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.

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

97-100. Autumn in Four Parts

I.

The pumpkins are out
by the potted mums
and the electric leaf blower sings
its intermittent and whiny dirge.
I think it dreams of becoming the wind.

II.

feathersinskyThe tall grass has shrunk to half it’s height
on the brightest summery days.
What’s left are plumes of straw-colored feathers,
like the tails of wild horses on the plains
where they would have ridden like the wind.

III.

The summer stretches on with these golden days
even while the leaves, done in and dusty,
caught by the wind, skitter over cement
landing in the mulch under a surprising late-blooming
rosebud, starkly pink so near to the pumpkins.

IV.

We begin to nestle in, even though the day was warm,
having turned our clocks back and our blankets out.
We let loose a windy sigh, then pause and breathe in again,
cool air expands in our lungs and it feels like hope and comfort,
we wrap our sweaters tighter and utter small words of thanks
for the reminder of the sweet richness of Autumn
who brings harvests and death, in a full-circle pageant.

10. For all the times

Forgive me

For all the times
I shushed you when
I should have
elevated your roar …

For all the times
I warned you to be
careful, take your drink
with you to the bathroom,
don’t walk alone at night,
when I should have been
teaching you to dismantle
the patriarchy

For all the times
I told you to stand down,
stand back, back down,
retreat
when I should have had
your back on the front lines

For all the times
my ferocious mother love
looked like failed
protectionism and a
dismantling of your innate
sense of right, justice,
and fairness

For all the times,
my darling daughters,
I was distressed more
over your anger
than the reason for it

For all the times
I minimized
when I should have
been maximizing
your ferocious desire
to live uncaged by
safety

For all the times …
you led me to
better understanding
and loved me despite
my failings …
thank you
with all the pieces of my heart.


photo/art credit: http://www.galleryoilpainting.com/images/a042.jpg

8. Keep that Trope In Your Bag

If you are going to respond
“All lives matter!”
I have only one question for you,
but, as usual, I will take twenty
questions to ask it.

Do all lives matter?

Does a black man’s life matter,
only if it is compliant and
quiet when he is stopped
for no reason,
or does respectful silence
become threatening
too?

And what of the brown, queer life?
Does it matter only when it
passes for tan and straight,
not dancing in a safe space
made by them, for them?

And what of the girl, no matter
her color, unconscious,
violated, unwilling to consent
but liquor made him do it, the
white male athlete, whose
father tears up when he
can no longer eat steak?

And, what of the life of the woman
who falls asleep in her car
after the third job of the day
has rendered her exhausted
so exhausted she never wakes up
at the side of the road.

Until all lives matter,
like, for real,
keep that trope in your bag,
darlin. Keep that trope in your bag.

photo credit: http://s3-origin-images.politico.com/2015/08/05/150805_black_lives_matter_gty_1160.jpg

I hoped it would be different

It’s cold and snowy and it’s April. And for some reason, I think it should be different.

My children have grown up and soon there will be none that live at home. And for some reason, I think it should be different.

My soul is pensive and my brain moves slowly, and for some reason, I think it should be different.

People are moving in and out of my life or staying forever, and for some reason, I expected it to be different.

I’m growing older and it is difficult for me to get out of my couch, and without doing anything different, I expected it to be different.

My heart travels around the globe while my body stays local, and though I’ve never bought a ticket, I hoped it would be different.

I love billions of people, some I’ve never met, and it takes me by surprise every time I ponder it, because I knew it would be different.

I’m sad today, with reason and without, but for some strange reason, I thought it would be different.

And that is all I’ll say here, right now, today, because I know I’ll turn around and everything will be different.

—–

Image: Young Peasant Having Her Coffee, by Camille Pissarro; photo taken by the author at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Waiting

He’s coming to check the pipes
sometime between
10 and noon

And I am dressed
though my hair is not pressed
and my teeth are brushed
though my breath smells
of coffee and toast.

I’m spending my time freely
while watching others
save theirs in jars
called tomorrow
and some day
and “when I am ready”

I am waiting, fully
Anticipating with a full belly
and warm feet

While the world spins on
and people spin out
and I think of those
who are waiting for someone
who will never come home

not here, anyway
not physically, anyway

and I use my waiting time
counting my blessings
and my outrages
and my sorrows
and my joys
and planning a meal
and a holiday craft
and a day
when the news
is not riddled with holes
that tear at the fabric
of humanity.

