Road Trip

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The last few weeks have been exhausting for a variety of reasons, good and bad.

For Memorial Day, I attended an actual memorial, for a friend who died of cancer last year. It was an educational, weird, but ultimately affirming experience. I was often reminded that weekend of something my dad always says: “Visiting family is not a vacation.” It is doubly true if you’re visiting someone else’s family, and triply true if that family is kinda dysfunctional. But it is also triply true that I loved spending time with my friend’s widow, who is also my friend, and a dear one at that. And I got to meet my dead friend’s best friend, who told me stories that brought my friend to life in my imagination. I felt his presence in the cabin where we stayed, looking at the gorgeous lake he used to paddle on, and in the epic mound of pulled-pork barbecue I ate to the point of meat intoxication. I could hear his laughter again, and I am so grateful to have been there.

After flying all night, I landed, retrieved my car, and went to class, where I crushed an Intro to Nutrition midterm. Then I fetched my dog from my parents and gave my dad another computer tutorial. I finally arrived home at 4 PM, a full 27 hours after departing the site of the memorial service. I lay down for a quick nap… and awoke at 2 AM. A few hours later, I met another friend at a surgical center, where she was having her lady business removed. It made me nothing but happy to be there for her, as she has so often been there for me.

Eventually, I got a full night’s sleep that actually happened at night. But since then, I have pulled several all- or near-all-nighters, to complete a paper for the class I am taking, to prepare for the class I just started teaching, and to provide material to a publisher for a project I agreed to write. I am tired.

This past weekend, I retreated to a friend’s house in the town where I went to graduate school. There was a brisk breeze that cooled the whole house, and a verdant lawn with a shady hammock. Three dogs slept soundly on the floor beside me, hypersensitive to my every move. Going to the bathroom was a crazy, collective endeavor! I love going there, because my dog has so much fun being part of a pack, because my friend takes such good care of me, and because time slows down–no traffic, no demands, no one to disappoint.

As I made the long drive to and from, I thought a lot about my last post, my current relationships, and how I feel about myself. I spent 11 years in that town, as long as I have lived anywhere, and though I was in my 20s and early 30s, it was the most formative period of my life. Most of my closest friendships were forged there, and I think I was the happiest I have ever been when we all lived near one another. For the last three years, as my friendship with my host bloomed anew, I have returned every couple of months. I find myself wishing that people who know me in other contexts–work friends, city friends, boyfriends–could know me there. With each passing mile of the drive, I become a better version of myself.

The last post was also about traveling, and burning bridges as I go. I am very good at it. But in fairness, I can be ok at mending them too. I try to recognize my part in a conflict and to render an apology that matters. It’s hard, though, because I have a history of being too quick to apologize–I said the words “I’m sorry” more than any other during my longest, most fraught relationship–and I can be too slow to stand up for myself. I tend to go from zero to “Release the Kraken” when standing up for others, or when I am just losing my shit. There is a tension there that I am only beginning to understand, but I think I’ve almost got it:

Not setting boundaries and articulating my concerns when I should leads to toxic levels of resentment that then seep out as vicious and deeply unproductive anger.

Basically, to borrow some language from my Introduction to Nutrition class, my consumption of other people’s bullshit often exceeds not just the Recommended Daily Allowance, calibrated to meet the needs of 97.5 percent of the population, but also the Tolerable Upper Intake Level, which is the highest dose that will not lead to toxicity in a human being. I have to accept responsibility for what I put in my body. Just because Tootsie Roll Industries makes Tootsie Pops doesn’t mean I have to have one (or five) in my purse at all times, and I certainly don’t have to eat them. And, just because people spew bullshit–and let’s face it, we all spew bullshit–doesn’t mean I have to consume it. I’m allowed to close my eyes and mouth. I can pull out an umbrella instead of a spoon.

