Monday, July 16, 2018

Stoneacre, Beauport, and the Nature of Want

Last night, I found myself looking through multi-million dollar real estate listings. The kind that are so fancy that they need their own, special website, as they are clearly too good to be mixed in with all those "normal people" homes. I was comparing and contrasting the different properties-- their locations, amenities, size-- with careful intent, determined to select the perfect one for my own. Waterfront seemed to be a priority for me, as well as a large number of bedrooms-- at LEAST four, because I'd be damned if I was going to spend millions of dollars on a home and not have a guest room-- but balanced by having a reasonable overall square footage. Anything over 4,000 seemed a bit much for my needs.

It was also important to keep the price somewhat reasonable-- I didn't give any thought at all to anything over five million, giving special preference to those in the 1.25 to 3 million dollar range. And this is an important point: for anyone who might be confused, I am not looking, in any actual way, to buy a multi-million dollar home. I am no where near in the income or wealth range to be able to afford it. I was, in fact, selecting a home for my fantasy life.

But, and here's the kicker: it's my attainable-feeling fantasy life. It's the fantasy life where I do something great, make several million dollars, and can afford a home in the one to three million dollar range. Maybe four or five. Anything more than that, however, kills the illusion.

It would seem that, at the age of 33 and 363 days, I still believe I will be a great, creative success. I still believe I will one day soon be able to afford the luxury home of my choosing. So long as I don't choose *too* much luxury.

In real life, Dan and I will soon be taking over my parent's house. We will be selling the house in Greene that we bought extremely cheaply-- a repo-- with most of the money from Dan's inheritance and former graduate school fund. We are hoping to make enough from the sale to pay back the loans we took out to fix it up, as well as giving my parent's a lump sum towards their home. The idea is that we will then only need to pay them back for a small portion of the value of the house, and then we will own it, mortgage-free. This is a huge deal for a millennial couple, nearly unheard of. This goal, this life, this one-day accomplishment is not something that deserves to be buried however many paragraphs down in a post about my picking my dream house off of a luxury homes website. This is the thing that I have been working towards for most of my adult life. Owning that home is what I wanted since I was a kid.

But it needs to be said that, when I was a child, I wanted only to own it, not live in it. I had assumed, all along, that given my clear intelligence and obvious future fame that I'd be able to buy it, and protect my memories, and visit it when I felt the need. Maybe let someone I cared about live in it and keep it up. But it would be one of the many houses I would own, in addition to, at the very least, a house that resembled one of the houses on the website.

Life goes on, and it beats you down, and it puts you in your place. And you see people around you who you respect, struggling just to get by, no hopes of anything so grand as home ownership on the horizon. And you see yourself, working day after day, making barely enough. And you manage to afford a few vacations, and you manage to have decent cars. You manage to afford a lot of the things you want if you buy a lot of them used on craigslist, and you manage to pay most of your bills on time. And the goal starts to shift, and now you're just more concerned with getting to a point where maybe you could set all of your bills on autopay and not have to think about them. Maybe you could pay off your credit cards and your medical debt. Maybe you could stay afloat until one of the kids isn't in day care anymore, and, hot damn, won't that be something? Won't it be something to NOT be paying a quarter of your income towards childcare just so you can work?

 That'll be the year you plan TWO vacations. That'll be the year you go out to eat without guilt.

For a long time, that kind of life was really all I thought about. For a long time, that kind of life felt like, maybe, enough.

But things change. For me, they changed. They changed back.

I met a guy a few years ago who woke me up creatively. A guy who believes in big things, and my ability to do big things, and OUR ability to do even bigger things, together. And I bought into it. And I believe. I believe we can do these big things, together.

Maybe I just have to believe. Maybe I'm heaving from the marathon drudgery that is modern life-- two parents working full-time jobs, and a one kid who just can't seem to be normal, and a baby taking up any spare attention. A house that can never really get clean and pets that are behind for their vaccinations and don't get played with a lot. And a bank account that never seems to grow, and the tiny things on the horizon to look forward to that are never enough-- the long weekend that's over before it begins, the vacation you look forward to and leaves you feeling empty when it's done.

So, alright. My real life is tough, and I need a fantasy house to buy with the income from my great, creative breakthrough. And yes, my time would be better spent making progress on that great, creative breakthrough. But you do what you're capable of doing, I suppose.

So I find this house, right, and it's damn near perfect. 2.7 million. Four bedrooms. On the water. Has a dock. Roof access with a helicopter pad that I'll clearly never use, because my fantasy gets real hard to believe in around the time that I can afford a helicopter. Frankly, it kinda seemed like too small a house to have one, but I let it go. The exterior is stone, so it has a castle quality to it-- that's a plus. But, there again, it's only 3,500 square feet. It's smallish. Practical-ish. It feels right.

I can't find any good shots of the entire exterior, however, and that bugs me. So I go looking for the home on google maps.

What I find it that the home itself is nestled between two much larger estates-- both of which have fancy names. It shares a wall with one of them, Beauport. Beauport is no longer a private home, but a historic home designed by a famous architect that operates as something of a museum. On the Beauport home-museum website, where you can look an hours and prices for tours, I find a shot of the two properties taken from the ocean: they look, in this shot, like the same building, separated by and build up to a stone wall that separates the Beauport Estates with the neighboring estate, equal in splendor.

As it turns out, MY house, MY fantasy, MY 2.7 million dollar dreamhouse on the water is, in it's entirety, actually a former gate house to the much larger estate that neighbors Beauport. Stoneacre.

