Hey, You’re Fat

I’m getting fat.  Plump, chubby, well-fed – call it whatever you want.  This isn’t unfamiliar territory.  I’ve been fat a few times before.  My freshman year of college immediately springs to mind.  By the time I went home for summer break, I was 30 pounds heavier than the day my mother dropped me off at the dorms, I was wearing a double-digit size and my face had an oily sheen which I blame on my constant ingestion of General Tso’s chicken from Amazing Wok II.  Lucky for me, my appendix ruptured that June, and I spent a week in the hospital, hooked up to an IV. In case you’re wondering, an IV diet will really kick-start weight loss.

I got fat again about a year and a half ago.  I was working at an office where unhealthiness was an art form.  Every person in the office was an emotional eater, and we were all eating for our lives, in an attempt to stave off the stress of working for a boss whose temperament can only be called mercurial. When things got bad, someone would go on a Dairy Queen run.  Every Friday, we ordered in lunch.  I felt like a slob, and I was eating like one, too.

I began to avoid mirrors.  I wouldn’t shop with my mother anymore because shopping isn’t fun when you’re gaining weight. I started to wear tunic-length tops (thank god, they were trendy that season).   In short, being fat was becoming untenable.

Let me skip right to the part that everyone always wants to know – how I got unfat.  It started when I caught my mother staring at me in her kitchen one afternoon.

“What?” I asked.  I hate when she thoughtfully considers me.  I feel like she’s sizing up my adult acne or wondering why I haven’t gotten my roots done.

“Nothing,” she said.  “But you just have no waist anymore.”  I heard her, loud and clear.  I was becoming a butterball.  I’ve blocked what happened next but, knowing me, I probably had a hissy fit and screamed a lot.  But my mother’s comment was what I needed.  I joined Weight Watchers the next week, pledged my devotion to their plan and worked the program.  It sucked, especially when I was used to eating burgers, Indian buffets and drinking lots and lots of wine.  I had to account for every damn morsel of food that passed my lips.  But there’s no denying that I lost weight with those gals at Weight Watchers.  The pounds came off even faster when I started running and training for a half-marathon. It was the fear of total humiliation that got my ass out of bed and my feet into my running shoes nearly every day.  By the time I stopped doing Weight Watchers and ran my second half-marathon, I was down to a weight that I was happy with and back into my regular sized clothes.

However, since last summer, the weight has steadily crept back and taken up residence around my stomach and in my cheeks.  I’m not really surprised. I’ve stopped running and replaced physical activity with eating.  I have no excuses except that I’m being lazy and undisciplined.  That’s the bold truth.  People who are getting fat always have a ton of excuses — it’s too cold to exercise, I don’t have time to eat right, etc.  That’s all bullshit.  You’re getting fat because you eat too much and don’t work out.  Sometimes, you just have to face the truth.  And the mirror.

So, I’ll be heading back to my pals at Weight Watchers next week and will face the weekly weigh-ins and motivational meetings.

This fatty is out of excuses.

Stay tuned.

No, I’m Not Dead — I’m Just Meditating in my Car

Truth:  I want to be a calmer person.  Desperately.   I’ve always been a little off the charts emotionally, with my emotional thermometer prone to zig-zagging between the highest of highs and the lowest lows.  Current times are making me even more unsettled.   ISIS.  Climate change.  The shrinking of the middle class.  Working in the vicinity of someone who is prone to fits of unpredictability and unrealistic demands and whose world view is the extreme opposite of mine.  Realizing (too late) that I work in a field where many people check both their personalities and morals at the door.  Renovating a 115 year old house and living with a friend for the last three months due to 115 years worth of dirt and dust flying around.  These external circumstances have made me into the tense, overwrought, exhausted and fundamentally un-peaceful person who is currently typing these words.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my average day feels like one long reaction —  to the news, to my boss, to my mother telling me about my grandfather’s increasing forgetfulness, to a friend who is being jerked around by a man and needs to unload.  I want to be the kind of person who can show up for all of these various people and scenarios but who is still able to maintain some kind of inner emotional integrity, some place of peace that is beyond all of it.  I want to be Thich Nhat Hanh, damnit.  However, since I’m unlikely to wake up a Vietnamese Buddhist monk (at least not in this incarnation), I really need to learn to quiet my own mind.  Life isn’t going to stop, but I have to start stopping, even if it’s just for a few minutes every day.  Hence, my quest to meditate.