With my recent conflicts, I am doing ok. I continue to protect my time and interests with that publisher, in order to disrupt my usual self-destructive spiral: hiding >> blowing deadlines >> imperiling other people’s work >> feeling horrible about it >> more hiding >> more blown deadlines >> Repeat Until Fired.

Negotiations with my Friend With Benefits have yielded no benefits, but we are still friends. No one in my family has spoken to me in days, and there are no plans on the horizon to see my sister and her kids. I fear that I have crossed some kind of Rubicon, with no bridge behind me for the retreat. I just have to trust that it will all work out ok. On the plus side, not seeing my family has dramatically reduced the frequency with which I feel like a worthless piece of shit. I am learning, slowly, to chart my course towards people who appreciate me.

As for my fight with J*, I think we did ok. We are both volatile people, and we are both learning relationship behaviors that other people seem to have mastered long ago. In the hours and days after my outburst and then his, we texted and talked, sorted and shared. It was good. Nothing changed in our dynamic, except that we demonstrated the ability to work through conflict. If nothing else, we are practicing productive communication for when we meet the people who will be our people. In the meantime, all I can do is try to be a good friend to him, though I often wonder what that means. I can’t tell where we are headed or for how long, and I don’t know what kind of snacks to pack for the trip.

This is true of all of my relationships, I suppose. Should I bring a sweater? Should I jump from the car? Who is driving, anyway? Did I leave the oven on?* Where is there a safe place to pee? And who will I be when I get there?

I know the answers to these questions when I make the long drive back to my grad school hometown, because I have traveled that road many times. But for the other journeys I am on, who knows? I guess I’ll just look out the window and enjoy the ride.

 

*I did not leave the oven on, because my oven hasn’t worked for nearly two years. To repair or replace? The issues associated with that decision created such a renovation conundrum that I simply set it aside. Not having an oven has not really been a problem, because as it turns out, the only thing I bake is frozen pizza. And now I know how to cook frozen pizza using a microwave and a skillet. Like so many facets of my life, the process isn’t pretty or efficient, but the end result is good enough. It’s not how you get there, but that you get there, at least as far as frozen pizza is concerned. And I really shouldn’t be eating frozen pizza anyway.

The Perils of Marie

I haven’t posted in over a week, in part because I have been SUPER busy, with work, more work, and school, including two Anatomy & Physiology exams (lecture and a lab practicum) in the same week. It turns out, one cannot master the entire muscular system in a single study session that begins at 4:30 AM. I still don’t know my extensor hallucis brevis from a hole in the leg*, but I knew enough to eke out a B on the test. I am proud of that.

I am also proud to have been featured as an editor’s pick on WordPress Discover, which indeed resulted in many new readers discovering this blog. Your visits have been duly noted, your follows are most welcome, and your feedback has been truly humbling. Thank you for joining me here. 🙂

As a college professor in the humanities, my job requires constant creative output, yet at the same time scholars maintain an icy nonchalance about their work. It is considered gauche to crave public attention, and we are not supposed to need positive feedback (let alone compensation) for most of what we produce. Indeed, I have published an entire book, into which I poured my heart and soul, and it generated less attention in several years than this blog has gotten in a single week. (Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about my book, because I have to write this blog anonymously, lest I incur the enmity of my peers. Academia is a little like a cult and a lot like a gang. If I get jumped out, I want it to be my choice!) According to the culture of academia, I should be nonplussed by your interest in my writing. But I’m not! I appreciate and value your visits to this space and the time you have taken to read my words. And the kind words you have written about me, my family’s situation, and my writing have lifted my spirits like a warm spring day. I am grateful.

On the other hand, positive feedback is a little scary, especially in this format. My new audience of readers is free to come and go at will, unfettered by the hassle of climbing over other people to make their escape from the theater. There is no post-purchase regret to guilt you into reading through to the end, nor is there a teacher demanding a cogent analysis of the contents. If I don’t entertain you, you’ll drop me like a dull elective class. And I will watch the bar graphs that track my views diminish like a glass being drained from the bottom. Hence, the other reason I haven’t written recently: I don’t want to disappoint my new readers.