Stoneacre itself-- the main house, that is-- is also for sale. 8.5 million. I didn't find it listed because it has it's own, seperate, branded website. It is, in fact, too fancy to be mixed in with all those "only kind of rich people" luxury homes.

The Stoneacre site is insane. The house is insane. Nearly 10,000 square feet. 9 PLUS bedrooms, whatever the plus means. 6 full baths and 3 half baths.

Here's the thing. I don't WANT Stoneacre. Even fantasy me doesn't want Stoneacre. I said it before-- I wasn't even looking at anything above five million. Who the fuck is going to keep 10,000 square feet clean for me? My fantasy servants? What am I, a fantasy elitist?

And, for all of that, it doesn't even have it's own helicopter pad anymore-- my neighbors would have have to get my permission to use it, because some short-sighted bazillionaire put it on the gatehouse, not thinking about the day in the future when some cheapskate would separate the two properties.

I don't want Beauport, either. It's a fucking a museum. But here's the thing: somehow, these two...monuments to decadence ruin my perfect "little" dream home for me.

Somehow, I don't want to be the person living in the quaint little multi-million dollar home between the museum and the main house of the Stoneacre Estate. On the one side, your neighbors are the people who own the home that used to be lived in by the people who built your house as...honestly, I don't even know what a gatehouse is? I assume that some manner of servants lived there. Me and my billionaire neighbors would be separated by this bizarre, super-rich casque system that was set in stone, literally, a hundred years before.

On the other side, we're practically attached to a fucking museum. Tourists on their way to Beauport would get lost and then be disappointed when they ended up at my place. And I, in turn, would develop a complex about all the camera-carrying New Yorkers frowning up at my beautiful home as I walked out to explain that they needed to be on the other side of the fence.

The fact that no one shows up to take a tour of my home is not something I ever felt the need to feel bad about before. Why would I want to add that to my list of insecurities in a fantasy future? Who needs it?

But this whole thing speaks volumes about the nature of....want, I suppose. There is no doubt whatsoever that the home I like-- the "little", unnamed former gatehouse-- is far beyond the home I am working towards moving into in nearly every way. It's larger, better located, in better condition. If I compare my fantasy home to the real home I will move into soon, the fantasy home beats it in nearly every category, with the exception of, like, tax burden. It is beautiful and luxurious and all I could ever want in so many ways.

But when I find myself comparing it to the neighboring properties, suddenly it is flawed. Through no fault of it's own, it falls in ranking. It comes with an inferiority complex. It makes me uncomfortable.

My parent's house, which will soon by mine, is superior to the home I am in now in many ways. The location is better: closer to town, on a nice street, no insane neighbors. It is larger, and it is, mostly, in better shape. There is work to be done, and we are doing it. We are doing it as part of the marathon drudgery of our modern life. We are making a house we can live in, and be comfortable in, and call home, perhaps for the rest of our lives. And I am happy to call it home.

Except that I am readying myself to leave it, one day. I am readying myself for the creative success, and the riches, and the dream home. I am readying myself for a better future, because, somehow, I can't stop and spend any time wanting what's laying right before me. Somehow, I must dream of more, lest I drown in what I have already.

Such is the nature of want, I suppose.

On with it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bukowski Cool.

There’s that moment. When you’re outside, digging around in your car, looking for your lost keys, and you’re stoned. Because you’re always stoned, now. There’s work, then there’s stoned. But that’s an aside— to be addressed later. And you’re digging around your car, trying to find your keys so for once, you can just be the person who has their shit together, you can just be the person who knows where their keys are and makes the time to look for them when they’re lost, and everything is always lost, including this sentence, because, apparently, this is going to be some stream of consciousness shit?

No. You’re better than that. Get your shit together.

So you’re in your car, digging around for the keys, and you’re wearing headphones. You’re wearing headphones because the little list you made for yourself told you to put on headphones.

And, all at once, onto those headphones comes the sound of the song. The song that perfectly encapsulates everything you’re trying not to think about in this moment. Except you can’t be avoiding it entirely because, come to think of it, you chose that song. It feels like divine intervention because, have I mentioned? You’re stoned. You’re always stoned.

But it’s not divine intervention. (What is this? Beat poetry? Who do you think you are, Charles Fucking Bukowski?) It’s you, it’s a gift from you to you, letting you feel this moment. Letting you take a moment to stop denying everything you’ve been denying.

But, I mean...not for, like, a long time. It’s not like you’ve been getting all headshots in this war to pretend you’re better than this shit. The last time you let yourself think about it was all of maybe four hours ago. So maybe don’t pat yourself on the back too much. You’re pitiful, you’re never going to find your keys, and you’re stoned. You’re always stoned.

And you’re listening to this same song on repeat to preserve the mood, even though it keeps wanting to go to the next song in this playlist.

The “Not Pretty Enough” playlist. I shit you not. This is how fucking pitiful I am, for any of you out there who were about to mistake me for Bukowski. 

I mean, maybe that's not the right comparison, to demonstrate that I'm not cool. Maybe "cool" is a guy reading a book of Bukowski through this Ferris Bueller sunglasses at a coffee shop on a San Diego beach. That’s...that’s what’s cool about Bukowski, you know. But I get the sense that the guy himself was probably pretty fucking pitiful in his own way, just not in the Kasey Chambers way. Which, honestly, her expression of pain, however pop-y, is just as valid. Honestly, this assumption that Bukowski is necessarily cooler just feels like sexism.

Fuck you, Bukowski. You fucking misogynist.

For the record, the first song, the song that started it all, was not “Not Pretty Enough.” That is actually the second song in the playlist of the same name. The third, which is currently playing, is “Silver Spring” by Fleetwood Mac.

