The Texture Of Things

Closed

December 13th, 2007

Everything is closing.

Twenty years ago, my aunt and uncle and their toddler moved to the town I live in now. When they did, there was hardly a town here, but there was or would soon be The Market. The Market sold specialty foods, locally baked goods, hard to find produce, and quality meat. It was an anomaly in a town primarily served by major chain grocery stores and coney-style restaurants.

Operative word = “was”

Two weeks ago, they rearranged the letters on their reader board from advertising the week’s special to announcing everything was on sale. They were closing.

I am sad, though I never personally shopped there. I meant to, but I never made it in there. I don’t even know why I never went there – I used to frequent the local bakery and butcher shop where we lived before the tot was born. Still, I don’t think it much matters. My three or four small purchases in a year, if that many, would not have kept them afloat. They needed more than that and the town did not deliver.

It’s not the town’s fault. The town is merely reacting to the inevitable truth that the state’s economy is slow. Slooooooooow. Dying, maybe. At least it seems to be in this area where so many people have been laid off. When a family has less money to spend on groceries and gas, shopping trips must get more frugal. Fewer stops closer to home, cheaper items in the basket. Less fresh produce and meat, sale coffee instead of gourmet, store brand cereal.

And it’s not just The Market. Not long ago, we had a lovely Italian restaurant open. It closed in about a year. Under a year, maybe. It was right in town, but on the edge where the parking is better. The building was original and beautiful and the inside was elegant yet casual enough not to scare off this town’s family set. But they’re closed. Two days ago on the other side of town, I noticed a sign in the window of what used to be the dollar store (it closed years ago and the store front has been vacant all this time) announcing it will be opening next year as a pasta and pizza kitchen.

I want to write the entrepreneurs to tell them I’m anticipating great things for this town, for that strip, but all I can think to say to them would be: “Don’t bother. If you like the money in your pocket, don’t bother. Come back in ten years and try again.”

I would tell them to look at the vacant storefronts through this town, look at the businesses that have closed lately, and ask them to notch that interminable optimism down. But I am sure they have looked. I’m sure they’ve studied the town, and if they haven’t, then it’s their bad move, not mine. If they can see through the losses, good for them. I can’t.

The children’s resale shop, a video store, the dollar store, the market, our favorite family restaurant, the consignment shop, the electronics shop, the plumbing supply company, the art and picture framing shop, a pizza place, a daycare, a real estate office, an exercise place, and others I’m sure I haven’t noticed. And these are just in my small town, but this pattern is the same as in our neighboring towns. It’s everywhere.

So, what’s next? Who will be the next business to lock their doors for the last time? The independently owned bookstore? Please no. The independently owned toy and doll shop? It’s been here as long as the town has, so I have to hope it can withstand another economic drought, but I’m nearing the end of my hope. The furniture store? The knitting supply shop? The independently owned restaurants, hair salons, hardware store, bike shop, and flooring store? If they can survive in the face of the all-chain, all-the-time influx the town is seeing, I’ll be surprised. Happy, but surprised.

I suppose I should apologize for the pessimism. It’s just that the daily onslaught of these failures has compounded recently with other, closer to home examples of our economy biting the big one. Our house, for instance, just appraised at 20% below what it was valued at 3 years ago. One of my students, a smart, likable, hardworking man in his 40s, just approached me with a conundrum. He was laid off this month, but he has already interviewed at a place that would like to hire him. This turnaround is nearly unheard of in his industry currently, but there is a conflict with school. They require him to attend an orientation that will take place during our last class of the semester. He came to me to ask me if his presence in class that night was necessary. If it was, he said, he’d skip the orientation – he’d pass on the job. He didn’t want to, he said, but he’d do it if I required him to be in class next week.

I told him not to come. We made arrangements to get me the work due that day through other means. Who am I to shut him down?