I’ve thought it over, though, and I’ve decided, “Screw that.” The project of the blog remains: This is a space for me to figure stuff out. Hard stuff, like:

  • Do I want to quit my job and blow up my successful academic career like, well, everything in a Michael Bay movie?
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    How do you know when it’s time to get out?

    If I do flee from academia, like a rebel pilot fleeing the exploding Death Star, where do I land? What do I do for a living? How do I finally get a dishwasher for my kitchen?

  • If I stay in academia, how do I make teaching and research meaningful again?
  • In my personal life, how do I nurture my family through my parents’ final years?
  • How do I meet a nice man who wants to have adult wrestling time in addition to, not instead of, taking me to dinner?
  • If my life stories are so interesting to other people, why am I so bored?
  • And, most urgently, what will make me happy?

If I wrote this blog like I’ve lived much of my life, I would remain paralyzed by indecision over what would irritate a bunch of strangers least. Or, as I put it in a plaintive Facebook post during a low ebb last year, ” ‘I don’t want to let you down’ has been the operating principle of my life, but I’ve never actually said it to myself.”

That’s not where I’m at anymore, at least not all the time.

I am going to keep writing. And I am going to keep writing for me, because that’s all I know how to do. I can promise honesty. I can promise stories. They won’t always be interesting, but they will be interesting often enough. That’s just how life is.

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Oh my! How ever will she get out of this one?!

Though, my mother used to say that my life is like “The Perils of Pauline”–a cliffhanger at every turn. My dad used to say I was a shit magnet. In fact, he said it again last night. Sigh.

As I look back on the last 30 or so years, I do seem to have had a lot of drama.

That’s ok! I don’t mind being compared to Pauline. Whether you’re talking about the original 1914 silent serials, the 1933 serial remakes, or the 1947 film that charmed my mother as a little girl, Pauline is always a plucky, adventurous single woman whose dire straits are the natural consequence of trying to lead an interesting life. She survives dangling from a hot air balloon, being tied up in a burning house, being tied to railroad tracks, and hanging from a cliff–always just long enough for her beau to rescue her.

I can relate, except for that last part. I am usually the one who gets me into trouble, but I am always the one who gets me out. This blog, like the undergraduate courses I’ve been taking, is the present manifestation of that process: a bobby pin to pick the lock, if you will, or a shard of glass to cut the rope. That buzzsaw has gotten awfully close, and it may yet cause me a few split ends, but I am getting out of this sawmill one way or another!

Because I don’t want to let me down.

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Pauline and I share an affinity for curly hair, a strong lip, and new experiences. 

 

* Speaking of a hole in the leg, remind me to tell you about my one-legged criminal boyfriend sometime. He was (and looked) so much older than me that he pretended to have lost his leg in Vietnam! In fact, his best friend shot him on a drunken hunting trip. It strained their relationship, sure, but they were good by the time I met them. In fact, my boyfriend was impersonating the best friend–something about arrest warrants–when we met. The one-legged criminal was the first of two men I have dated who claimed to be someone else. Like I said, stories…

 

 

 

Learning Not to Be Brave*

Image_5--CROPI spent the weekend out-of-state with a friend, an annual trip in which we celebrate our February birthdays (and our spinsterhood) over the Valentine’s Day weekend. The drive to and from offered a lot of time to think, and I found my mind drifting to Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia undergraduate who is currently detained in North Korea.

North Korea’s state-run media reports that authorities arrested Warmbier for committing a “hostile act” against their government. In the crazy-pants logic of the Hermit Kingdom, that could mean anything: leaving a Bible in a hotel room, exchanging pleasantries with an unauthorized person, or folding a magazine with the crease across Dear Leader’s face. In Warmbier’s case, he was hauled away by armed guards at the airport on January 2. No one knows why, and no one has seen him since.