Which is fantastic. But I’m never gonna get this shit written if I don’t go back to looping that first song. 

When you were here before...

And god, now it’s on again, now you’re falling back into that moment. That moment when, from the driver’s seat of your car, you listen to the song and stare out towards your house, past the spot in the driveway where you and he sat last week. 

Couldn’t look you in the eye...

You sat in his car, stoned (you’re always stoned) and listened to music. It was the middle of the night, and he was driving you home, and now he was singing. 

You’re just like an angel...

He asked you to come out and last minute on a Saturday night, and you dropped everything to meet him. And you stayed out too late even though he wasn’t in a great mood, and you drank too much, and he offered to drive you home. 

Your skin makes me cry...

And now you’re sitting together, stoned, listening to music, and he starts to sing, and he’s so self conscious, and he’s so beautiful, and you can’t remember the last time you felt like this. Except that was then, not now. Now you’re sitting in a dirty car, which may or may not contain your keys, and you’re staring over at the spot where the car was parked Saturday night. Sunday morning. 

You float like a feather...

You’re staring at that spot, and you’re listening to that song, and you’re in that moment. And on one level, you can’t stop thinking about him, you never stop thinking about him, you’re always stoned. But on another level, you’re just thinking of how you, in this moment, would be the perfect character for a female-directed indie movie with vaguely coming-of-age themes.

In a beautiful world...

Will our heroine come to accept herself? Will she triumph over her crippling self-doubt and addiction to love and rejection? Or will the plot swerve towards some weird, meta resolution?

I wish I were special...

Will she realize that for all her doubt, for all her self-consciousness, for all her need to vindicate herself by getting him to look at her, finally, to look at her, she was finding her way through out all along? Will she realize that for all the fake, desperate charade she puts on for him— the pounds lost, the lines written, the show staged— it is here where she finds her true self?

You’re so fucking special...

Is it here, where she lays herself bare to the world, where she opens up and looks you dead in the eye and says, this, THIS is what I is here that she finds redemption? Is it you, the reader, the anonymous masses who can delve into this and never have to admit that you did...are you the ones who will accept me fully for what I am, and finally, finally let me believe in myself, and stop getting stoned all the time, and find my keys, and stop looping to this damn song?


But I’m a creep.
I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.

...on the other hand, I didn’t fucking plan that, but that worked out crazy well. It’s Bukowski-level cool, at least. Whatever that is.

It’s time to stop this looping. It’s time to get my shit together. It’s time to find my keys and do the other shit on my list, and stop picturing this whole thing in my head some kind of pretentious but endearing (?) short film, with every word I write as a voiceover to the image of the disaffected face, staring out of the car window.

Weird, though. I don’t think it’s even my voice.

In the film version, in the story where I fight this moment, and this song, and the stone bearing down on top of me— I’m always stoned— will I play myself? 

No. But why not?

Am I not pretty enough?
Is my heart too broken?
Do I cry too much?
Am I too outspoken?

On with it. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Just Stand Up

You have to decide.
Do you want to live your life?
Do you want to lay here?

Do you want to overcome, or do you want to be overcome?

Your first step is to decide.

I know part of you only wants to drown. I know that. I know how peaceful it sounds.

But it’s not peaceful for the ones you left on shore. It’s not peaceful for the families of those who get swept away.

There are people who would form search parties for you. There are people who would drag the river praying not to find your body.

You want to drown for you. But you have to fight the current for them. 

There are bodies that are never found.  There are people who lost the fight. There is a child in the Androscoggin River tonight who will never make it back to his family, because he was not strong enough to fight.

But you, you are stronger than this. And you have your own children. And they have a mother. 

And she is broken. And she does not want to swim. Not for herself.

But she owes it to them.

You’ve decided before that you weren’t living for yourself. You can do it again. You’ve made commitments. There are people on the shore.

Swim back to them. 

Your first step is to decide. 

On with it. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Food, Sex, and the Changing Tide of Self-Destruction.

The problem with being smart and self-destructive is that you know what your doing is self-destructive. You know your reasons are bad. You know you should change your course. You know that what you're doing is ruining you, and that you could, at any moment, totally combust.

But your reasons are still your reasons. So you stay the course.

We're all motivated by the same basic factors: Food. Money. Sex. Maybe love, if you're some kind of fucking idealist.

Me, right now? I'm not.

So it's basically food, money and sex. And the things that facilitate food, money and sex.

But when those things are in direct competition, which one wins?

It seems like I have the ability to starve myself for weeks on end to feel attractive. It seems like I have the ability to put on airs to strangers about the great, health-conscious reasons that I have for the decisions that I've made. And when it comes to fat and health, people will eat that bullshit right up, while they applaud you for not eating anything.

The truth is, I do not believe that hype that everyone else seems to buy into that being overweight is the worst thing you can do for your health. That being overweight or even mildly or moderately obese is all that bad for you. The reality is that the studies are unclear on this: for some things, there are clear negative correlations. For other factors, it may be healthier to be heavier.

What's not unclear is that it's bad for one's body to have a constantly fluctuating weight, and that some fucking enormous percentage of people who lose significant weight will gain it all back within 3-5 years. So there's a good argument to be made for making healthier decisions while staying fat.

When I started the diet program I'm in now, it was discovered that I am (was?) pre-diabetic. This diet-- a medically supervised "Very Low Calorie Diet"-- is supposed to be a very effective way to derail diabetes, maybe permanently. Maybe, because I made this choice, I will never become diabetic, like my father and his mother before him. And my other grandmother. And several cousins. And a second cousin who died of it, which is, like, something you NEVER hear about.

