Silver Linings Playbook Part II: Hope Revisited

SuSuat-Campbell-Clinic-180x300Four years ago this past weekendI was in a near-fatal car wreck just outside Fairhope, Alabama. July 7, just before midnight. I was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, where surgeries were performed on my (broken) neck, right leg, and ankle. I left there four days later with lots of hardware from the surgeries, much of which is still in my body. My first blog post three weeks later tells a bit about what happened: “Silver Linings Playbook Part I: Hope.”

Here I am four years later and while I still see the silver lining in what happened to me, I’ve had increasing pain and stiffness in my neck for the past few months. So, I decided to go for a follow up at the neurology office where I was seen for my neck four years ago. They did an x-ray, said that nothing had changed, and to come back in a year for another x-ray. I had done several weeks of physical therapy four years earlier, but they never asked me to come back for follow up after that. When I asked the doctor about doing some stretching exercises or more PT for the pain and stiffness he said not to. Just leave it alone.

I left the office disheartened. I understand that I’ll have to live with some stiffness and lack of mobility in my neck, but the increase in pain—and regular headaches—doesn’t seem that something that should be ignored. I felt like I had just been dismissed.

My massage therapist has also been concerned, and so I talked with a physical therapist/friend this weekend, who encouraged me to see a pain specialist at the orthopedic clinic where he works. This morning I called to make an appointment, and they put me in touch with their “spinal liaison” who asked for surgical records from the surgery that had been done in 2013 in Florida, so that their physicians could review it and determine whether I needed more diagnostic tests done, or whether their pain specialist could help me. I’m waiting on their review now.

Caught me without my neck brace, which I wore for six months, but took off at times.

Caught me without my neck brace, which I wore for six months, but took off at times.

I’m sure that the hours I spend at the computer and also poring over books doesn’t help. Most evenings I have pain trying to sit up and watch TV or read, and I’m always relieved when I can finally go to bed and lay my head down flat. I feel immediate relief. The human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, which might not sound like much until you think about a neck full of metal screws is holding it up. And waking up with a headache every day isn’t fun.

So now I’m revisiting “hope” for some relief as I wait to hear back from the clinic. Hope that physical therapy and/or some other non-surgical relief will be coming soon. Thanks for reading… I don’t mean to complain, as I have so much to be thankful for. Every time I feel the pain, I’m reminded that I could have died or been paralyzed.

Hoping to get some relief before starting up my book tour for Cherry Bomb in August. Stay tuned!

How Jackie Kennedy Stayed Slim; Managing Cravings

indexKathy McKeon, who served as Jackie Kennedy’s live-in assistant and sometimes nanny to her children from 1964 to 1977, has written a memoir, Jackie’s Girl: My Life With the Kennedy Family. In an excerpt published in People Magazine, McKeon reveals (among other things) Jackie’s secret for staying thin. A typical daily diet for her would look something like this: A boiled egg and tea in the morning, cottage cheese with fresh fruit at lunch, and a poached chicken breast or fish with a salad or steamed vegetables for dinner.

The memoir excerpt also reveals that Jackie often sneaked into the kitchen at night for ice cream… “just one spoonful… but a big spoon.”

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I struggle with eating disorders, weight gain and loss, up and down up and down for all of my life. Finally just over a year ago I managed to lost 17 pounds by maintaining a 1000-calorie diet for about six months and working out on the elliptical 2-3 times a week, but then I gained most of it back last summer when I got depressed after my mother died.

article-1370573-014E7F3300000578-65_468x405So… A couple of months ago my husband and I both decided to try again. He wanted to lose at least 20 pounds, and I wanted to lose 30 or more. We started out on this together during Great Lent, which is a time of fairly serious fasting for Orthodox Christians, but also just a good time for self-discipline. I’m pretty sure he’s lost at least 15 pounds, and I’ve lost 12, and we’re still going. We laughed one day when I said we should publish a book with our weight-loss secret. It would be a short book. Only two words: DON’T EAT. Seriously. He would eat one TINY meal a day, and I would eat 2-3 TINY snacks a day. I didn’t count calories, but I’m sure I’ve been staying under 1000 most days. I’m still at it… considering it a long-term lifestyle change, not a “diet.”
But I also allow that BIG SPOON of ice cream (or other treat) whenever I have a craving. Just not a big BOWL. It’s all about eating TINY amounts of food when you’re in your sixties and your metabolism has screeched to a halt.

