A Distorted Shadow of the Truth

I’m very healthy, except for my weight.

It all started because of the interactive at the science museum. It was in an exhibit promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity, and it used proportioned weights to help indicate what sorts and durations of physical exertion would be enough to “burn off” particular food choices. You know, a reproduction of the old fiction about calories in/calories out.

And I tried to keep quiet — I really did. I was with someone I didn’t know all that well, and, for better or for worse, I’m a wimpy enough “activist” that there are lots of times when I choose not to say the many many feminist or fat acceptance-y things that cross my mind in any given moment.

But I just couldn’t stop myself. Because to have that kind of destructive fiction presented as if it were Truth in a goddamn science museum was just beyond the beyond as far as what I could take.

———-

In some of my earlier FA/HAES rants, I’ve talked about the ways that dietary and exercise choices can make a positive impact on your health. (Am rushed now, so will provide citations at appropriate places throughout this post in an update sometime this weekend.) I’m not foolish enough to say that it works for everyone all the time (see the bouquet of sidebars/disclaimers I put down below the dividing line), but I know from my HCG journey that changing my dietary habits has positively impacted my own health. And my individual experience has been corroborated by some of the studies I linked in those earlier rants.

However. The calories in/calories out bullshit and the cultural weight obsession are just so damn destructive. Because they keep people’s focus on the wrong damn thing!

heart-grapes-healthLet’s say you want to improve your health so you decide to shake up your diet and activity routine in whatever way works for you. Eat more fruits and veggies. Eliminate/lessen added sugars. Train for a marathon. Start biking for some of your errand-running. Here’s the not-often-enough-acknowledged truth of one’s genetic set point: those lifestyle changes could be having all kinds of positive impact on your health without making much (if any) alteration in the number on the scale. So, because of all the false conflation between weight and health, because of all the ways we’ve been lied to about how certain calorie/food/exercise equations are unshakeable, it is entirely possible that someone who’s making great and positive changes in their health will instead feel like an absolute and utter failure because the number on the scale isn’t moving.

And so they might give up, or turn towards drastic weight loss methods that are undeniably detrimental to one’s health. And that’s just heartbreaking to me.

I’m very healthy, except for my weight,” she said to me.

Then I’d say you’re healthy. End of sentence,” I replied.

———-

Here’s the small bouquet of sidebars/disclaimers.

  1. No one owes the world to have “health” as their top priority, or anywhere in the top 10 list.
  2. People who have chosen to prioritize health (to whatever degree) can set their own definitions for what’s healthy “enough” — whether that’s five servings of produce per day, or five servings of produce per month.
  3. Diet and exercise choices often make a positive impact on health, but there are lots of factors outside our control, so don’t you dare getting all snooty and superior about anyone who faces health challenges you have been spared.

———-

Another catch up post for Writing 101, done in place of Day 20. (Day 20 is supposed to be a long post — which for me is rather a scary prospect — and so the “due date” is Monday.) Any how, here’s the Day 12 prompt:

Today, write a post with roots in a real-world conversation. For a twist, include foreshadowing.

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Image credit: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7272/6-simple-things-you-can-do-in-2013-to-optimize-your-health.html

In the Cards

I know there’s been lots of times in my essays about fat acceptance and feminism, and even my references to climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, that I have very much shown my old grad school habits of citing research and studies and hard science.

So it may come as some surprise to know that a week or so ago, when I was making the final decision about whether or not to audition for that show, I used a technique that is often in my discernment/decision-making repertoire: pulling tarot cards.

science_tarot_thumb[1]I started reading cards (in a very amateurish, glued-to-the-book fashion) back when I was a junior in college. It was one of the first real glimmerings I had of being connected to Source (Spirit, the “Big Good Thing,” what-have-you), and it’s something I still carry in my toolbox — a technique to get out of my own way, step away from whatever ego and mind voices I’ve got running and look for guidance and for signs. (And I’ve already talked about how fervently I do believe in signs.)

I know it may seem a bit contradictory, this combination of research-focus and of the weird woo-woo new age-y stuff. And there are times where I ask myself about that sort of duality in myself — is it a contradiction, or is it just a measure of the complexity of living in a quantum universe? And if I am so airheaded and woo-woo-y, then why do I get my back up so strong and so loud when I argue against the ways that certain cultural programs (like, oh, say fat shaming and obesity panic) are so completely unfounded in factual, objective reality?