And so it goes. We are stuck in a house we’d rather not live in, but at least we have a house. We are stuck in a town that is turning ever more white-bread, but at least we have enough money for gas to drive to other towns where there is more than banks, drug stores, and coneys. We are stuck in a town in a state built on an industry (automobile) that is gangrenous, but at least we are not in that industry – we could move and get jobs and survive if we needed to.

At least we have jobs. At least we have our health. At least, at least, at least.

Veteran’s Day

November 11th, 2007

I’m not going to tell you to go hug a vet today, because I think most veterans would be creeped out by strangers coming up and touching them, unsolicited. But I will say this:

Whatever your opinion on current events and politics, the men and women who serve our country in the military do the hardest thing anyone could be asked to do. Their reasons for volunteering are as many and as varied as there are people in the service. My brother joined the Navy because he had failed out of school too many times and there was no more money to try college again. In the Navy, he could get some education and earn GI Bill money. He could straighten himself out and maybe get out of our impossibly small town. He joined because he wanted to set a good example for me, eight years younger. He told me he didn’t want me to screw up in school like he had. He wanted to earn money to help our mom with bills, to help her save money for my schooling, to help her keep her head above water so she wouldn’t feel like she needed to get married again just to make ends meet. He did it for us.

And it worked, but not how he meant it to. After the training accident that killed him, his life insurance money paid for my undergraduate degree. With that degree, I’ve been able to make a life, a pretty darn good one, without having to join up myself.

So when we civilians are blabbing back and forth from the safety of our local coffee shop about what we think our government should do, we would do well to remember what those service-men and -women voluntarily gave up, namely the right to say, “No, boss, I’m not doing that because it’s dangerous and I disagree with it.”

We might also do well to remember those whose service was compelled and be grateful that the draft is no longer active, in part because there are enough volunteers, whatever their reasons for signing up.

Power, One Kind of

September 3rd, 2007

Standing in the shower thinking
About what makes a man
An outlaw or a leader
I’m thinking about power
The ways a man could use it
Or be destroyed by it …
I’m standing in the shower thinking
–Jane’s Addiction, from Nothing’s Shocking

I have been thinking about power lately. Again, I should say. It’s not a subject that strays far from my mind, especially as I have a child, and whose power is more pervasive than a parent’s?

For me, the nature of a parent’s power is troubling because the forms it takes are so arbitrary. While the tot was less than a year old, I attended a La Leche League group in a neighboring university town known for its crunchy hippies. I was surprised to hear, then, one of the crunchiest experienced moms in the following conversation.

Mom of Toddler: He wants to be independent, but he just melts down when it’s time to make a choice.
Crunchy Experienced Mom: Offer him two choices only. Take all other options away so he’s not overwhelmed.
MT: How do I pick which two when there are plenty?
CEM: Just pick two randomly. It doesn’t matter which. He just wants to exercise the power to choose. You have to make it a choice he can manage.

Let me clarify that I do not think CEM was wrong – she was offering advice to help mitigate age-appropriate tantrums – but it got me thinking that day about my Option C child. You see, when I applied CEM’s advice with a 14 month – 2 year old Tot, this is what it looked like:

Tot [in car seat, happy]: Want music! Wanna listen to music!
Me [rummaging through cds in van, finding Wiggles, Laurie Berkner, Backyardigans, Cow Songs, and a billion more]: Okay, we have Wiggles or Cow Songs.
Tot: Laurie Berkner.
Me [to myself]: Crap. Did she see them? No, she couldn’t have seen them up here in that bin.
Me [aloud]: We have Wiggles or Cow Songs, sweetie.
Tot: :tantrum:

Everyone with whom I have talked about power agrees with CEM: a parent’s job is to assume power and use it. My question has always been, “What if I don’t care?” What if I don’t care what music we listen to? What if I suggest Wiggles or Laurie Berkner but the tot suggests They Might Be Giants and suddenly that sounds good to me too? Holding my ground in this exchange will only serve to make us both unhappy, so why must I be unwilling to surrender some power and be open to her ideas? Is it solely for the sake of teaching her that adults wield power for the sake of wielding power?