Susan B. Roberts, coauthor of a Tufts University study on cravings, says that people who manage their weight best give in to cravings at times, and do it happily. I’m finding that works for me, too. No more guilt. And these “legal” binges can prevent the “illegal” ones that can end up in the consumption of hundreds of unwanted calories. (I’m still working on chips—which are super hard to eat in moderation.)

I’ll probably blog about my journey again as it continues, so please stay tuned. It’s helpful to know I’m not alone!

The Waiting Room

33f98cedcdb846c0743b8121f56fa391The waiting room at a cardiology imaging center is a microcosm of the medical world of Baby Boomers. This afternoon I spent three hours getting an echo cardiogram and a nuclear stress test. In between each phase of these tests, patients return to the “interior waiting room” (in our hospital gowns) to wait for the next part. Today the two men and four women in my group shared interesting stories and bonded in a way you wouldn’t expect strangers to bond in a three-hour period. Especially knowing that you’ll probably never see each other again. And although I was a bit anxious about having the tests done (because of an irregular EKG of unknown cause at my annual physical recently) my anxiety was lessened by the company of these men and women.

Most of us were in our sixties, although one woman must have been in her seventies since her grandchildren are in college or recent grads. But she looked so young. Sadly, her mother died of a heart attack at age 36, and she had her first one at age 40. She’s got stents in her heart, her legs, even her kidneys. Also a new-fangled pacemaker (dual chambers?) So she was used to having these tests and more (like cardiac caths). She had a beautiful smile (loved those dimples!) and was calm and cheerful all afternoon.

One of the men was nervous about whether or not he could do the treadmill test, since he had a hip replaced a couple of years ago. When he returned to the waiting room to tell us he aced it, we high-fived him like old friends.

The hot topic was the injection they give to stress your heart if you can’t do the treadmill test. My husband had this done about  ten years ago and felt like he was dying—I guess he had a strong reaction to it. He claims they have quit using that drug, but I was scared to try it and was determined to do the treadmill test, although I have screws in my right ankle and haven’t done anything more stressful than the elliptical (no impact) or walking 5-6 miles a day in Paris last May, so I wasn’t sure how I would do. NO PROBLEM. Sure, my blood pressure got up to 180/something, and my pulse hit 160 (which they wanted it to) but my ankle never hurt and I wasn’t huffing and puffing too badly. More high-fives when I returned to the waiting room.

A 62-year-old black woman who looked ten years older and was too impaired to do a treadmill test was also anxious about the injection. She also has a pacemaker. The last time she had it she got nauseated and threw up, feeling like her heart was leaping out of her chest. Today’s experience for her was much milder, thank God. They must have changed the chemical they use.

The other gentleman also has metal in his foot and leg (like me) from falling out of a hunting blind and wasn’t sure he could do the treadmill. Another ace. Another high-five.

The last woman in our group was a bit overweight and unable to do the treadmill, but she weathered the injection fairly well, telling us that her blood pressure bottomed out and they had to deal with that, but otherwise, no problem.

I left three hours later greatly relieved (and feeling healthier than others in the group) although I won’t know what’s causing the irregular EKGs until some time next week. I’m always more anxious about the tests themselves than the results (I know that’s irrational but I’m a wimp) so for now I’m just glad this part is over. Next up? A colonoscopy this June. I’m three years overdue and finally getting my courage up. (I have done the FIT test every year for the past few years.) I’ve heard they’ve made the prep much easier (I threw up doing the prep last time, which was 13 years ago) so I’m getting ready to schedule this for early this summer. I don’t think the recovery room at the GI Center will be nearly as much fun….

The Afternoon of Life

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In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.

At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:

Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….

So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:

The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.

Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!

Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management.  So how do I move forward?

Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.

I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!

Be Gentle With Yourself

Sailing_Boats_Sea_460294A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about my body—specifically about learning to love it and care for it, as one would tend a garden.

In a similar vein, this morning I read Richard Rohr’s daily contemplation, “Stream of Consciousness.”  Rohr leads us through a thought process that teaches us to reject bad thoughts (about ourselves) and to be gentle with our souls:

Imagine a river or stream. You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past. While the stream flows past your inner eye, I ask you to name each one of the “vessels” or thoughts floating by. For example, one of the boats could be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.” Or along comes the ship “objections to my spouse” or “I don’t do that well.” Every judgment that you pass is one of these boats. Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.

I do this all the time—I’m a worrier. Always have been. Even as a child worry frequently kept me up at night. I love Rohr’s imagery here… as those “ships” pass through my mind, I can choose to just let them float by. It’s interesting that he says first to give each one a name. Maybe naming our worrisome thoughts can help us let go of them. But it’s also important HOW we do this:

The point is to recognize thoughts and feelings and to say, “That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.” But do it very amiably. If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into our other relationships.