And I think for me one of the key points of ethics I hold is marking a strong boundary between what I am willing to use to make my own personal decisions and what I think is appropriate when making larger claims about societal trends or what other people “should” be doing or not.

To distill it to the basics:

I have faith in Spirit and signs and so when I am making a personal decision for me and my life, I will readily turn to those woo-woo-y things in which I have faith. So, when looking at the conundrum of “to audition or not to audition,” a card pull was a perfect choice. It makes no strong difference for anyone else — positive or negative — regardless of which option I were to choose. So live in the faith and trust where my soul resides, pull the cards, and listen to their guidance.

But I know that individuals have different decisions regarding what their faith is — or even if they have a faith or a sense of spirituality. (I am deeply troubled by the assumptions many people hold about how it’s impossible for an atheist to have the capacity to live and ethical or moral life. Of course they can live ethically.) So, I would absolutely not want to impose my spirituality on another person’s choices. Nor do I want someone else’s personal/spiritual/scientifically-ungrounded beliefs to be imposed on me, on my life, on the culture in which I live.

And that’s why I look both to science and to Spirit for my guideposts.

———-

Inspired by the Day 19 prompt for Writing 101Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Not sure I think it’s too silly an idea, but it’s certainly something quietly embarrassing enough that I’ve been hesitant to explore it.

———-

Image credit: http://www.biounalm.com/2010/10/tarot-cientifico.html

[I can scarcely find the words to express how happy it makes me to know that such thing as the Science Tarot exists.]

Writing for my Health

More time with the Writing 101 backlog. Tonight’s entry is brought to you by the number 18 — the day whose prompt I should be responding to — and the letter “U” — for how uninspired that Day 18 prompt has me currently feeling. So let’s look at Day 14 instead:

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there.

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

———-

Journaling, the world seems to agree, is a good thing.

~ Janet Conner, Writing Down Your Soul

Dear Spirit,

It’s an interesting coincidence that the Writing 101 prompt asks me to “write in the form of a letter,” when that same approach is a key technique Conner suggests as a way to help “journal-writing” become “soul writing.”  The ritual of addressing the words externally, whether to God or Spirit or Inner Wisdom, serves as reminder that someone is there to listen to what I write and even sometimes to provide an answer. Whether you understand that “external” someone as out in the cosmos or housed in that still, small voice within, I think this reminder of writing’s capacity to be in dialogue and meditation is a potent one. And a reminder well-worth receiving.

During the last crazy stretch at work, I not only fell away from blogging publicly, I also fell away from the daily practice of writing in my pen and paper journal. And let me tell you, Spirit, man oh man, did I ever start to feel the ill effects of that choice.

journal-writingBy halfway through the 9-day break from my morning journaling, I could quite literally feel the bile and the poisons building up in my system — frustration, anxiety, negativity of all shapes and sizes — without release. Without a safety valve. Without giving myself the space to vent off the poison and, by the very nature of that process of writing and voicing and studying, to — often, if not always — create a distance between my core self and the negative ego-state I was venting off. To always be able to write myself to some space of release, and to sometimes be able to write myself to a solution, or at least to a deeper level of insight.

For all that I could see the cost I was paying by last Monday, I wasn’t quite able to manage my time adeptly enough last week to reconnect with journal-writing* during the final crazed days of proposal work.

I finally cracked back into my journal last Friday morning. And the internal space and clarity I feel now that I’ve been back to this morning practice is palpable. It’s like I can almost feel that old-fashioned pen nib drawing the poisons out of me, like it draws ink out of a bottle.

This shift, last week to this, is loud enough for me that I’m going to consider long and hard in future proposal cycles — or other busy times — whether I can really afford to take this resource away from myself.

That particular question will actually be a study to take on sooner than later. We have a big family vacation coming up in July, and my sense is that the travel and excursion schedule may be sufficiently robust that morning journal-writing could be damn hard to accomplish. But on days where the morning routine doesn’t work, could I still commit to 15 minutes’ writing meditation later in the day? Before dinner? Before bedtime?

And once I experiment with the benefit of a daily journaling practice — independent of when in the day the writing occurs — is this something I can bring back home to use during crazy work weeks?

That’s definitely my prayer for tonight.

* I am still avoiding the phrase “soul writing” — I’m only about halfway through Conner’s book, so I don’t yet feel clear on 1) what exactly distinguishes “soul writing” from other forms of journaling; 2) whether my daily writing would “make the cut” to be considered as soul writing; and 3) whether or not I even want to reach that standard. For now, I’m talking about my journaling as “journal-writing” — ‘cos I know that term fits and is something I value.