Maybe something genuinely healthy will come from my decision, and on some level, I won't have been bullshitting everyone around me. But the truth, when you get right down to this, is that that is not my reason.

I'm doing this because I wanted someone who didn't want me back.

The truth is, I didn't have the wherewithal to be body positive in the face of abject rejection. The truth is, I looked in the mirror, and I didn't find myself attractive anymore, either. And without that, I can't find anything in life sexy at all.

So sex trumped food for me, this time. And it's been trumping it for like ten weeks straight, now.

And that would be FINE. My reasons are my reasons. If all this was was an poorly motivated crash diet, well, at least I'm doing it the right way. At least I'm going through a doctor. At least I'm not popping random pills.

But that's not the whole story.

See, there's something about this fucking diet that's messing with my head. Badly. Something about blood sugar lows and highs, and not being able to keep it steady because I'm not eating enough in the course of the day. I thought it was lows, but in the midst of one of my episodes-- a moment where I feel suddenly, inconsolably self-destructive to the point of fearing for my own safety-- I happened to be near my parent's house. I had Dan, who was with me at the time, drop me off so I could test my sugar.

It wasn't low. It was high. I hadn't had more than 10 carbs in a meal for weeks on end, and I hadn't had any at all that day so far. But my blood sugar was high.

I obviously should have called my doctor pretty soon after that. But I've been overwhelmed by the complicated nature of my life, being all the more complicated by scheduling doctors visits and paying for labs and trying to figure out what it and is not covered by my insurance. Trying to figure out how to afford all of this while paying some huge portion of our income every week towards two kids in day care. Trying to figure out how to make time for it when I have none. And the feeling of...overwhelm? (There's a word a need, but, god, this blood sugar shit makes me stupid some times. I'm getting, like, REALLY bad at word searches, and this deeply disturbs me somehow.)  The feeling is compounded by the fact that...oh. I just made this point. The blood sugar stuff makes me stupid, therefore it's all harder.

See? I can't even write. I mean, I can write. I can write better than you fucking can, whoever you are. But I should be able to write MUCH better than you. So now you see the problem.

So I'm on a diet for bad reasons, and I can't get off of it for bad reasons which I am still smart enough to be aware are bad reasons, but not I'm not smart enough to just get off the diet. And maybe I would be-- smart enough that is-- if the diet didn't make me so stupid.

But probably not. Because we're motivated by food, and money, and sex. And maybe hate, if you're not an idealist.

And me? Right now? I'm not.

I think I might just hate myself.

I think I might just hate the fat bitch who looks back at me in the mirror with her bulbous nose and her soon-to-be-sagging skin. Her tiny eyes that sit back in her head like she's, I don't know, a cartoon rendered by an artist who draws all his characters as kind of fat and plain-looking.

The Far Side seems too mean, even for me, even for now. But is there a female equivalent of Ziggy? But less happy?

I think I might hate the woman who goes to work every day and despairs that she's going to have to keep going to work every day, forever, for the rest of her life with no real end in sight. I think I might hate the woman who comes home from the job she hates to her two children, and can't muster any joy from being with them. I think I might hate the person who lost her dog, god, almost two years ago now, and never sat down to write a post here to grieve him. And went out to replace him too quickly, and now can't bring herself to love the new one. And now-- whether it's the cause or effect-- no longer finds dogs cute, or endearing, or appealing. Or babies. Or...anything, really.

When you stop taking joy in the things you once took joy in, when you stop having any reaction to things that are supposed to invoke some basic, instinctual human emotion, that's when you know it's getting bad. And, truth be told, that particular light started dimming for me a long time before I ever started this diet.

I think I might hate the person who doesn't want to speak to her friends because they wouldn't understand, who resents them for being happy and doesn't want to be in their space. I think I might hate the person who makes calculated decisions about her self-destruction-- texting some near-stranger in the middle of the night, for instance, confessing that she's out of her fucking mind and sitting in the parking lot of a newly-opened Dominos for no apparent reason except because she just had to leave her house and her husband with no explanation and go (a totally random example, I swear)-- because that's the best she can do. Because having some guy who knows me from The Thread Theater think I'm crazy is better than ramming my car into a tree or going for a walk at night on a dark path with no lights and risk being mugged or beaten or worse.

I told him, maybe I'll just go into Dominos and get some fucking cheesy bread, because that was just self-defeating, as opposed to dangerous. And because, fuck this diet, anyway. He told me that was a good idea.

So I went into the Dominos. It had just opened today, I think, and it was going to be open till midnight. And I smelled that delicious pizza smell, and I let myself imagine what it would be like to just say screw it all and get the cheesy bread I so desperately wanted.

And then I ordered wings. Plain wings. The sauce would have too many carbs.

It was the choice that was just self-flagellating enough. Just enough punishment for the fat bitch in the mirror. But calculated, nonetheless: I needed to eat something I needed to even out my blood sugar.

Somewhere, somewhere in there, I'm there. I'm fighting for myself. I'm fighting for what's left of me.

All 200 fucking pounds of it.

You know what? Scratch that. I'm clearly only fighting for about 170 of that.

It occurs to me now that maybe, somehow, that's the problem. I have declared war on part of myself. I want part of myself to stop existing. I have defeated something like 25 pounds of it so far, and I'm waging war on the rest, despite the civilian causalities piling up.