The US Department of State’s travel warning about North Korea could not be more clear: DON’T GO. The North Korean government can disappear people for no reason, and unknown thousands–perhaps millions–have perished in state-run detention camps. A recent United Nations report alleges myriad, ongoing “crimes against humanity” in the DPRK, including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

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This satellite image of city lights at night elegantly captures the extreme deprivation endured by the people of North Korea.

Add in some primitive technology and a little famine, and you’ve got yourself a vacation paradise! What a great exercise of privilege to imagine such a place as a tourist destination rather than a hell on earth.

Why did Warmbier go? That’s the part that interests me. He is a super-achieving, well-travelled, politically active 21-year-old from a prosperous Ohio family that can afford to send him to UVA out-of-state. He’s on the dean’s list, serves as his fraternity’s Alumni Relations Chair, and likes vintage clothing. He is an athletic, white man of above-average height with a full head of hair. By every measure, he has the world at his feet and a bright future ahead. Why risk it on a five-day excursion to one of the scariest places on earth with a tour company that brands itself as “the budget North Korea tour operator?” Is this an example of hipster irony run amok?

I suspect that Warmbier was drawn by the sense of risk and the caché associated with defying expectations. I can identify. As I contemplate blowing up my life–quitting my job, going back to school, starting out in a difficult, less lucrative career on the bottom rung in my late 40s–I am carefully parsing my motivations. Part of it is that I am unhappy in my current job, and I feel like I am entitled to be satisfied at my work. Part of it is that I want to be of service to people in a way that academia will never allow me to be. Part of it is that I am specifically drawn to nursing because I know people who have entered that profession late in life, they seem happy, and I admire their accomplishments. And part of it is that I like the idea of it–the audacity, the unexpectedness, and the courage it would require. I relish the thought of telling certain people, seeing the incredulous looks on their faces, then dismissing their objections in the ultimate peace-out, mic drop moment. And I revel in the essential narrative arc, because it is ennobling and empowering: I had the Golden Ticket of a tenured position at a Research I university, and I walked away to take care of sick people.

Put simply, it’s a better story than the one I am living.

When Otto Warmbier told his friends, parents, and professors that he was going to visit North Korea over winter break, they undoubtedly expressed surprise and concern. I suspect they asked him “Why?” in tones approaching exasperation. I suspect that he answered glibly with something like “Why not?” or “Because it’s there.” Perhaps he was also honest about his desire to do the unexpected, to have a coveted experience defined by its uniqueness, and to demonstrate his courage in venturing to a place few would dare to visit. But did traveling to North Korea make him brave, or merely foolish? As Nigel and David point out in “This Is Spinal Tap,” it’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.

Did Warmbier have doubts? He must have. But he powered through them, having committed to a narrative of success in his mind that affirmed, in advance of the outcome, the rightness of his choice.

Do I have doubts about the path I am on? Absolutely. Why do I continue?

Some of it is practical: I’ve already paid the tuition, so I might as well finish the class! Some of it is strategic: Nothing is firm, and I am merely giving myself choices to be executed at a later date. Some of it is joy: To my great shock, I LOVE learning about the human body! And some of it is pure stubbornness and pride: I’ll do it because I said I would.

That’s the part that scares me. I hatched this plan, I discussed it with others, and I have excited my friends about an alternative narrative for my future. I don’t want to let anyone down, least of all myself. Having shaken up my life like a snow globe, it’s awfully anticlimactic to just let the white bits settle back down to the bottom as though nothing happened. It would take tremendous courage for me to walk away from my career and return to school (nursing or otherwise), or even just to take another kind of job. But it might take even more courage to fully consider those options, and take steps to make them viable, only to settle on living out the rest of my life in the status quo.

I don’t know what will make me brave, let alone happy. But I do know that sometimes the greatest act of courage is not doing something. Otto Warmbier demonstrated nerves of steel (but scant common sense) when he boarded that Chinese airliner destined for Pyongyang. Heading back to Charlottesville without seeing the Hermit Kingdom would have required a different sort of bravery–a self-awareness and confidence that allows us to appreciate what we have, endure the ignominy of leaving a challenge unmet, and cut our losses without regret.