That’s crazy talk.

I could be walking into a minefield by approaching parenting this way, but it seems to make more sense to me to teach my child about authentic power rather than arbitrary power.

For instance, this weekend I bought two boxes of Whoppers, one regular and one strawberry. She wanted to play with the boxes on Saturday and I let her. She asked me to open them so she could eat them. She has never eaten one yet, and as excited as I was to think she is interested in melty things, I told her no. No, we cannot eat candy right now because it is breakfast time. She protested. I said that we get to eat enough treats between lunch and bedtime. We could certainly wait until then to eat them. Of course, come afternoon her interest waned. Then first thing Monday morning she asked for them again and my answer stayed the same. She pouted and went on with her day.

Having a reason behind the “no” is authentic power.

When the tot behaves herself and is good about getting into her car seat, she is rewarded by getting to choose the music in the car. She knows I keep a pretty good stash in the van and I am pretty easy going about what we listen to. So it’s fairly common for me to offer this, that, or the other thing and for her to request a different other thing. I say, “Really?” and she repeats herself, I put it in the stereo and we’re on our way.

Letting go of power-for-power’s-sake is authentic power.

If she asks for Cow Songs and I’m really burnt out on Cow Songs, I tell her. I tell her, “No, sweetie, Mama’s tired of Cow Songs. Can we listen to Giants? Or Backyardigans?” Usually she’ll fuss but pick something else. If she does it without flipping out, I’ll comply with her second request. If she flips out, she knows we will listen to nothing. She knows this because I have meted out this consequence a billion times and I make it clear each time: “Settle down and take a breath. If you don’t like these choices, then we’ll turn it off for now.”

Applying power consistently is authentic power.

For another instance, this weekend we went to the nearby outlet mall to catch the Labor Day sales, and the tot asked me for a snack. I peeked into the bag and told her we had pretzel sticks or Ohs (cheerios). She replied, “Kix.” (WTF? We don’t even have Kix at home right now.) I said, “Sorry, Bubba, I’ve only got pretzel sticks and Ohs. Which is it?” She thought for a moment and chose the Ohs.

Being honest about the reason for exercising power is authentic power.

There is so much literary pollution on the topic of parenting that when I got pregnant, the only independent thought I could muster before becoming thoroughly overwhelmed with the reading was this fundamental piece:

I want my child to trust me. She might not always love me, but I want her to trust her father and me, if nothing else.

In order to get to that place, I feel like I have to let go of the ways power was used in my family when I was growing up. Surely I am not perfect and I often resort to how I was taught, but I am trying to be realistic and logical as I consider how my actions now affect the journey.

This is by no means a complete essay on my thoughts about power. I have more notes, but rather than waiting until I have time to write the whole beast, I will post this and return to it with more.

The Language of Fat, Part Three (Finally)

May 14th, 2007

Again with the picking up from where we left off

I am trying (repeatedly) here to get back to internalized language, and I find the connection hard to reveal even to myself. The negative, internalized language comes from so many places – upbringing, culture, individual personality, etc. – that is hard for me to make it clear to anyone besides myself how being fat can make a person feel like second-class citizen, from the inside out. This difficulty is why I’ve hesitated writing this a dozen or more times.

I have also procrastinated because, frankly, I am too aware that I undertake additional risks with this surgery, directly related to what one of my doctors called my “elevated BMI.” For example, if they have to convert from a laparoscopic procedure to an open incision because, essentially, I’m fat, then my recovery will be longer and harder, and whose fault is that? Although my weight problem might be due to a lot of factors, ultimately the buck stops here and I know it.

In the end, I guess I’m not sure what the moral to this story is. Perhaps it is a lesson we can take to heart about all people – that what appears on the outside is not the whole story.

Years ago, when I was watching ER in reruns, I found myself particularly moved by the opening scene of the episode wherein Dr. Greene floats through his last day working in the ER. He has brain cancer and has given notice that he is quitting.