This is getting too meandering, even for my taste. I left the Dominos ten minutes before it closed because there's enough of me left to feel like it's not right to inconvenience the employees as I sit plucking away on the laptop I somehow happened to have with me while picking at the two wings I had left. I am sitting, now, in a nearby laundromat. It's open twenty-four hours a day, and I've found myself here often over the course of my life, when things were bad and I couldn't sleep and there was no where else to go. There's something comforting about it, I guess.

And I'm here. In this space in my mind where I am when I'm situated in front of a computer. I'm plucking away at my laptop trying to find what's left of me in the one place that's always somehow safe, the one place where I find myself when I am no where to be found. I'm here, on, because this is the work of my life, no matter how far I wander from it. I'm here because this is all I really am.

Sooooo....that's super.

I put on headphones to drown out the sound of Jimmy Fallon's show, which the other patron of the laundromat seemed to by watching. Maybe he works here. I don't know. I bought a box of tide from the machine so I could claim to be a paying customer, just in case.

Matchbox Twenty has come on the google play station that I am listening to, and that's as close to home as I'm likely going to get. So maybe it's time to actually go home.

Dan has not texted to see where I went, and he's likely in bed by now. He does this thing, sometimes, where he just doesn't worry. I don't love it. Worry is the way so many of the people in my life express caring, from my parents to my chosen obsessions to the Thread Theater guy who recommended the cheesey bread. He may be more worried than Dan.

There's a post that needs to happen where I start to break down my motivations, my compulsions, the way I use love and rejection like a drug, and the way I've started to use drugs like a drug, as well. There's a post that needs to happen where I put the effort into coming back to visit myself here. In this space, in this place where I always somehow find myself.

Not the laundromat, though. Homey though it may be.

There are posts that need to happen where I reconnect with the pieces I've lost, where I draw the lines between the love and the hate and the self-preservation and the poor decisions. The diets and the reasons and Matchbox Twenty songs, and now it's Counting Crows and MY GOD I love these songs, this emo shit from the nineties.

Where did she go? That girl who always wrote, and listened to stuff like this? Has she just been waiting here for me the whole time?

She must have bought a lot of Tide.

On with it.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Moon River Frozen Over

The anniversary effect.

A psychological phenomena wherein a person remembers a trauma or other upsetting event more powerfully on the same day each year on which it originally happened-- no.

That's not accurate. It's not about remembering, per se. Sometimes, you don't remember at all. Sometimes, it's not about your mind actively thinking of a thing. It's about your body knowing it. It's about the imprint that the events of our lives leave on our whole selves, our bodies and our minds and our spirits, all as one. It's about the physical reality of the seasons and the instinctual connection we have to the rhythms of the world.

Something happened. It happened in a particular time and space. And that time was marked by the length of the day and the temperature in the air and the smells of the plants. That time was marked by the spot in space where the earth spun at that moment. There was a physical reality enveloping that event, and your body was aware of it on some level that your conscious mind never was. But it will get close to the same every year, once a year. And your body will be aware of that, again.

And that moment will come back to you--whether you know it or not, whether or not you're thinking about it-- that moment will come back, and affect you again and again.

I suppose that it only requires that metaphysical an explanation if you don't actually remember it, though. If you do, it's all so pedestrian in nature: you just feel sad because of the memory. It's interesting to think of, I guess, that these two separate responses aren't actually separate at all-- they are just the before and after of our brain's egocentric distortion. The universe creates this magic connection between the energy of the world and the energy of our bodies, and the moment we realize it's happening, our conscious mind reduces it to something wholly self-involved and unremarkable: We aren't feeling the rhythms of the universe with the incalculably sensitive instrument that is our body. We are just remembering our own petty, tragic lives.

But enough with the commentary about the nature of life and existence itself. This was supposed to be about me.

It's Christmas Eve. On a broad, cultural level, it's the anniversary the night that Joseph and Mary went from inn to inn looking for a room to house Mary as she gave birth to the savior king. As a society, however, we're so removed from that story that it doesn't even matter that it never actually happened in December, even if you do believe it happened at all. Broadly and culturally, that's merely the origin story of oft-commercialized superhero in a big red suit. Nevertheless, whether it's the manger scene that pulls at your heart strings, or the vision of Santa Claus, or that one scene in the Peanuts Christmas special where Linus recites a bible verse in humble explanation of what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown-- nevertheless, it is a time of year that unites us all, somehow, in a shared reverence for something, something.

I think many of us, if not most, grow up to share the experience of the loss of the joy of Christmas. When you are a child, it's special and magic. Then, little by little, as the myths become exposed and the garish, physical realities become more undeniable, it fades away. By the time you're in your twenties and shopping for presents with a handful of too-hard-earned cash, it's usually gone, replaced by a melancholy at the hollowness and some impotent desire to find it again.  The mythos goes, however, that it is revived anew when we grow to have our own children, and are able to experience it once more through their eyes.

Four years and five days ago, I had a child of my own. And he's in the other room now, with his father, and his new brother. And I desperately want to be with them, to be feeling what I am meant to feel this time of year-- what I was promised I would feel. But I am not.

I am not, because there is another anniversary. An anniversary that, against all of my will, seems to supersede that of Mary and Joseph and the inn, supersedes those of Santa's countless flights. Supersedes the memory of all those idyllic childhood Christmases, the nativity scene set up in my grandmother's stone fireplace and last-minute tree decorating my father insisted upon.

I remember the day the envelope came in the mail, sometime in October. I remember me, seven months pregnant or so, sitting on the couch, seeing that it was from the court, opening it. I remember the gasp and shouting "No!" with sheer horror. I remember my family asking what was wrong.