635841821484313963-2081126144_worryThat’s not necessary. It’s not necessary for me to dwell on my weight gain and my struggles with food. It’s not necessary for me to dwell on issues with family members or friends that might be stressful. What a better approach to those distractions than trying to attack them, or putting ourselves down when we let them overcome us.

I have an appointment with a cardiologist today, because of an irregular EKG at my annual physical a couple of weeks ago. Of course I’ve been worried about it, but this morning’s contemplation is helping me let that ship sail on by. That doesn’t mean I won’t go to the doctor’s office and deal with it. It just means that I won’t let it derail me. It is what it is, and worrying about it won’t help. (Easy words to say… much harder to practice, at least for me.)

You know, I don’t just worry about negative things. I worry about good stuff, too! Like the exciting book tour I’m embarking on in March. Now that the books are getting published and the events are scheduled (both wonderful accomplishments to be proud of and excited about) my “worry wart” (what my dad used to call me) brain wants me to be anxious about those events. What if not many people show up? What if I’m too nervous to do a good job reading and talking about my books? What if I don’t sell enough books at the expensive venue I rented for one event? What if too many people show up in a small bookstore and there’s not room for them to sit? (Wouldn’t that be a wonderful problem?)

Sail on by, worry boats. I’ve got good things to focus on today. And a wonderful soul and body to care for.

My Body

33025569I’m reading my fourth and fifth books of 2017 simultaneously, as I often do. Especially when they’re so different. That way I have choices: which book to read with my morning coffee? What am I in the mood for with a cocktail in the evening? Which one will I take to bed with me?

One of my current reads is Angela Doll Carlson’s Garden in the East: the Spiritual Life of the Body. Two years ago I reviewed another of Carlson’s books, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. There was so much I could relate to in that book, so I was excited to see her book on the body. See, I’m a bit obsessed with my body. Always have been. Maybe because of my childhood sexual abuse. Maybe because my mother always told me I was fat. Maybe because I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the beauty queens on the Ole Miss campus when I was a student there in 1969-70. If you’ve been reading my blog very much, you know that I always struggle with weight. I worked so hard to lose 17 pounds in the last few months of 2015 and early months of 2016, only to gain back most of it last summer. I’ve been stuck with it ever since, and it sends me into bouts of depression and self-loathing on a regular basis. Not to mention the discomfort of my clothes not fitting. I don’t know what I’d do without my extra large yoga pants.

This morning I went to my annual physical exam—my first since turning 65. I am so grateful for my wonderful internist. She’s (1) smart, (2) communicative, (3) energetic, and (4) non-judgmental. I bubbled over with an apology for the weight gain before she could even bring it up, and she made no comment at all. No lecture. She knows that I will do something about it when I can. Or I won’t. But her words won’t make a difference.
But Angela Carlson’s might. Using the metaphor of our body as a garden, she writes about the importance—and the joy—of tending that garden. Of loving it. These words remind me of how I feel when I remember that I could be dead or paralyzed after my wreck in 2013, which left me with pretty continuous aches and pains (broken neck, leg, and ankle, all full of permanent hardware):

In my best moments, I am grateful to be walking around, upright and active. In those moments, I am not noticing the forward jut of my head, misaligned form age and bad postural habits built up over time. I am not worried about the creaking of my knees or my elbows. In my best moments, I am thinking about deep issues like world peace and schoolyard bullies and what’s for dinner.

Oh how I love those moments when I am not obsessing over my body! For me, those “best moments” usually involve writing, editing, reading, or watching an excellent movie or television drama. Sometimes they involve music. Or taking in the beauty of a spectacular sunset, at the Mississippi River (three blocks from my house) or a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I can easily pour out my love and appreciation for these things and places that bring me joy. So why can’t I express that same love for my body, my garden I’ve been given to tend? Carlson says:

This body is a garden and it is mine. I am responsible for its care. I am responsible for the words I use when I describe it, even to myself, even when I’m alone.

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Carlson continues the garden metaphor, even laying out for us parallels involving loving and caring for both, which includes the way we speak to our garden. I’ve never been much into growing things, and I’ve certainly never spoken to my plants. But I used to talk to my cat all the time. And the tone in my voice told her she was loved, just as the tone in our voices sends a positive message to our children, our spouses, our friends. So how should we speak to our bodies? Carlson says we should tell our body that we love it. That it is good and strong and beautiful—an amazing mystery created by God and given to us to cradle our spirits and allow our souls to grow and be happy and at peace.