Now, I’m not a total novice when it comes to meditation (or centering prayer or sitting in silence, call it whatever makes you feel comfortable).   I got my first taste of it when I was 12 or 13 years old at summer church camp.  No, we weren’t Zen Buddhists or Hare Krishnas; my family is non-exotic, standard-issue Episcopalian.  Owned and run by the diocese of West Virginia, Peterkin Camp has been around for generations – my mom was a camper there herself as a girl.  Peterkin is a refuge, a place of enormous natural beauty in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

The camp schedule always goes a little something like this:  breakfast, cabin clean-up, small groups for spiritual chit-chat, church, lunch, rest period and then electives all afternoon.  During my years at camp, I’d done my fair share of routine electives:  croquet, hiking, water polo, the Peterkin Peeper (the camp newspaper) and all different types and varieties of Arts and Crafts.  But that particular summer at Intermediate Camp, there was an interesting addition to the Elective menu:  Relaxation and Meditation.   Always one for something new, I couldn’t sign up fast enough.

Our first afternoon, we gathered in the Chapel.  The counselor in charge (was his name Chris?) wasn’t a regular – he was new to camp and to my worldly, twelve year old eyes seemed a bit gay and New Age-y all rolled into one fascinating package.  We found a place to sit on the floor, our backs against the pews.

“First things first, everyone,” Chris gently lisped.  “Find yourself a partner because we’re going to get started with foot massage.” I guess Chris decided that kicking off Relaxation class with immediate terror was a good way to begin.  Pairing off at that age is already an experience fraught with anxiety – you look around immediately for your best camp friend (not in this elective), then for your next best friend (already taken), then the boy you have a crush on (wouldn’t be caught dead in this elective), then anyone decent (now, already paired off), and then you realize, too late, that you’re stuck with Roger, a weirdly large 12 year old who I always remember as drooling and having his mouth full.  Roger shimmied over next to me and I watched, disgusted, as he untied his filthy sneakers and peeled off his gym sock.  It was usually in the high 80s or 90s during those July camps, so I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Roger had then wrung his sock out onto the floor.  “Come on,” Roger said to me, and I noticed that he seemed just as annoyed at being paired with me as I was with him.  The gall of Roger!  I wasn’t in the popular circle of kids at camp, but I wasn’t so far on the periphery as Roger.  I kicked off my Birkenstocks  and stuck my feet out.

“Now, you’re going to sit facing your partner and take their foot in your hand.”

I stared at Roger.  “Hurry up, give me your damn right foot,” I said to him.

He hoisted his huge foot onto my lap and then he grabbed my foot and wrenched it onto his thick thighs.  This was quickly moving from a Relaxation and Meditation elective to one of Medieval Torture.  I stared up at the folk art cross on the wall and asked Jesus, “Where the hell ARE you when I actually need you?”

Chris taught us all about the pressure points in the foot, and despite his clammy hands, Roger proved to be an adept foot masseuse and somewhat eager to please.  “How’s that?” he’d ask.  “How about now?”

“Great,” I said.  “Please don’t get your spittle on my toes.”

Finally, thankfully, the foot massage ended.  Chris instructed us to find our own space on the chapel floor and to lie on our backs.  I sprinted away from Roger and got a prime space right in the middle of the center aisle.  “I’m going take you through a guided meditation and then we’ll all meditate in silence for a while,” Chris said.

There were those 1970s skylights in the ceiling of the chapel and I could look up and see the branches of the enormous oak that shaded the building.  The chapel was possibly the only air conditioned building in the entire camp, and the vents blew cool air on my legs.  Thank god I’d come to church camp because this was heaven.

“Now, close your eyes,” Chris said.  “And we’re going to begin by concentrating on our breathing.”   An eruption of giggles and then someone in the back made a fake fart noise.  Bless him, Chris never wavered.  It’s a brave man who signs up to teach a bunch of pre-adolescents to meditate.  We learned how to breathe from the very pit of our stomach and to fill our entire chests up to the count of one, two, three, four, and five and then to slowly release the air, “as if you’re letting air slowly out of a balloon.”   After we breathed for a while, Chris began the guided meditation which featured, I kid you not, a pink cloud that came down from the sky to surround each one of us and then whisked us off to our favorite place on earth.

“You’re in your favorite place in the world, and you’re very safe.  Look at the scenery.  Breathe in the air, notice what the air feels like on your skin,” Chris instructed.  I pictured a beach, even though I’d never been to one in my life.  I saw palm trees, and waves, and white sand – exactly like the screen savers on the IBMs in the computer lab at school.

“Now, I’m going to be quiet and I want you to rest quietly in your favorite place.”   And from that point on, I can’t tell you exactly what happened.  I didn’t fall asleep, but I was gone to a place inside myself.  At one point, I felt like I was leaving my physical body, like I was pushing against it, trying to get free.