"The divorce," I said, tearfully. "They set the divorce hearing for Christmas Eve."

I can count so easily the exact amount of time it's been since I divorced my best friend. I know how old my son is-- he turned four last week-- and I know that it's Christmas Eve. Mine and Zack's marriage was officially dissolved four years ago today.

I want not to put undo emphasis on that day. As must be true of every divorce, our marriage had fallen apart well before that. Long enough that, if you don't know, the son born five days earlier was not his, nor were we in any way still functionally together when I first became pregnant. We had separated, if I am remembering my timeline accurately, nearly two full years before, and made the final decision to end the marriage fully eighteen months prior. So it should have been that I was thoroughly ready by the time December 24th, 2013 came around.

The reality is that very little of that final eighteen months was blessed with the clarity of the moment where we first made the excruciating decision to take off our rings. The reality is that almost none of my life has ever been blessed with such sureness, and for good reason, I suppose: the harder something is to do, the more certain you must be to make yourself do it. And I don't know that anything has ever been harder for me than making the decision to end my marriage to Zack.

There's much I could say here about the reasons we broke up, and how they never once undermined our love for each other. There's much I could say here about two people just not being able to make it work, two people who only want to stop hurting each other before the damage becomes too great. There's so much to be said about everything we were, and so much to be grateful for, in spite of it all, for everything we still are.

But I've said that all before, and I'll say it all again when the moment demands it. That moment is not right now.

Right now is the time that I need to write through this grief at it's most basic level, so that I can get back to my children on Christmas Eve. Right now is the time that I need to let my fingers on the keyboard release the pain and regret that my children are not his children. Right now is the time I need to let go of the guilt of even thinking that, and let myself think it, so it can be thought, so it can be written, so it can be out. Right now, I need to listen to my own breaking voice as I read this out loud as I type it while tears stream down my face; I need to hear myself declare the truth: that I miss him so, so much.

Right now, I need to let the seasons and the length of the day and the smell in the air bring me back to that courthouse, to our final, tearful kiss just before we signed the paper that somehow ended the last ten years of our lives. Right now, I need to balance how enormous that was-- the official end of our marriage-- with how insignificant it was: we are not a paper to be signed and notarized and made official. We are not a marriage that can be disolved. We are honesty, and intimacy, and love. And we love each other, still.

The full truth is that there was more than that happening for me on that day-- the sun was shining a particular way and there were other sounds and other people, and I was suffering deeply from the pain of a traumatic birth experience just five days prior.  The full truth is that there is more than just the ghost of my marriage haunting me this time of year. The full truth is that there's context upon top of context, and not everything that makes me sad on Christmas Eve has to do with Zack.

Yet, somehow, that's both more and less true. Sometimes, you have to be true to a moment in time, and let yourself feel what feel's relevant, and ignore the context and the history and the smell of the plants in the air. Sometimes you must trust yourself to forget all that, knowing your body will remember it for you.

Right now, the only memories that feel relevant are those of him, and I, and Christmas-- Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve where we were given the gift of just enough certainty, in a moment, to sign the papers that we needed to sign.

Every year, it leaves me feeling hollow. Ever year, it supersedes all else, despite all I do to fight that. So today, an hour or so ago, I decided not to fight it anymore. The pain is so great, so omnipresent. All that's really left to do is lean into it.

An hour or so again, I put on headphones and made the choice to listen to Joni Mitchell's River. It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees. I'm putting on headphones and listening to songs to help me find peace.

I made my baby cry.

I'm listening now, but now it's time to switch. To another river, a Moon River. We danced on our wedding day, and it was our song, and it was always our song. It's really the most melancholy and beautiful song ever written, and so were we. Melancholy and beautiful.

We're after the same rainbow's end.

I lean my head back and close my eyes. I let it wash over me. I breath deeply, and I exhale. I let it out.

Zack is my origin story. Zack is the thing that pulls at my heartstrings. And Zack will come back to me, whether or not I know it, and effect me again and again. He is part of my connection to the universe, and he is part of the story of my petty, tragic life.

But today is not December 24th, 2013. Today is December 24th, 2017. And those words from the song-- I made my baby cry-- have more literal echoes coming from the next room, so it's time to get up and go to him, the newest and littlest him of my life.

I've done my remembering for today. Let's see if I can manage to make another memory, a happier one to look back on another year. Not a better one, but happier.

On with it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

I Am a Great Writer, But...

This year has been an eventful one, a notable one, an extraordinary one. I have been a part of the creation of things, two things, that will last and matter and change the rest of my life. One, an independent film that I helped to write, and shaped in numerous ways beyond that. The other, a child, an infant who I hold now, feeding with one arm as I write this with another.

It feels important to point that out; the simultaneous feeding and writing. Because as much as anything else, it is the balance that is impressive: being part of this movie while dealing with a particularly harsh pregnancy, all while maintaining a job and my maternal duties to my first son, and my marriage and all the day-to-day drudgery that one must slog through undeterred while trying to achieve greatness with what’s left of their energy. Juggling, overcoming and prioritizing; that feels like a very female thing. Feeling guilty about those priorities at the end of the day feels even more like one.

On Friday, the film opened at a black tie gala in a beautiful venue. Despite an untenable level of stress and confusion leading up to it, the evening went off almost without a hitch. It’s worth noting that the film itself was only finished (to the extent it is now, it still requires some editing before the film festival circuit) perilously soon before its first-ever screening. It’s worth noting that while the director was losing sleep getting it finished in time, I was losing sleep helping with details of the night— programs and drink vouchers and gift bags and more— as well as giving him much needed emotional support on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

Indeed, the night was a celebration not only of the accomplishments of the cast and crew and all of us in creating the film, but also of a smaller, tighter knit group within the group working to make the night itself a success. I was a part of it at every level. It was my night, mine and those beautiful few who have come to mean so much to me.