It’s the kind of bravery you acquire by living–enduring–to see middle age. If we enlisted 40-somethings with mortgages and acid reflux for military service, instead of kids with bad judgment and big dreams, there would be no more war.

 

 

* The title of this post is an homage (not a critique) of my friend’s blog, Learning to Be Brave. She has an amazing story, she’s an amazing writer, and it is worth your time!

Don’t Question the Steps, Just Dance!

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Today was insular yet interesting, a lovely mix of reaching out, reaching up, and hunkering down.

I took my first biology exam today, and it had me very, very nervous. The amount of material was overwhelming! We had to know the basics of anatomical directions; the regions, cavities, and systems of the body; the organization of living things and the requirements for life; basic chemistry (atoms, ions, chemical bonds, solution chemistry, etc.); and the anatomy of a human cell, including the name of every protein, carbohydrate, lipid, nucleotide, and organelle therein, as well as their composition and function. WTF!

And when did human cells become so complicated?! From what I recall of biology in middle school–the last time I took it!–a cell looked like a cracked egg and consisted of a membrane, a nucleus, and some cytoplasm.

What, then, is this monstrosity:

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I know what this is and how it works! 😀

It appears that scientists have discovered a whole bunch of extra crap in there, and I am expected to know what it is and what it does at the molecular level. Thankfully, I actually like sorting my proteasomes from my lyosomes, and I can now label and (sort of) understand everything on this diagram.

I also love how dirty some of it sounds:

“Can I use my secretory vesicle to transverse your phospholipid bilayer?” she asked thirstily.

I did my level best on the midterm, depleting what I thought would be three exams’ worth of index cards in a marathon flashcard session. And it was ok: I missed one out of forty questions. Had the exam not been open-note, I would have missed perhaps five or six, which is still respectable. I am pleased and hopeful, even though I have no idea where this is headed.

While I was getting ready for the exam, I texted about my nerves with a few friends, and they wrote back with all the affirmations and assurances I needed to hear. I am so grateful for their support.

Interestingly enough, one of those friends was J*. After my exam, we talked for the first time in five months, and it was wonderful.

Most of my closest friends will shake their heads ominously and ask, “Why would you muddy the waters with that piece of dirt?” And I can’t blame them, because they love me, and they worry for me, and they remember the disappointment and heartache I experienced with him as it was unfolding. Plus they never met him, so they regard him more as abstraction and distraction than as an actual human man that they might like.

The reality, though, is that J* is one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I have missed having him in my life. And when we talked today, he said he missed talking to me too. That lifted my spirits immeasurably, not because of some fragile hope that the path he is on will one day lead back to me. Truth be told, my heart does go there sometimes late at night, when I can’t sleep and need a story to put my mind at rest. But that’s not why I loved talking to him today. It’s because I loved hearing his story and learning that he’s ok. Better than ok, actually–he’s excited for a new job, a new living situation, and a fresh start in a new town. I am happy for him. Talking to him also made me happy because the one thing I can’t abide is his indifference. Though I know to my core that no time is ever wasted (a sincere thank you to the poet Richard Brautigan for that wisdom), it would pain me to know that my time meant nothing to him.

And yet, even if that did happen, I would remain hopeful and still. Relationships ebb and flow, people come and go. I know this. Some of my closest friends right now–I didn’t talk to them for years, once upon a time, and now we walk together . People tend to find their way back to love, all kinds of love, if you don’t place barriers in their path. So you never know how someone might filter in and out of your life, because it’s not an orderly process like, say, protein carrier-assisted passive diffusion across a phospholipid bilayer. It’s more like osmosis: water flowing back and forth, in and out, filtering through aquaporin channels or caressing the gently undulating tails of the phospholipids themselves, until it finds its equilibrium. (I never realized the beauty of plasma membrane transport until just now!)