The scene opens with Greene outside in the ambulance bay, shooting hoops. Carter comes out, clearly flustered by something. When Greene asks him what’s wrong, Carter reveals that “Blue Bertha” has died. “Blue Bertha” was a regular patient with emphysema who always came in for treatment but would never implement her treatment at home for any meaningful length of time.

Carter’s exasperation is clear; he wants to know why she wouldn’t do something as simple as quit smoking or some other some-such, for sake of her health. Zen-like, Greene replies, “As hard as it was to treat Blue Bertha, it was harder yet to be Blue Bertha.”

Greene is right. We can never know what it is like to carry Blue Bertha’s burdens, so it is incumbent upon us to treat her as we would hope to be treated – as an individual, if not with understanding, then at least with a little respect.

The Language of Fat, Part Two*

May 14th, 2007

Picking up from where we left off

Imagine a hypothetical instructor in a classroom, returning hypothetical papers to hypothetical students in their seats.
Imagine:
the aisle between rows of desks is roomy – no thought relating to size and space crosses the instructor’s mind.
on another day during another semester, the aisle is not as roomy – the instructor thinks, “Hm, this seems tighter.”
she meets difficulty walking between desks – she thinks, “I don’t fit here so easily.”
she is unable to slide between desks at one point in row – now “I don’t fit here anymore.”
she hesitates to attempt going all the way down the row – she ponders, “I might not fit there. Should I try it?”
she tries it and meets a too-tight squeeze – “I shouldn’t have tried it.”
she hesitates to attempt the row a second time – “I won’t fit there. I don’t fit there.”
she does not try anymore, finds another path – “I can’t.”

Repeat over time until she cannot fit down any aisle in the room. She must find a new way to return student papers – perhaps have them come up to lectern? Meet them at the door?

These are small changes, but they inform more than just the first 10 minutes of class; they guide a fat person’s thought and self-talk by restricting her/his actions.

“I can’t” means “I don’t fit,” which becomes “I can’t because I don’t fit.”
“I can’t because I don’t fit” becomes “I shouldn’t try that way.”
“I can’t because I don’t fit” becomes “It’s not for me.”
[add to this internal monologue seeing other people, presumably thinner people, taking that path, which leads to a sense of exclusion]
Ultimately, “I can’t because I don’t fit” becomes “I’m not allowed to because I will fail because I am fat.”
“I fail because I am fat.”

With a mindset like this, is it any wonder why an already challenging feat like losing weight (and keeping it lost) is so difficult for people? Sure, I am probably projecting on the majority of overweight and obese Americans- no, I am projecting – but I cannot be alone in this. I cannot be the only one to have negative self-talk floating around in her head. But in case I am, let me return this exercise to me alone.

It was only a matter of time before “I will fail because I’m fat” and all its attending negativity would lead me to “I’m so fat. If I can’t manage to be not-fat, why should I deserve cute shoes/ pretty clothes/ a cheap swimsuit/ a dessert after dinner/ and so on? Really, why?” Which brings me back to my surgery.

Yes, if you’re reading this and anticipating that I actually hesitated scheduling a surgery that three doctors agreed I needed but that I felt I didn’t deserve because I’m fat, you’re right. Yes, I’m scared of dying, of a long recovery, of the pain not being fixed, of finding out it is all in my head, but that is not the whole of it. The rest of it is that, well I don’t know. How can my modicum of pain (however regular or debilitating) warrant the money and effort this surgery will require? Beyond the actual operation, I’m going to need a lot of help from people for weeks. Weeks. I don’t know how or when to ask for help for little daily stuff (HG can attest to this), how the hell am I going to do this? Why the hell should I put so many other people out? For what?

True – the endometriosis and the scar tissue could happen to anyone, but the hernia? Caused when I slipped on some slush while loading the tot into her car seat. Probably it was caused by my being out of shape, by my being fat. How exactly do I not deserve the hernia as punishment for not correcting my weight problem? How exactly do I deserve to have it fixed?