And it’s fitting, I think, that I should start this post about that night, about those accomplishments and the value of them and how truly and deeply I was a part of them. Because, sadly, that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about being fat.

This is a post about being fat, and having that somehow matter more than everything else, and having that derail one’s feelings of accomplishment and pride with embarrassment and shame.

There are pictures of that night, many pictures. In them, I am wearing the dress that I hunted for for months, anticipating that this would be easily among the biggest nights of my life. In them, you can see the makeup that I arranged to have done by the brilliant makeup artist who worked on the movie, and got to the venue three hours ahead of time to have done, though I never wear makeup. In them, you can see all the effort I put forth to look beautiful, because it felt so important to be.

These are pictures of me, in a beautiful dress, in a beautiful place. These are pictures of me celebrating one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, standing next to the people I shared it with so intimately, being celebrated by hundreds of people around us. These are pictures I should cherish forever.

And I can’t stand to look at them.

There's a lot here to be said about all of this, a lot to unpack and process. It feels important to mention the double standards in this issue: while I understand that there are a great many men out there who struggle with body image, I can't help but fundamentally believe that it this is simply and demonstrably worse for women: that men can be great and powerful and do important work without anyone ever commenting on their appearance. (And, not irrelevantly, on their priorities. It's happened many times that while I was off working on this film, people wanted to know who was taking care of my children. I doubt that would have happened to my husband.)

Still, that's not at the core of it for me, right now. At the core if it, right now, is this sense everything I did leading up to that night was invalidated, for me, by the fact that I didn't look good. I've felt this way dozens of times: planning my first trip to Europe, a lifelong dream of mine, and being terrified to the point of distraction that I would look heavy in the pictures. Worrying about the way my arms would look in my dress for my wedding, rather than being able to simply relish the reality that I was marrying someone who found me beautiful inside and out.

Then there's the fact that, in none of these circumstances, did I actually look bad. I looked overweight. It's not that I never have insecurities about my hair or my face or my skin-- I do. But they pale in comparison. I can look back at photos from all of these things and appreciate that I have a pretty smile and sparkling eyes, and usually fair skin. There are people in my life who are dear to me who do not have that, who have very significant insecurities over things that I try not to take for granted-- I think I have a pretty face most of the time, and I try to be grateful for thats. But, there again, when I see a roll of fat captured on film, I lose my ability to keep perspective.

Those things are all part of looking good- the hair, the skin, and the figure. So why is it that one trumps the others so entirely for me?

I think-- I know-- that the society we live in still shames people for their weight in a way that we don't find it acceptable to shame them for other things. There is this clear sense of fault that we don't associate with someone being short or having poor skin or just being too plain. There has been, of late, some very real progress made in this arena: people fighting for body acceptance for all, and, more importantly, for themselves. It's a movement, and it's gaining speed. There are now pop singers and swimsuit models who are heavier-- maybe not heavy enough, in general, to make the whole world feel included, but for someone like me, who is, I suppose, on the thin side of fat, it makes beauty feel attainable. No matter what I do, I will never be a size two. But with some effort and toning, I could stand alongside the likes of Meghan Trainor and Ashley Graham and not feel out of place.

Yet, for all the progress made in people embracing themselves, their is an ever more bitter backlash. Every fat person knows of someone judgmental who claims to be looking out for their health. We have all read hateful comments from people who believe that self-acceptance is a slippery slope to a society full of slovenly behemoths in wheelchairs who eschew any desire for health in exchange for the comparative “ease” of self-acceptance. We've all met people who believe that weight is the very simple exchange of burning more calories than one takes in, and there's nothing more complicated than that-- not genetics. not metabolisms, not a full host of genuine barriers to healthy eating and exercise.

There are points I've fought to make-- largely on the behalf of others-- that there's compelling scientific evidence coming out now that shows that losing weight, and maintaining weight loss, is much more challenging than we've ever understood as a society. There is evidence showing that being overweight is not as fundamentally unhealthy as the world would have you believe, and that in many of the markers with which we measure health, overweight people often score higher than thin people. But again, none of these feel like the emotional point that I'm trying to find my way to making. somehow.

I suppose the point has something to do with how this movement is important, because, whatever I chose to do with my body, it shouldn't invalidate the way I feel about totally unrelated accomplishments. I co-wrote a movie. I made it great, because I am a great writer. I shouldn't have to qualify that. I should never have to write the sentence, "I am a great writer, but I am fat."

I have not always been fat, though I have nearly always been afraid of it. Most of my life, I've been inching slowly towards it, and, due to the genetics of my family, I've been terrified in feeling that it's unavoidable. But I've hovered in that area where I was neither truly fat nor thin for most of my adult life. It wasn't until this latest pregnancy that things took a turn for the unambiguous. Before the pregnancy, I was on ADHD medication that, while helping dramatically with my focus and energy, had the added bonus of controlling my appetite and boosting my metabolism. When I became pregnant and stopped taking the pills, I gained 15 pounds or so almost immediately, well before I normally would have with the growth of the baby. I wasn't able to go back to the medication while pumping breast milk, which I have only recently stopped doing. It's likely that when I get back on this medication, I will lose some weight very quickly. But, since I've also put my body through the rigors of giving birth yet again since then, I suspect it will not be enough to revert to a place of being occasionally mistaken for a thin person.

