss when you limit yourself to those few options, too.

I want you to read this book.

Really.

*I use fat here as a descriptor, not to denigrate. I use the word fat because it is the correct word. What you bring to that word may be your work to do.

Watermelon Days

It was a chilly day for summer, but still I sat on the deck as the wind ruffled the pages of the book I was reading and tried (and failed) to keep the watermelon juice off the pages.

I had cut the watermelon the way my mother always did: in half, then halving the half, then halving the fourth, so I had a wedge that contained a part of the sweet heart of the fruit. That’s why she cut it that way, she used to tell me–so that everyone could have part of the very heart of the melon. Though “everyone” in our family turned out to be my mom, me, and an eldest sister who left the house when I was 12.

She taught me to start from the point of the wedge, to use both fork and spoon: one to scoop and one to flick the seeds onto the plate. Start at the back, she said, and then lift the heart and eat it last.

Sitting on the deck yesterday afternoon while my youngest daughter napped and my husband worked, with those pages doing everything but laying flat while I tried to eat that watermelon, I remembered afternoons doing the same with my mom. Now, there are no seeds, though, so no reason to use a fork and no scary tales of how if you swallow the seeds, fruit will grow out of your mouth and nose and even your armpits (among other places).

I savored the sweet and juicy slice of memory that crept up on me like the big orange cat. It was a small memory, but one that stood in for much more:

  • A flash of the table we gathered at when I was quite little and my father was still a minister and the story of the seeds and how they would grow became an even bigger tale when relayed by older siblings.
  • As a long, lean teen, stretched out on my belly on a towel, with the plate of watermelon and a book splayed out in front of me–still a challenge to manage both fruit and page at once.
  • As a mom, sitting on the deck and spitting seeds out into the lawn as my daughters clamored on the swingset, only one of the three even remotely interested in anything but the spitting.

Here’s maybe what’s best about lazy summer days: you go where the memories take you. Or, maybe, you start with a familiar and simple thing and find yourself following the memory the familiar brings. Then the wind and the sun and the lazy orange cat who nudges at your hand and prods you into putting down the book or the phone to pet him allows you to remember the details that may or may not have been true: the table you gathered at and the yard out the sliding door that was really just the parking lot of the church where your dad worked. The tricycle your brother always stole from you and then whipped around that parking lot, his foot on the back step of it, his hands on the handlebars with the long white streamers that flew back as the peddles spun rapidly round, footless, because he was using his other foot to push himself with all his might and speed, because he didn’t care for watermelon, only for constant movement, as fast as he could go. And your other sister, the one closest to you in age, wearing the matching, though slightly bigger, romper your mother sewed for you in the 1960s when sewing was less expensive than buying and every town had a fabric store that became the place you went to most with your mother, second to the grocery store, and how you know, now, how hard that must have been for her, and still she went.

I think summer is the time we invent ritual, both in time and in memory. The days without structure that seemed endless and full of hula hoops and skip rope and forts made in empty lots of dirt clods, tumbleweeds and forgotten brick, or in living rooms made of blankets and pillows. And reading. Lots of reading and watching television shows over and over and over again.

Summer is a lazy and relentless opening for creativity and possibility.

And watermelon. Always watermelon.

 

What’s Beautiful Here

What’s beautiful here is a house whose furniture belongs in a house of old, old things and old, old people. Broken or nearly-so. Fragile fabrics, like thin skin, bruising at every brush of a knuckle or seemingly kind word.

What’s beautiful here, where everything seems to be lightly stitched and held by twines and tufts of cat hair and dust.

What’s beautiful here. This is not a question. Because the answer is obvious, however much we like to hide it behind table cloth curtains and a ceiling of curses that fall on us with a laugh.

What’s beautiful here is … here.

Here where we gather. Here where we hurt full-throatedly and heal incrementally.

Here where we hang our art and tend to forget it until that day each quarter or so, when we take the dusting wand and swipe it lightly over the tops of frames and stop, if only briefly, to say “ah, I remember you.” Here where we relive the day we picked it out together and said “I do” all over again. I do love this. I do love you.

Here is what’s beautiful so we remember. As we look about, beyond the shoes and the books and the dishes that stack up on side tables and couter tops. Here is what’s beautiful.

What’s beautiful here is you. The you beyond your skin and hair and pants growing too saggy in your bottom even as mine grow tighter around my belly.

What’s beautiful here is your steadfastness, your loyalty, and your strength. Many men can benchpress the weight of me, but you, you carry me even when I am nothing but dead weight as you usher me forward, even while I draw you down and back.

What’s beautiful here, where the carpet and the couch are stained from a life of living with kids and kittens and a bevy of friends is not what is visibly here. Though some of that  is beautiful, too.

What’s beautiful here is the thing unspoken, the thing unseen, but often felt. It’s the thing that has broken us down and broken us open and the thing we rest our hearts on when we sleep.

What’s beautiful here is … us.