———-

Image credit: http://yogainmyschool.com/yoga-journal-writing-a-window-to-the-soul/

 

My Old Ohio Home

Catching up on Writing 101. Day 11, brought to you by the letter “L” for late and the number “18” for the actual day it was posted on.

Today, tell us about the home you lived in when you were twelve. For your twist, pay attention to — and vary — your sentence lengths.

Good heavens, Daily Post people! What is it with your obsession with writing about our homes!?!

First there was that long post about my current home. . . . Oh, wait.

That post could have been about any place anywhere in the world. It was just my own nesting instincts that led it to be home-focused.

But how about this childhood home thing? I was free-writing about that in my pen and paper journal recently. . . . Oh, wait!

That was free writing, which is, indeed, a habit strongly encouraged by the Writing 101 folks. However, the definition of what “free writing” is pretty much mandates that specific topics come from inside of me rather than being externally imposed.

So if there’s any spooky obsessiveness around the topic of home and childhood, that’s all on me, baby.

———-

For all of the times we moved during my childhood, we did a pretty good job at scheduling most of those disruptions to take place during summer vacation. That detail, plus my September birthday — meaning that every school grade neatly lines up with a single chronological year for me — makes it super-easy for me to dial up past houses/apartments in my memory. It goes something like this: 12 years old would put me in 7th grade,* which means we’re talking about that second time in Ohio.

ohio-home-etsyI could share the street address with you, but I won’t. The number is burned into my brain but also disconnected from the current paper trail of my existence. So it’s possible that these digits might sometimes get used as the PIN number on my frequent flyer accounts. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) And I needs to keep my miles.

I’m close to having a picture of the floor plan in my mind. Even though it was in the Midwest, it was another of those “two-story center entrance colonials” I was so glad to avoid in my most recent round of house-hunting. Standing in the front entryway, the staircase was to the right side of the entry hall, with an open doorway at the foot of the stairs leading to the front-to-back living room, with the screened porch jutting even further back off the horse’s perimeter. A waist-high railing separated the back side of the family room from the “breakfast area” and kitchen. Then, continuing the counterclockwise circle, was the dining room and, past that, the formal living room. I never visited there except during Christmastime, when the tree would be placed in the bay window, decorated and lit with bright colors. We’d sit there after dinner and talk — no lights except the tree and the electric candles in the windows.

The master suite was directly to the right at the top of the stairs. Its front-to-back  arrangement echoed the family room below. Meanwhile, down the hall to the left was the guest room, a bathroom, maybe even an extra extra bedroom that had been turned into dad’s home office? The end of the hall, I’m sure about: my room in front, my sister’s in back. My carpet and walls were bright yellow, and I had a habit of rethinking and re-arranging the furniture in my room when I was in need of a bit of self-re-invention.

You may notice that I’ve been focusing my attention on the sheer physicality of this house. It’s not like I’m breaking any rules with that decision. After all, the prompt was to talk about the home I lived in back then. So here I am, talking. Or writing.

But I am going to stop here, having written about the house, but without really writing about the living in that house. As I recall it, 7th grade was an especially tough one on the awkward-adolescence and misfit-family-member scale. And there’s some memories that just don’t need reliving right now.

* “Age minus 5” is the formula that holds true for me.

———-

Image credit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/124506359/ohio-home-print-red?

(In case this specific item gets sold and the link becomes defunct, go here to get to the Etsy seller’s main store-front.)

Quicksand of a Different Sort

Some days it’s like moving through quicksand. Each step, each motion carries the extra weight of pushing through the muck, knowing that every motion carries its own risk of dragging me deeper into the suffocating, drowning mud.

Some days it’s like being wrapped in fabric. It’s hard to hear things clearly. Lights and colors are dulled. The sharpness of time and recollection fade around the edges. Thoughts and attempts to find voice are all muffled, and not even muffled in nice, soft flannel. More like rough-spun wool, with its scratchy, sharp-edged fibers.

escif_May10_2_uSome days it’s like swimming in the riptide. An immense effort is required to make even the slightest bit of progress, and the risk is high that all one’s energy reserves can be depleted making this insignificant progress. Without vigilant awareness — and the judicious support of a life preserver here and there — the risk is also high of getting pulled under to breathe salt water and seaweed.