The biggest emotional toll in all of this, for me, is that my self-perception has not adjusted to my outward reality, and I don't think it easily can. When I look in the mirror, I'm able to hold myself in such a way that it hides my biggest insecurities. This is not to say that I feel good looking at myself;  I often do not. But nothing can match the gut-wrenching punch of seeing a picture that was a taken from a bad angle, which I suspect many of my angles are. And I have to remind myself, though I wish I didn't, that other people see me from those angles every day. That I have no idea what they're seeing.

This is the thing I'm struggling with the most: I do not know what I look like to other people.

I'm realizing now that so much of my shame comes from the fact that I continue to act like a thin person, oblivious. The dress I wore was slinky and contoured to my body, which in turn, contoured in ways I quite simply couldn't detect in a mirror. I had every intention of wearing some very powerful shapewear with it, for what's it's worth, but in the hectic struggle of the day, I forgot it at home before getting dressed at the venue. If I'd known what I looked like, I would have made a point to go get it.

There's a picture of me standing next to the makeup artist, a girl who has become a close friend. She's heavier than I am. She chose a different style of dress, a gown, and she did so, I presume, because she's used to being heavy. I look at pictures of her and I can only think that she looks amazing. This leads me to the startling conclusion that, at least in part, what I am ashamed of here is not that I am fat, but that I haven't learned to conceal it, to communicate to others that I know that I should. I realize, as I am writing this, that it's not simply that I look fat that bothers me, it's that other people must perceive that I don't realize it-- like the long-term equivalent of having spinach in my teeth-- or that I have instead, chosen to accept it. I have to ask myself, with horror, whether that's the real problem: that I ashamed that I forgot to be adequately ashamed.

I believe I should be ashamed of my body, as it is now. I am humiliated when I forget what I look like, and then exhibit confidence that I shouldn't have.  I shouldn't have worn a dress that said "look at me." I should have worn a dress that said, "I am a great writer, but I am fat." Which is kind of a lot to ask from a dress.

The writer Lindy West, who is well-known in the body acceptance movement, wrote a piece once about coming out as being fat, the way others come out as being gay. Her point was that, for all her life, people acted like it was something too delicate to acknowledge, or a temporary state she was sure to overcome. She wanted to make the point that she'd been fat her whole life, and it wasn't going to change, and maybe it wasn't useful to pretend that it wasn't there. Maybe acknowledging it, and asking her friends and family to acknowledge it, could help with the perception held by herself and others that, despite being wholly obvious, it's something she should try to hide.

Part of body acceptance is, well, literally accepting your body. I'm not ready to do that. I'm not ready to call myself beautiful and decide to not be ashamed. I do want to lose weight. I will call my doctor and get my prescription for ADHD meds going again. I will go hungry. I will push myself to exercise too hard, and in moments when that time might be better served on cleaning my house, or writing the next film, or being with my children. But in the interest of coming out as fat-- and, to a lesser degree, in trying to find the value in the night the movie opened, despite my shame-- I will include a picture or two here. For those of you who don't know me, I'm the one in the black.

This is a picture of me with two amazing ladies who probably also have body insecurities, but I'm the only one who felt the need to write a damn treatise about it.

Here is a picture of me giving an insightful and witty answer to a question in front of hundreds of people, but I am fat.

For those of you out there who may have read this, and may be someone who has not struggled with weight, and maybe someone who still has some amount of judgment around overweight people, there are some points I'd like to get across. Number one, I assure you, it is NOT EASIER to just accept yourself than it is to lose weight, though, to be fair, keeping it off may be damn near impossible. But when I look at these pictures and try to imagine a future where I embrace my size and live with confidence and feel good about the tight, revealing dress despite the rolls-- I assure you, I could much more easily go without ever eating another roll in my life, though probably not through healthy means.

Number two, and this is a big one: whenever you encourage someone to lose weight, or judge them for it, or make them feel like they're more valuable as a thin person, what you're doing is telling them to reprioritize. You're telling them that the way they look to the world is more important than the things that they're putting their effort into when they're not putting effort into being thin, whether that be their job, their passion, or their family. No one has an infinite amount of energy or time: if you look at someone and determine that the state their body is in is bad for their health, you may very well be discounting the importance to their overall health-- including mental health-- of the things they've chosen over being thin.

I like to look at it this way: if someone came up to you and told you that you HAD to learn Chinese  you might tell them you're not interested. They might counter with the fact that there's a enormous number of Chinese people in the world, that the future of international business demands it, that we'd live in a more peaceful world if everyone could communicate. And all of their points may be true, but the reality is that learning another language is a huge investment of time and energy. Maybe you'd rather use that time and energy on learning Spanish. Maybe you'd rather use it building a boat. But your priorities are your own, even if that one person judges you.

Making the effort to be thin is just one choice people make. There's no moral weight behind the choice either way.

My priorities, in the past year, have been largely about this film. They've also been about carrying a healthy baby, and doing a job that helps to support my family, and maintaining my relationships. And I had a baby, and I made a film, and I sacrificed for those things. And I should be proud of them. I should be proud of being a woman who has learned the feminine art of juggling and overcoming. I should fight off the guilt that I have at the end of the day about the choices I made, and realize that my own priorities are valid, whether it's letting my husband watch the kids so that I go and create art, or whether it's having a Little Debbie Brownie at 2 am when I'm woken up for a feeding so that I don't lose my mind from exhaustion and frustration. My choices have reasons behind them, I should embrace them. I should be able to say, I am a worthwhile person.

But all I can say right now is "I am a worthwhile person, but I am fat."

On with it.