After a while, I heard Chris’ voice, instructing us to come back into our bodies.  Once we came to from our meditative stupors, Chris had us gather round and informed us that though we’d only been meditating for thirty minutes (thirty minutes!  I would have sworn it had been hours), that thirty minutes was really the equivalent of sleeping for two hours.  “Now, go in peace and spread your joy,” Chris said.  Dazed, we emerged from the chapel, blinking into the sunlight.

For the rest of the week, we meditated every day after massaging each other’s hands or feet or shoulders.  Sometimes, Chris would play a CD of rain sounds but other times, we all just breathed in silence together.  In hindsight, it was somewhat amazing and I wonder if there isn’t something to the idea that children are naturally more receptive to meditation because they have fewer blocks or preconceived ideas about doing it “right.”

Cut to my life now where I struggle to get in even five minutes of meditation every day.  Lately, this has been taking place in a strip mall parking lot, right down from a Petco.  I go at lunch time and find a parking place with no other cars parked nearby. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing and sit for as long as I can – my maximum is about seven minutes.  Sometimes those minutes are nothing more than a battle in my head between the crazy part of my mind which likes to hop around and the part of me that wants my mind to be clear.  Recently, I read an article that says you shouldn’t try to fight the thoughts that inevitably pop up.  They’re like Whack-a-Mole games – they’ll just keep coming.  You’re supposed to notice the thought and let it go.  Something to try.

I think of the twelve year old me, so eager for a new experience, so open to the possibilities of life, so able to just plunk down on the floor and power down.  I think of the me now – harried, frantic, prone to fits of rage and jags of crying, hands fluttering over the screen of my iPhone.  How did that change happen?  How does it ever happen to any of us? I don’t think there are any easy answers.

In the meantime, all I can do, all I will do, is breathe.

Begin the Begin

I’m no Oprah but I know this much to be true:  there are times in your life where you can either consciously slow down and consider your life or circumstances will force you to do it.  Why am I here?  What’s the meaning of it all?  Am I going to continue slaving away at my godforsaken career or can I make a living making, say, homeopathic deodorant? Why do I always interrupt my mother when she’s talking and why am I still doing that?  Am I making the most of my life?  How does anybody make the most of their life?  Contemplating these existential questions used to guarantee that I would have a panic attack and end up bolting down a handful of Xanax to keep from cracking into a hundred pieces.

So, all through my 20s, I was very accomplished in avoidance.  I relied on other people to give me the answers, not just to the meaning of life but to everything.  Tell me which college to pick, whether I should live abroad, how much money I should put in a 401(k), what color I should paint my bedroom walls.  No, I wasn’t just being lazy.  I was terrified.  Terrified because I didn’t trust myself or my ability to come up with my own answers to my questions.  Terrified because sometimes the questions just led to even more questions, in a never-ending loop.  Or I got to the answers but they weren’t what I expected or wanted and that was hella scary.  It was a lot easier to allow someone else to give their input on my every life decision, whether that person was my mother, a friend, or a man.  You can avoid a lot of responsibility for your own life by just handing over the reins to somebody else and letting them drive.

However, that shit is getting old.  As I steamroll through my 30’s, I’m trying this new thing where I attempt to trust myself.  I’m actually willing and interested in trying to figure out what I want to do in any given situation.  I’d like to know exactly what I think about men/friendship/God/death/relationships/money/real estate/shoes/tattoos/.

It’s a cliché (but I’m a white woman who loves pinot noir and gets SO EXCITED about Whole Foods and organic things so we’re already in the cliché zone) but this New Year gave me the excuse to do a lot of the soul searching and self-learning that I’m all jazzed up about.  Maybe it’s because I was so damn exhausted from Thanksgiving and Christmas that by the time New Year’s Eve arrived, all I could do was lie on the couch, nurse tea and ponder.  The New Year comes in a dark time of the year in southwestern Pennsylvania  – short days, lack of sunshine, dirty snow and jackshit on TV.  It would seem a natural time to turn inwards and take stock of what is going on in my head.   Truthfully though, this year was the first time I’ve ever taken the New Year seriously as a starting point for anything.  In the past, I always kind of made some half-hearted resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and stay organized, but they were always abandoned two weeks later.

