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.

 

Buoyancy

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m sinking. Not bobbing up and down like I’m treading life, nor even my own weird little breast stroke toward a known shore. Just sinking, a teensy bit here and a teensy bit there.

I can feel the tug on my ankles, on my spine, and even, sometimes, at the base of my neck.

Of course, my initial reaction to this feeling is to think of it as negative: I’m drowning! Something is wrong! I must have a foot tumor! (I don’t. I have the fairly common and treatable plantar fasciitis–maybe, I see the doctor next week.)

This is me. “I’m sinking!” waving my arms toward a shore I can’t see and certain that no one is paying attention as the water covers my heart, my ears, my eyes.

Instead, I could rid myself of the water metaphor and simply tell myself: “I’m landing! I’m getting grounded! I’m finding my footing–even with a foot tumor!” and then rest in the damp grass while smelling the newly blooming flowers.

It is a choice, isn’t it? To decide if what I am feeling is a good thing or a thing of dread. Though most days it takes the form of dread and anger, until I look around me and see that I am cared for by someone who deserves so much more from a partner who isn’t partnering much these days–like he threw me the lifeline and instead of helping him to pull me back into the boat, I’m either floating, fully buoyant, or resisting with dead weight because that’s what I feel like right now. Dead weight.

You know, I sat down to write about underpants. Yup. Underpants. He hates when I write about such things. But I was remembering how I opened the underpants drawer the other day as I got dressed and there was a fire of joy lit when I saw that the ones on top were The Big Underpants–the cotton, stretched out but still functioning, REALLY big underpants. It was like, oh, THIS is going to be a comfortable day.

And then, boom, the realization that all my days are “comfortable” right now. None of my days require anything but the big underpants–or at least very few of them. This is when I feel the tug that feels like drowning.

Like when I am enjoying eating an orange as I sit on the steps of the back deck, sun shining on my face and the orange cat stretched out behind me in the shade of my body. And then, BOOM: I don’t deserve this. I have not worked for this moment of joy. And there isn’t enough grace in the universe to cover my not working, not deserving.

I am floating gracelessly these days–even floating between being fully buoyant and easy to move to being the full dead weight of myself. I’ve been floating from one thing until I land at the next, pretending I am laying the groundwork for economic recovery down the road. Except I’m not really pretending, because I believe it. I believe that I am planting seeds even when it feels like I’m just sitting on the wet turf, my bottom sinking deeper and deeper.

But it doesn’t buy bread or wine, this seed-planting.

And maybe I’m a fool for believing in myself when there is no evidence to point toward that ever working before. But this is me, putting one sore foot in front of another. Trying to find my ground again. Trying to remember that gravity is my friend and being pulled down is not always a bad thing.

Oh, and all days should be big underpants days. Just sayin’.

 

#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.

 

A Prayer for The Work

14449834_10209314972942714_1611560989051837028_nLet me not become my disappointment

Let me use my disappointment
to continue the work for justice
let it sit within me and urge me on
But help me fight becoming a
walking billboard for despair

Let me not become my anger

Let me feel my anger fully
and use it to combat injustice
and keep me going until all are free
but help me use it, not become it
so the world sees me, the person,
who seeks to uplift and be uplifted

Let me not become my disagreement
And let me never again say or accept
“Let’s agree to disagree”

Help me remember the person
behind the disagreement is human, too.
Hurts, too. Has been wounded by
a system that shields the work it has done
to keep us disagreeing, turning us away
from the help we offer each other.

Let me embody my joy even
in the face of work unending,
in the face of greed and disconnect
in the face of sorrow, anger, and, yes,
disappointment

Let me embody wonder
so that when I hear someone
who says things that jangle my
every justice-seeking nerve
I find the reserve to ask, with true interest,
“Tell me why you said that?”

Let me embody love
Because there are people out there
who need it.
Let it be the root of the work, but
remember, it, alone, is not the work.

Let me wake each day
with the purpose of forwarding justice
with anger, joy, disappointment, and love.
Let me learn over and over and over again
that love is what we are sent for:
reparation, re-membering, and realigning
from our original sin: that of forgetting
we are all in this, together.

Why I’m not Standing on the Side of Love

An incomplete reflection on the UUA General Assembly, 2016 ‪#‎uuaga

This reflection is incomplete in two ways:

  1. I did not attend the whole time. We (my husband, Brian and I) arrived Friday night and did not attend any of the plenary sessions. We did attend two workshops, the Ware Lecture, Sunday Worship, and processed in the line of White Allies to support the Black Lives UU (BLUU) and stayed for the Closing Ceremony, presented by BLUU.
  2. I am sure more reflection will come to me as I carry those events in me. They have become a part of me.

I’ve been mulling it over since Sunday, rather, I’ve been mulling over what I’m about to say for quite some time, but with new language from the Ware Lecture and Sunday Worship. I’ve also been mulling it over for years as I grudgingly and then lovingly became aware of my own tendency to use ableist language, routinely.

So here is my reflection:

It is time for Unitarian Universalists to retire the phrase “Standing on the Side of Love” as our signature in the world.

There is the obvious use of the word “standing” that ignores or leaves out those of our body whose bodies quite literally do not work in a way that allows them to stand, step, or march for or toward love. As a writer who loves metaphor, I have been, I will say frankly and unapologetically, an ass about ableist language. I have resisted changing with an intensity that hurt others and myself. As with all things, when I heard that my language was harmful, I tried to change old habits. But habits are habits, so now I have an additional pass through for my editing process, to check for such language and create new metaphors open for all. It is sometimes hard, until I open two doors in my mind: imagination and love. And now, I have the reminder from Krista Tippet (from the Ware Lecture): “Words Matter.” I’ll be posting this over my workspace, later.

But my primary struggle with the phrase “standing on the side of love,” and by “primary” I mean the first struggle, not the one that is most important to me, came back to me with full force when I heard Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout’s poem, “After All” (https://gtrpoems.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/14/#more-14) during Sunday worship. (http://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2016/worship/sunday)

My struggle has been about the idea that love is on one side of some arbitrary dividing line. You are there, but love is here, and I’m on this side. Love abides, my friend. Not as a noun, as Rideout indicates of God.

In my theology, love has no side. Love exists, as the proverbial sun that shines on the sinner and the saints, on those who live from it and those whose fear obliterates it from their understanding of the world. But it is there. And we, my dear UU friends, are love.
We are in it, we are of it, we are both sides of the coin. Where fear and hatred exist, so does love even if it shows itself only in the perceived absence of it.

This is an unfinished reflection. This is me, struggling with how I wish to operate in the world, even when I fail at it. But love has no sides.

Let’s be “the love people” as those who see us show up in our yellow shirts call us. Let’s use language that is ultimately not only inclusive, but enveloping.

I was not yet at General Assembly when the Westboro Baptist people showed up, but I heard from friends who attended, who surrounded the protesters with love, that it was a transcendent moment for them—to learn to use the love they hold, the love they embody, to transform a situation and maybe even a life.

Let’s be that, together.

Words matter.

So let us not sit or stand or even lay down in the street on the side of love. Let love envelop all we encounter. Let’s be the body we dream about.

And to all who are hurting, and all who were brave, and all who felt diminished or left out of the conversation or were talked over or just weary of the process that our endless fascination of words and “winning” with them, I offer this: I see you. I hear you. I love you. We are in this together, and we will love our way into and out of a bunch of different things. And you are not only the embodiment of love, but of courage, of wisdom, of that ever-bending arc.

Not just with love, but as love, I thank you.

P.S. Please also, if you haven’t, view the closing ceremony coordinated and presented by Black Lives UU. http://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2016/worship/closing