Some days it’s like the gravitational pull of a black hole. The forces of weight and gravity are so strong as they could cause a star to collapse in on itself, devouring the light and heat and energy of nature’s expression. The dark spiral of the bed-covers entwine me, holding me still and silent. Sound can’t travel in space, and the same dearth of oxygen bubbles around me, constantly suffocating.

Most days it’s like living with some sort of energetic tapeworm. Whatever nourishment I take in — rest, joy, encouragement — there’s some portion of that soul food that gets siphoned away, devoured by the parasite I carry in my brain chemistry. It seems selfish how much more nourishment I crave and request: you can’t see the hidden passenger thieving my life, thieving your gifts of kindness, love, appreciation.

Every day there is the vigilance. Have I stayed in bed a little too long? Is my resilience a little bit too shaky? Is my energy level a little too low?

I was first treated for depression back around the age of 15. Looking back beyond that, I think that some pieces of that tapestry were woven into the fabric of my life long before then. And I’m well aware that there is a vast chasm of difference between true clinical depression and the kinds of smaller sadnesses and blue moods that so often get referred to by the term.

Yet for me, there is a tonal connection from one to the other. A dotted line that sometimes-but-not-always connects the border of everyday sadness into the terra horribilis of a depressive episode. So I remain ever-watchful at any sign of sadness, energy drop, memory lapse. Analyzing any break in routine, any chink in the psychological structure.

Is today the day the beast starts crawling back?

———-

Post in response to the Day 17 prompt for Writing 101:

We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.

Today’s twist: Write this post in a distinct style from your own.

I don’t usually go so full-out poetical, so this was a dip into the waters of that styling. Can’t decide if I think it’s genuinely evocative, or just too, too precious. It was an experiment worth trying, if nothing else.

Also, full disclosure: the “depression as tapeworm” metaphor is one I first saw a few weeks ago in a post by Mani Cavalieri on Quora. (I can’t figure out how to directly link to his answer, but you’ll find it as part of this thread.) I was very deliberate in not going back to re-read the post tonight, so my own spring-boarding off the metaphor would be solely (mostly?) my own. Still, credit where credit is due: I don’t think that metaphoric thread would have been anywhere on my radar without reading his writing on the subject. And it’s so brilliant and so entirely apt.

———-

Image credit: http://www.unurth.com/Escif-In-The-Mountains-Spain

 

 

Found Money

[Set-up] It looks like I’m going to continue to need a little flexibility and creativity with Writing 101 . Today’s actual assignment is the completion of a three part series I started back on “Day 4.” Of course, I haven’t actually written part two of this three-part series — because that’s one of the pieces I skipped during last week’s work insanity. So I guess I won’t actually be jumping right into this week’s assignments. Instead, there will be a targeted reach-back to last Wednesday’s assignment, as a precursor to whenever I get around to doing today’s.

So, Day 13, written on what should actually be Day 16 of the sequence:

On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today, write about finding something. . . . Today’s twist: if you wrote day four’s post as the first in a series, use this one as the second installment — loosely defined.

You could pick up the action where you stopped, or jump backward or forward in time. You might write about the same topic, but use a different style, or use the same style to tackle a neighboring topic.

[/Set-up]

———-

So, gentle reader, when I last left the abbreviated summary of my life’s career trajectory, I had drifted into both an environment (academia) and a profession (faculty) for which I was profoundly ill-suited. To some degree, the inner rumblings around that ill-suitedness began very early. And yet, I struggled to persevere. Buckled down to overcome the deficiencies of my mass-market, public school background. Shifted graduate programs to one where I had more natural gifts and talents than my first Ph.D. curriculum.

Why was I so damn stubborn? In part because I am really, truly so damn stubborn. But a lot of it was rooted in a basic survival-level fear that there wasn’t anything besides teaching/professor-ing that I could ever make a living at.

calvin-on-fund-raising

I dare say I kinda fell into my career. It’s not like I wandered around elementary school saying “I want to be a fund-raiser when I grow up!” And, really, who would go around saying that? Do the ins-and-outs of non-profit management get any airplay in the Sesame Street/Richard Scarry “People in my Neighborhood” set?

Nowadays there’s definitely more awareness at the college level of non-profit careers. But that’s a big shift from when I went to school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I actually wrote my first successful grant proposal as a bit of volunteer service for a community choir where I was singing. I’d somehow talked my way onto the choir’s board as a general member-at-large, and was eager to find ways to prove my worth and contribute. So when the Board president asked for someone to help write some grant proposals, I figured it’d be an easy thing to do. I’m a good writer. I even know how to teach writing, don’t I? A grant proposal should be simple!