I am waiting.
For the plumber, yes,
but for so much, much
more.

My New Kitchen/My Old Life

There was this moment last night
when I started to unpack my old
kitchen into my brand new one,
and after I’d bought the cleaner and the
special cloths to make the sink sparkle
but hadn’t yet done so

When I noticed the tiny scratch
in the small sink
and then another
miniscule etch–almost like a
comma “benext” to it

Benext. The word leapt up
from memory when a toddler
charmed us all with words
that weren’t words
but ought to be.

Well, I thought, as
benext floated out and the little comma
came again into focus,

It’s mine now.

Like the new car with
black paint scraped off
and white paint scraped on
when a child learned the hard way
how not to park the car,
this kitchen is mine now.

It doesn’t have to be perfect
cuz it never will be
and I imagine the first nick
in the butcher block
will take the wind out of me
like a sock to the gut

But then, I’ll breathe out
and keep dicing, slicing,
and making food for people
out of kitchen
that isn’t perfect

but is the perfect
backdrop to this life
I have created.

Repeating Grace

Last night I arrived home very late, after driving an hour to and from a three hour meeting that was supposed to make me feel better.

But it didn’t.

I was edgy and I came home to two people with their noses in computers (one of which was MY computer) and Stephen Colbert blaring (but funny), and I sat down in a chair and just kind of started to feel even more edgy. Painfully edgy.

Add to that the fact that several times over the weekend I found myself being snappish with my spouse and child–and being called on it in the most direct and kind ways.

I had no answer for my peevishness. I just simply said, “I don’t know why!” as if to stop the whole thing.

This morning, as is often the case, someone posted something I needed to read on Facebook. This morning, it was Glennon Melton Doyle (aka Momastery) who had an occasion to re-post a post she had posted before because she knows what we all know but we all forget, just like she did: we don’t often learn things after one lesson. Sometimes, when we are tired or whatever, we get the opportunity (!) to learn it all over again.

Before I read this post, the morning had gone along as it should: husband and child got themselves up and out of the house with only a modicum of intervention on my part. And I was going to go back to sleep because last night’s edginess leached into my time to sleep last night and kept me tossing about in my bed and then on the couch until about the time that my husband woke me up exactly as I had asked him to. But the cat crawled onto my chest and he made me sneeze, and then he started loving on me with his claws and then, and then, and then I was up making coffee and reading facebook and started to fall into my bad habit of sinking into the couch while the television told me ghost stories.

Then I came upon Glennon’s post. And I read it. And I cried a little. And I asked myself to identify what it was I was avoiding by being so edgy and prickly and non-communicative with the people who are closest to me. And it hit me. I was simply reacting to being uncomfortable. Not just being uncomfortable, but putting myself into uncomfortable positions ON PURPOSE.

So, you know how one day your kid comes up to you for a hug and you realize that the top of their head is now hitting you uncomfortably in the boob (or whatever) when only last week their face could plant itself smoothly against your flat belly? And then you go, aaaaaah, now I understand why they were such a holy terror last week! Growing pains!

Well, that’s what I did to myself this morning–figured out that what was causing my angst and agitation was the rubbing and chafing of my psyche as it was trying to become something more against the comfort of what I have always been. Growing pains!

It doesn’t make it any less painful to know that’s what’s going on. But it sure does help me understand it and pull it into perspective.

It still doesn’t mean that I don’t have some legitimate gripes about the meeting that was supposed to make me feel better but instead left me feeling more alone and vulnerable than before I went. But it does mean I don’t get to be pissy with my kid about it. I mean, I could be pissy before I realized what was going on because I wasn’t tuning in to the fact that what was making me mad was me, not her. But now, as they say, I know better, so I have to DO better. And it doesn’t let me off the hook for taking my legitimate gripes to the people who can do something about it or explain it away to me.

Oh, this growing stuff. So many expectations, so many opportunities. So many ways to f*** it all up. And, like Glennon, so many opportunities to invite grace in.

I’m off now to go do growing stuff. Y’all have a great day — and I hope it includes at least one opportunity to experience grace and love.

Tina