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.

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

Ain’t Gonna F*ck Around No More

Fair Warning on language and on the habit of chaning song lyrics. And just about everything else–if you aren’t offended by parts of or the entirety of this post, I’ll feel I have missed the mark. You have been warned.

This morning, the tune of a song was rattling around in my head. But the words came out of my mouth like this: “ain’t gonna fuck around no more.” Sometimes I think God whispers. Sometimes I think she just lets go of her everlovin’ shit. Today, she reminded me that it might be way past time for me to do the same.

I’ve been angry for the past week and a half. When I wasn’t curled up like a fetal ball of jangled nerves on the couch or the bed, I was wishing I had something to kick. Sometimes it came out in Facebook posts that were less than kind. Sometimes it came out in just stuffing it all back down. But mostly it came out in not being able to face the world—because I get to choose not to.

Friends were checking on me and I wouldn’t have any of it … and then the thing that pulled me back into the world is the thing that usually does, I had to attend to something for my daughter. I was lucky in that when I went to see one daughter, I ended up seeing all three. And then I got an invite to a friend’s house. And then I pulled myself to church and then to a discussion about being neighborly in one of the most racially segregated regions in the country. And, on Monday, I had lunch with another friend.

This morning, I realized how I was segregating myself from the people who voted differently than me. The posts I was sharing were putting people I love at arms length and the phone calls I was answering (or not) were doing the same.

I gathered my like-minded friends close, and decided I was too hurt and angry with the others for their votes to even look at them or their Facebook posts, let alone talk with them in a civil way.

And maybe that’s what I needed, but it was horseshit.

I ain’t gonna fuck around no more. There’s no time for reaping more division by hiding from people who think differently—and it ain’t gonna change no hearts, either.

I love people who voted for the other candidate. I love them. Full stop. I love them.

And so, I have to find a way to talk with them and be part of their life so that we aren’t adding to the pain this country is already in. And I realize I’m the one that has to do that. I’m the one that built those walls (to coin a phrase).

I love my friends who voted for an unqualified candidate with no real policies and rhetoric that inflamed people to reclaim the worst of our actions as Americans. And I don’t automatically think it is because they are racist that they did so. And yet, …

I also love my friends and people I don’t even know who are now at even greater risk of being harmed or killed because of the color of their skin or their faith, of being deported or having loved ones deported (please don’t respond that they should have come here legally and it wouldn’t be a problem, because that will completely challenge my ability to be near you and love you at the same time—I’m still very tender even if I ain’t gonna fuck around no more), or having their marriages annulled.

My friends who are anything other than white, heterosexual and Christian are terrified, and their needs are my first priority. Simply put, they need me. They need me to use my identity as a married, heterosexual, cis-gender white woman with a wicked vocabulary to make sure that their rights are protected as much as mine, as much as yours. And they need me to talk to you, to keep you at the table so that maybe you can begin to see them in the whole of their humanity.

I was following a car down 49 the other day that had a bumper sticker that read “Respect Life” with a picture of a perfect pink baby being cradled in perfect pink hands. I couldn’t help but wonder at every stop light what that would mean if next to the words “Respect Life” was a woman in a hijab, or a Mexican migrant worker, or Trayvon Martin, or Matthew Shepard, or, or, or …

“Respect Life” is a great slogan for us all to adopt, but it needs to figure in to all of our policies, not just those for perfect pink babies.

So here’s what I’m going to do with my new philosphy: I’m going to try to listen to you from a point of trying to understand rather than to try and convince you. And I’m going to ask you to do the same. And I’m going to tell you if I think something you just said is harmful to other people. I’m going to ask you to picture that the life you have lived is not available to a lot of people, even if you have had trials and tribulations of your own. I’m not trying to suggest I’m smarter than you nor more enlightened, but I am going to remind you that my philosphy (besides the ain’t gonna fuck around) about government is “people first.”

You know I’m no Christian, right? Still, the thoughts that have permeated my mind most, besides they aforementioned, are the following:

“Fear not!” and “Do unto others.”

Both are hard right now, but will become easier and easier once I truly stop fucking around.

Have a blessed day, y’all. Be kind to yourselves and to others and maybe, just maybe, we won’t be fighting this civil war for the next two hundred years.

Love,

Tina

94. My Soul

Partial lyrics of a hymn
come to me in the quiet

“oh my soul, my soul”

I wonder who else is
launching that lament
into this night’s sky?

Syrian orphans?
Indigenous Water Protectors?
Black mothers?
People of faith (or not)
made victim of an election cycle
designed, it seems, to tear
us all from each other.

Oh my soul, my soul

It cries for you
for reconnection to hearts
that beat in wonder, in beauty,
and in love.

Oh, my soul, your soul

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.

57. Hopscotch

I woke this morning
thinking of hopscotch
and four-square
and of all the things
I had a chance of winning
when I was the awkward
youngest one

One had age,
two had
inherent athletic magic–
long legs that could
leap into trees
and run like wild cats
hiding behind berms and
bushes so that I could
never find them until
they were bored and
called my name as they
strolled home

But even with no
coordination between
head and feet
somehow I could
always play
hopscotch and four-square
even if I rarely won

Not like Monopoly
where I pretended
I was Jesus and
flipped the board
when really I was just mad

The rhythm of jumping and
counting or
bouncing and hitting
signaled safety to me
like a drum calling me home


Photo from http://oldschool1003.hellobeautiful.com/2791820/volunteer-community-non-profit-youth/

52. At the end of the world

Where the world ends
you’ll find me there
cradling your head
or holding your hand
firmly, but not tightly
but, then again,
if it is the end of
the world
perhaps my hands
won’t ache
in the joints and
muscles or maybe
I just won’t care

Even though in real
time the outdoors
gives me hives
I picture us
at the end of the world
sitting on a rock
with evergreens hanging
overhead
watching the sun set
on the red hills
outside of Sedona

That sounds like a
good way to meet
the end of the world

which I’m thinking
about more and more
this political season

we all find our peace
somehow
don’t we?