 

#UULent: Love

I’ve been ruminating on love today, a day where I am home alone with three cats who have been insisting, in turns, on being adored. But I went to the stored photos on my phone, thinking I could find a suitable selfie with my husband as my “love image.” And I did, but then I found this: taken as my daughters were about to drive back to their other lives after coming home for the Women’s March on Washington. And there they all are, scooped up in my husband’s grand wingspan (even the dopey orange cat).

This is the fun picture, but the picture I have of him from this time is standing outside the bus we just boarded for DC. “My whole life is getting on this bus,” he said as he gathered us all in for one last group hug, then stood outside, watching in.

Love. It’s like that wide wingspan: it is what holds us in, connected. Even those who aren’t pictured. Even the dopey cat.

 

Here in the Middle Book Event

Oh, I’m super excited. Next Saturday, I’ll be joining some of the other authors in the Chicago-land area for an author meet-and-greet/book signing for Here In The Middle. If you are in the area, join us (details, below). If you can’t make it, here’s a slide show to share some of the people in the book:

Details on the book signing are here.

Hope to see you there!

Tina

In the Middle

hereinthemiddleToday is the day! Release day for an anthology of essays written by some really thoughtful writers and compiled by excellent editors. Here in the Middle is a collection of stories about what has sometimes been called the “Sandwich generation.” But it isn’t really about a generation, it’s about a time in life when mothers and fathers find themselves involved deeply in the lives of their children and their parents.

This is a first for me, to have a piece I’ve written be included in an anthology, and I am thrilled that the first piece is this particular piece in this particular anthology. My story is from a time nearly nine years ago, when my children were still all at home here in Northwest Indiana, while my parents were battling my father’s cancer in Southern California.

momdadweddingIn looking through pictures at my mother’s house last summer when we moved her to a new home in a new state, I found this photo of my folks as they were “going away” on their wedding day. I love this photo for so many reasons, but mostly it shows these two as they set out in the world as a couple, a force to be reckoned with for more than 50 years.

But I also love the dress my mom is wearing. She kept it always and my sister and I would love to look at their wedding photos and then go steal a look at the dress. Alas, we outgrew that dress well before any time when it would have been appropriate for us to wear it, like, for real. So, instead, at their 50th wedding anniversary party, we hung that dress and her wedding gown from the curtain rods at my sisters house. I remember with a little embarrassed joy about how I fussed with that dress to pin the skirt out so everyone could see just how much fabric hung on that small but mighty frame.

My mom just left my home on Tuesday after spending Thanksgiving with me and my family. We are in a much different time now than the time I wrote about in Here in the Middle. And so are my husband and I in our journey with our now grown daughters.

I invite you to buy this book. My essay is only one of many that reflect the wide variety of voices from people who are here in the middle with us all. Wherever you are on your journey through life, I’m sure the honest writing about life’s full measure will be familiar to you in some form or another.

Find the book, here, on Amazon.

#hereinthemiddle

92. Pad See Ew and You

pad-see-ewThai food is a treat
almost as much as
seeing you, my love,
my baby, my friend.

How lovely to look
up from my noodles
that slap my face and
soil my shirt to see

you there, looking back
at me. Precious,
rare, sweet and spicy–
pad see ew and you.

91. Love Song

I’ll sing a song to youpumpkins
tonight, a song of
tender love; drowning

the sound the old cat
makes as he bathes and
bathes and bathes. The song

will be forever
sweet, so sweet your lips
ache and smack for chips

in need of a sting
like when I used to
sing to you before

you knew the words I
sang while begging you
to shut your eyes as

well as your yowling,
trembling, puckered lips.
The cat’s done bathing

and the house sits still
begging me for my
song. Too silent now

in this small home grown
large in the absence
of you, you, and you.

86. For my daughters in difficult times

You are the reason
the world moves forward.
You hold the traits
of many a grandmother
within your DNA, within
your heart

You have the kindness
and tenacity and
moral outrage of women
in numerous lines
stretching back through
harrowing circumstances,
and they survived,
resulting in you.

They live in you,
with their fierce love
of justice and humanity
even if those weren’t
the words they used
as they held babies on
their hips as they
tended to the needs
of families, of communities,
of this world.

They got up daily,
rising to what life handed them,
just as you do
just as you always will

Even when it is hard
even where there is no justice
even when those you trust
become untrustworthy

You are the reason
the world moves forward
just as your grandmothers were,
just as they are

Hold their purpose
in your pocket,
roll it around in your
fingers like a stone
made smooth by the
work of their hands,
the work of their hearts,
the work of their smarts.

You are the reason
the world moves forward.
And you always will be.

74. Bed Sheets Like Family

The Sheets are
rumpled up
hefted from the drier
where they sat
and cooled
and never
ever
were ironed

Looking like the
furrow
on my mother’s brow or the
laugh lines
at my father’s temple or the
weathered skin
on the back of my hand

Never smooth
never flat like the
aprons
my grandmother
wore
until she no longer
cooked
the family meals