And here’s the kicker: it kinda was.

This is not to minimize the ways that grant-writing is intensely different from the stylistic and argumentative conventions of academic prose. But where I always found myself struggling and straining against those academic conventions, the general transparency of grant guidelines, and the need to build a tight, compelling argument out of plain language was a genre of writing that made instinctive sense to me.

And then we got the money.

So suddenly, something that both came naturally to me — writing plain, strong prose — and that I had studied intensely — how to analyze genre and build written arguments* — had real, honest-to-goodness street creed and value to it. I had worked for less than a weekend, and my choir now had several thousand dollars to show for that effort.

Now, obviously, that initial grasp of what it took to be a grants professional was, in its own way, appalling naive. I had a lot to learn in the first few years of my career — though the learnings were sufficiently connected to my existing strengths and background knowledge that success was possible.

And I still have moments where I question whether fund-raising is really the “forever career” for me. The division and tension I have seen at every non-profit between those who raise the money and those actually out doing the work is one that troubles me. I know the privileges of being in the fund-raising camp. But I also have never entirely been able to let go of a nagging self-quesitoning about whether I really want to spend the rest of my life being “just a fund-raiser” — after all, the Gospel of Matthew suggests that “you cannot serve both God and mammon” (6:24).

But even with those ongoing questions about whether there is a third career yet to unfold in my life, I remain profoundly grateful that I was able to lose academia and find my way into grants and fund-raising. I have become very good at what I do, I have seen the benefits of my efforts take shape in programs and services and buildings, and I have been able to make a living for myself.

* Or “analyze funder guidelines and build a responsive case for support.”

———–

Image credit: http://s102.photobucket.com/user/pb82/media/Cartoons/calvin-on-fund-raising.gif.html

What I Learned in Grad School

Okay, so the big super-huge work project got even more intense than I’d anticipated, so I went full-out on it till Thursday night. Then, instead of sleeping and catching up on my rest and my writing, Mr. Mezzo and I have been out of town for the past two days celebrating my niece’s graduation. So, suddenly I missed an entire week’s worth of Writing 101 assignments, and the next crop of assignments is due to start up again tomorrow morning.

Now, one thing I learned in grad school is the strategic folly of always trying to go back and play catch-up.

Let’s say you fall behind on your reading for Week 3 in a particularly dense syllabus — like, say, the kind of syllabus where the professor keeps adding new articles to the reading list year after year, without taking away any of the older, less-academically-relevant ones. (Not that I ever had any grad classes like that back in the day. This is all purely a hypothetical exercise…..)

lawrence-wink

Anyhow.

One approach to take to this conundrum would be to start Week 4 by going back to the things you missed in Week 3, hoping to address all of the backlog and all the new assignments. But, if each week’s workload is too robust to be handled in a week, the only thing you gain by that approach is to just get farther and farther behind.

So after one or two courses where I tried to do the virtuous “going back and catching up on everything” routine, I developed a new discipline around falling behind on homework.

Step one for me is to jump right back into the stream at this moment. Hit the reset button, start with the new crop of work, do all of it to the best of my ability — and then, if I do end up with some luxurious extra time after that, only then will I try to go back and fill in what I’ve missed, using my own instincts to triage out what’s most important and what’s most able to be let go.

So, tomorrow I’ll be jumping back into the Writing 101 flow with this coming week’s assignments, and I’ll go back and fill in the missed ones in whatever order I choose to do them.

I have some hope that the work week will be a little quieter than the past fortnight has been. If that turns out to be the case, I may get home early enough to manage a double-posting day or two throughout the week, which would help with the backlog. I also could get creative and see if there’s a way I can kill two assignments with one essay, as it were. Or there may just be an assignment or two that I let slide by, water flowing under the bridge of best intentions, never to be seen or recaptured again.

And I’m okay with that. Aside from the specific workflow strategies I am applying here to my bloggy-life, the main thing I learned in grad school was the complete psychic and energetic uselessness of perfectionism and how pointless it is to do that inner ballet of self-flagellation when one shows one’s humanity by doing an imperfect or fallible thing.

Admittedly, that main lesson only partly sunk in. I keep learning and studying and practicing into that one. Step by step, I continue ever onward — following the trajectory away from self-punishing perfectionism and towards maturity and self-acceptance.

Here, now, with Writing 101, is as good a time to practice that as any.

———-

Image credit: http://giphy.com/gifs/pzmTB7cwkfx0Q