Of course I know I deserve this surgery, like I deserve any other medical care, like anyone in need of medical care deserves to be treated. If it were any other medical problem, I would not hesitate to have it fixed. Wonky-looking mole? Might be my fault for not using enough sunscreen, but I’m damn sure getting it fixed. Injury from an accident? Regardless of how the accident happened, I’m getting the broken part fixed – No Question. But this, somehow this is different.

*The continuation of this post will appear sometime today or tomorrow. Please stay tuned.

The Language of Fat, Part One*

May 14th, 2007

Funny thing about being fat is that although it is an external condition, it is concomitantly an internal one.

Take for example my upcoming surgery (just over a week away, but who’s counting really, no, not me). I found the following a few days ago in my drafts folder. I wrote it back in late February/early March, and when I read it now, I see an attempt to deal with and move forward with my surgery.

She said, “You are the Champion of Putting Things Off”

One of my students called me out on something a few weeks ago, and as shocked as I was to hear her say it, it wasn’t long before I realized she is right.

Last year, I developed a pain on the right side my lower belly that came and went with my period. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it seemed false, fake, possibly in my head. So, because I am a “let’s wait and see” person when it comes to my own health, every time it subsided I would ignore the possibility of its return. And it returned. Every month, on schedule and with increasing severity and duration.

Ultimately, I did go see a variety of doctors who each ordered their own tests – blood tests, a cat scan, a colonoscopy.

The cat scan results showed that I have a hernia, but the obstetrician, the gastroenterologist and the surgeon agree that it is not the source of the pain. Probably it is scar tissue from my c-section joining forces with my appendectomy scar tissue for the power of evil, possibly to defeat Spiderman. Or, it could be endometriosis. Or, it could be both. Yay me.

When the cat scan results came in last October, I told my students that I might have to have surgery during our semester. It would suck and it would screw up the calendar of due dates, but we would get through it. Ultimately I backed out of getting the surgery because of the holidays, how would I lift the tot (who was not ready for the all-out “Mama doesn’t carry you anymore” business), waiting for the change in health insurance as HG’s company got bought, and because I was scared. Am scared. Like unable to move, stay-small-so-the-wolf-doesn’t-see-me scared.

I don’t feel this way all the time, but I look at my inaction and I can come to no other conclusion. I must be putting it off for a reason, and it can’t be solely the reason my student offered.

No, of course there is more to it than being scared, and being fat plays a major role in it.

Some background is in order here. I have not been fat my whole life. As a kid, I was relatively skinny, though I did have a round tummy. Naturally, because I am a girl in America, I went through my 6th grade year thinking I was fat. I look back now and I was just uncomfortable in my own skin as my body grew and took on that gangly pre-teen body. I was on the slender side of average as a teen, mostly because we never had food in my house growing up, so I rarely ate dinner. After my brother died, I quit eating entirely out of grief, and at one very scary point (for me), I found myself at 5’6″ and 111 pounds. I think that was my junior year in high school.

As I started to handle things more easily and headed into my senior year with an eye on college for the first time ever, I recovered my appetite and regained my lost 15 or so pounds. And then I met Husband-to-be-though-we-had-no-idea-then Guy, we dated, and I went to college. It was in college that my lack of food knowledge reared an ugly head. I didn’t (don’t) know how to cook, I have no idea what eating healthy or even healthier means, and I had gone so long with poor eating habits that I’d lost touch with true hunger and fullness cues. What exactly is a portion size again? So I quickly gained my freshman 15. And then my sophomore 10. And then my junior 10. And did I mention I had two senior years? It’s true, but I kept it to a single senior 10.

I highlight this progression of numbers for the purpose of underscoring the gradual but constant change my body went through. My brain went through it as well, but the change can be measured in language rather than numbers.

*This multi-part post was inspired in part by a post by KLee. It is divided into pieces since my word press theme has a problem with long posts. Sorry in advance for cutting this off mid-thought. The continuation of this post will appear sometime today or tomorrow. Please stay tuned.

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