I don’t know the right metaphor, and maybe biology isn’t even the right science. It might be astronomy, with friends traversing hidden corners of the universe, then reappearing suddenly as a bright light streaking across the sky. But no, comets are predictable. People are not, though they can shine just as brilliantly.

Maybe we’ll just leave this one to the humanities and the Analects of Confucius: “To have an old friend come from far away–isn’t it a joy!”

I almost titled this post, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back,” because I am exploring a way out of an unsatisfying career by returning to the soothing embrace of school. And, ok, talking to J* long-distance again does feel very 2014. But I stopped myself from using that title, because the saying implies linear directionality–you’re headed towards something, but you’re having trouble getting there. Instead, I don’t know which way I’m headed, nor towards what, and I have no idea who, if anyone, will be with me when I get there. Even if I do take two steps forward for every step back, the steps do not go in the same direction. And sometimes the steps back aren’t so much a retreat as a return, to a warm and comforting place I need to experience from time to time.

“Two steps forward, one step back. Repeat!” We’re all doing this, all the time, crossing paths with one another in the process. That’s not walking a line.

That’s dancing!

Et Tu, A&P Textbook??

Five days until the start of the new semester, when I will begin Human Anatomy & Physiology I. I am terrified! And a little mad.

My new $200 textbook arrived in the mail yesterday, and I eagerly started flipping through. My initial reaction was horror: HOW WILL I EVER LEARN ALL OF THIS.

And then I calmed down and started to skim the introductory chapter. The first thing that really caught my attention was the concept of the  “reference man” and the “reference woman”–the prototypical humans to which the book will refer in all the lessons.

He weighs 155 pounds. She weighs 125.

What. The. Fuck.

According to the Washington Post, the average American woman currently weighs over 166 pounds, and the average American man tops 195.

I get it, WE ARE TOO FAT. But it seems to me, there’s no reason to low-ball the weight of a prototypical human by that much. How is 155 an easier number to work with than, say, 175 for a man or 150 for a woman?

Seeing the number 125, in particular, stung a little bit, because for some reason that is the number that has hung in my head my entire life as “the ideal weight” for a woman. I suspect that I heard it in health class when we talked about nutrition, and again in gym class when we got weighed (in front of other girls, no less), and that I read it in 1980s fashion magazines. 125 pounds is actually fairly robust on a woman of average height (5’5″), compared to the size-zero ethos of today’s fashion industry. But I’m tall–5’8″–and somehow no one ever pointed out to me when I was a kid that it was normal for me to weigh more than the average girl. I constantly felt–and was made to feel–like I was a fucking monster.

125 pounds on a woman 5’8″ is Scary Skinny. I know, because I once weighed 128 pounds. I looked like a bobblehead.

But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I can’t shake this idea, that a “normal” woman weighs 125 pounds. Unfortunately, my mother encouraged this thinking.

Here’s an example that is not going to make you like my mom, so just trust me, she’s a lovely person in other contexts.

The summer between freshman and sophomore year–perhaps not coincidentally, the summer that my mother’s father died and that my sister left for college–my mother got it in her head once again that I was too fat. Other moms might think, “My kid is going through puberty, and being a teenager is hard enough. I’ll set a good example, provide healthy options, and let it ride.” But not my mom!

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Trust me, this was a sick look in 1987!

Nope. My mom coerced me into joining Weight Watchers for teens. When I say coerced, I mean that she shamed me for being too fat, she normalized the idea of dieting, she incentivized my participation by offering that it would be a bonding experience between the two of us, and she said I had to do it. Oh, and she bribed me by offering to buy me a chambray denim jumper that cost $55 (about $115 in today’s money), if I made my “goal weight.”

I kept that jumper until about 10 years ago–changed the buttons out, wore it as a skirt, hung onto it well into my thirties. Why? Because I fucking earned that jumper. I suffered for that jumper. Fuck that jumper.