This year, however, seems different.  I’m already in the zone to get some personal insight.  This is no doubt encouraged by the fact that I’ve never been so professionally unhappy in my life (more on my soul-sucking job as a lawyer later).  I’m also eternally single and maybe a little lonely, due to my penchant for what I like to call “edgy “men but which everyone else in my life calls “complete assholes” and “emotionally unavailable fucktards.”  I recognize that I need to get some perspective, some goals, and some kind of plan.  What am I waiting for, really?  My 35th birthday is a hair’s breath away, and there’s shit about me that I’d like to understand and improve upon.

So, this is what I’m doing:   I’m taking 2015 to see if it’s possible for people (well, this person) to change.  A year of clarification and possible improvement.

I know studies show that making resolutions doesn’t work.  It has something to do with calling them “resolutions.”  Your mind instantly revolts and you’d have a better chance of waking up as a giraffe than achieving them.  Better call those suckers “goals” if you want a fighting chance at accomplishing any of them.  I read that in Oprah (Bible) so you know it’s true.

“I’m going to make a list of things I want to change in the New Year,” I said to my friend, Courtney, on the phone. Courtney lives in a condo with her father and six cats which is about five cats too many, in my opinion.  She is also hilariously straightforward and a person I like to go to when I need clarity.

“Alright,” she said, “but you’ll have better luck if you call them goals.”

So, I made my goal list.  When I finished, I had something like twenty-five goals for 2015. That’s just crazy.  I thought, and I drank some Pinot Noir, and I thought some more. And let’s be honest – I drank some more.  (Yes, I drink alone.  No, I’m not an alcoholic.  But my best friend Erin’s nickname for me is Boozehound).   I managed to cut off three goals, so now the list is a totally manageable twenty-two.  Ha.

I’m trying not to be too judge-y about what’s stayed on my goal list or to overthink it to death.  That’s why “Hike the tallest mountain in West Virginia” is still there, along with “Limit intake of meat to once per day.”  Who knows why the hell I want to haul my bountiful ass up a looming mountain named Spruce Knob and then be unable to eat a dozen buffalo wings or a pound of pepperoni to celebrate.   Some of my goals seem to have deep meaning, but others really don’t.  I can’t even figure out how some of them got on here at all. I figure at least part of this process will be understanding why I thought of them in the first place.

Of course, I’m going to be writing about my process working on these goals.  Be prepared for epic failures, hijinks, and, hopefully, some insight.

Drum roll, please.  Here are my 22 goals in no particular order.

Goals for 2015: 

  1. Work on not allowing other people’s moods to impact my own – Can’t wait to see how this shakes down in my day-to-day professional life where I’m surrounded with jaded attorneys and bitter clients.
  2. Write thank you notes.
  3. Reconnect with my faith – pray to God that I can ….
  4. Find a career or job that, at least, gives me some measure of satisfaction and, at best, makes me feel proud – this can also be called the “Stop being a lawyer” goal.
  5. Pay my bills on time.
  6. Go back to Weight Watchers and follow the plan – I have to stop eating crap in massive quantities. These people are the only ones who can control me, with their points and mandatory weigh-ins and gold stars.
  7. Begin silent prayer/meditation – aka nap time.
  8. Volunteer at something that I care about – but first identify what I actually DO care enough about to give up my time.
  9. Make a commitment to financially support an organization close to my heart every month, even if it’s only $5.00 a month — this will probably be NPR because…Serial.
  10. Create a little free library at my house — cause it’s cute.  And the kids in my neighborhood need to read instead of hanging out on the corner, scaring everyone.  Check it out, and you’ll totally want to make one, too:  http://littlefreelibrary.org/
  11. Visit extended family in Richmond for a long weekend before the end of the school year.
  12. Limit intake of meat to once per day.
  13. Visit extended family in Philadelphia before the end of the summer – Four words: five year old twins.  And I’m not especially good with children.
  14. Do something special for my mother every month – because she’s a saint and I’m ungrateful.
  15. Do not use my phone when I’m with my friends.
  16. Visit my grandfather at least twice a month – because he’s 101 and he’s the best man I’ll ever know.
  17. Email the fam more frequently – we’re all busy, but I could do more. We’re a small tribe and we need to stick together.
  18. Train and run the Pittsburgh Half in a better time than I ran my last one – I’m already a week behind in training.  This will be humorous.
  19. Get back to yoga – aka regain sanity.
  20. Get back on Match.com – Oh, the horror, the horror.
  21. Hike the tallest mountain in West Virginia. (Spruce Knob – 14 miles roundtrip)
  22. Try to get registered to do the Rachel Carson Homestead Challenge (18 mile hike/race) – so brutal that I have no idea why I would do this to myself.  Hopefully, I won’t even be able to register because there are so many other masochists out there that it fills up every year.  http://www.rachelcarsontrails.org/rct/challenge

Go.