When I started Weight Watchers at age 15, I was 5’8″ and weighed 144 pounds. That’s a BMI of 21.9, smack in the middle of the normal range.

Going to those meetings was awful, because all the other kids in there were genuinely obese. ENORMOUS. And they looked at me suspiciously, probably enviously, because I had the body they wished for. I still can’t believe that a second “responsible adult”–the teacher of the class–allowed me to enroll, essentially legitimizing my mother’s project of giving me an eating disorder. Fuck that lady.

After a couple of months, I reached my goal weight, and I got the jumper. I weighed 136 pounds, which is on the low end of normal.

Eh, what’s the harm?

In between, I was taught to obsessively measure servings of ketchup. I weighed bananas. I weighed myself, as I still do, every day, naked, preferably after I’ve emptied my bladder and colon. I ate dry rice cakes. In anticipation of the weekly weigh-ins, I ate NOTHING. That summer, I denied myself any pleasure from food, all so I could look “trim” (to use the preferred term of the WW “teacher”) in a medium-sized jumper with a sweetheart waist.

By that point in my life, it was clear that I was never going to weigh 125 pounds, so even getting down to 136 felt like failure.

At present, my weight fluctuates between 160 and 165. I am ambivalent about losing weight, because I like to eat and because I have shockingly nice breasts, and I don’t want them to disappear. Many people in my life think it is weird that I fixate on my boobs so much. Part of it is that they are the one feature on which I have gotten consistently positive male feedback. And part of it is that in jokingly appreciating my girls, I am also speaking to a 144 pound, 15 year old kid with freckles and braces and a mom who found a million tiny ways to say she wasn’t pretty enough, and I’m telling her, “It’s ok that you’re tall and you have curves. It might even be a good thing.”

Because when you marinate in a sick culture like ours your whole life, and the people who are supposed to raise you to be strong instead train you to be weak, then you kinda can’t hear it often enough.

So, fuck you too, A&P textbook. Your Reference Woman is too small.

But I know a jumper that would look great on her!

Paradigm Shift

I have curly hair now. It used to be long and straight–well, I could straighten it–forming a nice, blonde Lego-like helmet that gave me lots of options: bun, ponytail, braid, clip, or a head-turning mane. Then, two months ago, I cut it. Lo and behold, my hair is curly as fuck.

This is a problem, because–as the Bible tells us–hair is a glory to women. And, as the Bible commands us, I’ve been online dating for awhile now. This new hair is not helping. It does not photograph well, meaning I have no recent (flattering) photos of me to post on my profile. Rather, my hair photographs as though I just awoke from a nap on the beach. Or I am being set upon by disorganized nesting birds. Or I’m applying to clown college. I am every man’s dream!

“How can hair change from straight to curly?” you might be wondering. So was I! I asked the Google, but deep down inside, I already knew: it is most likely caused by hormonal changes related to menopause. I have some lab confirmation of just that very process, even though I am–to use scientific terminology–too young for this shit. My curly hair, as effervescent and youthful as it can make me seem, is actually the physical manifestation of my dying junk. Which makes me hate it all the more.

And yet, I have mad respect for my hair as a literary device, because it is the perfect manifestation of my inner struggle. Like me, the person, I don’t know what this hair is supposed to be. My old hair was professor hair: orderly, manageable, and legible. On a good day, it said to the world, “My hair is supposed to be this, and today I got it about 85% right.” My new hair is whateverthefuck. It is illegible. There is no “ideal” state to style for, and it looks different every time I leave the house. I don’t know what it is supposed to be, so it forces me to make peace with its misrule. I suppose I am learning to surrender control, to the humidity, the concentration of the mousse, the whim of the follicle, and all the other variables that conspire to make me look like an old hag wearing a grapevine wreath or, on a good day, an aging [non]manic pixie dream girl.

I am getting used to it. And I am grateful to have hair at all, not to mention money to make it pretty and colorful and breath to complain about its foibles. It’s all good, right? It’s only hair.

curlyhaired buddha