Maybe if I learn to talk to my body, I’ll eventually learn to love it. Or at least not to hate it.

Holding On to the Ship’s Wreckage

Man-Shipwrecked-at-Sunset--87235This morning I read these words from today’s reading in the Orthodox calendar I often refer to with my Morning Prayers:

God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And he is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or a convenient, well-equipped harbor. He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship’s wreckage.Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov

I woke up early with messy thoughts. Some were about a conversation I had with a friend yesterday, in which I am sure I hurt her feelings. I plan to call and ask her forgiveness today. Other thoughts were the reverse—my ongoing battle with forgiveness and letting go of past hurts done to me or others in my family, even unintentionally. And finally, I was absorbed with a continuing struggle with my lack of moderation in food and drink, and my subsequent weight gain. I have now gained back 12 of the 17 pounds I worked so hard to lose last year.  I am plagued with increasing pain in my right hip for which I underwent physical therapy three years ago. It cleared up after the therapy, but now it has returned, and I feel that my weight gain has something to do with it.

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New Year’s resolutions never really work for me, but I understand why people have them. If I had them, they would certainly include (1) exercise more and (2) eat and drink less. Those things would surely help my physical struggles. But this morning I’m thinking that my priorities need to be rearranged. My resolutions should be (1) forgive and (2) repent.

Repentance isn’t a popular word. But our retired pastor at St. John gave a wonderful homily about it yesterday. It wasn’t “preachy” but it spoke to my heart. It was about “turning back” as the prodigal son turned back to his father. And about “turning away from” as he turned away from his wreckless life. I thought about how hard it is to do that—to turn away from the very things that are hurting me. And even about how hard it is to turn back… to God, to friends whom we have hurt or whom have hurt us.

In Saint Brianchaninov’s quote above, I am struck by the image of being saved by holding onto various bits of a ship’s wreckage. I see my life—both physical and spiritual—as that wrecked ship. I would love for God to just reach down and pull me out of the storm and set me on calm ground (like my favorite beach in Florida) but I am learning that He doesn’t always work that way. I might have to swim to shore or hold onto those bits of wreckage. I might even struggle with my weaknesses for the rest of my life—again, both physically and spiritually.

Not very happy thoughts as I enter the New Year… and yet I do feel some measure of comfort as I pray for God’s help and ask His forgiveness. Again.

Thanksgiving and Gluttony

gluttonyThanksgiving—a favorite American holiday—lands on the calendar every year just a week or so after the Orthodox Nativity Fast begins (November 15). While most of the world, and certainly most people in the West, are preparing to feast on their favorite recipes for turkey, dressing, casseroles, and pies, Orthodox Christians are trying to balance that tradition with a very different one that comes to us from our Church. While it’s not as strict as the fast we keep during Great Lent (before Pascha/Easter), it still involves quite a few days with no meat or dairy, and even a number of days with no seafood or alcoholic beverages. This tradition flies in the face of the festivities most people are enjoying during these weeks leading up to Christmas. I always struggle with this culture clash.

But this year, I’m a little more ready to embrace the fast—or at least to try for some moderation. Why? I’ve been overcome for several months now with an old enemy of the flesh—gluttony.

The Church Fathers have a lot to say about this vice, which St. John Climacus calls “the door of passions” in The Ladder of Divine Ascent. If marijuana is the “gateway drug” to more harmful pursuits, over-eating can open that same door to excesses in other areas of our lives. An overly full belly can lead to sloth (who doesn’t want a nap after stuffing ourselves?), depression, alcohol abuse, and to the abuse of other pleasures which aren’t in and of themselves “evil.”

A few more words from the Church Fathers:

The great attraction of gluttony is not necessarily concerned with large quantities of food, but in the temptation to have just a ‘little taste.’ But if the wish for a taste succeeds in making you a slave to gluttony, the Evil One can then give you up utterly to destruction. For, just as water that irrigates many furrows makes those furrows fertile, so also the vice of gluttony, proceeding from your heart, irrigates all of your senses, raising a whole jungle of evils within you, making your soul a lair of wild beasts. (St. Basil the Great, On Renunciation of the World)

For me gluttony isn’t so much about eating huge amounts of food—although binging is a problem at times—but mostly about craving certain foods or drinks. I can really relate to these words from Abba Dorotheus:

There are two kinds of gluttony. One is when a man seeks food that pleases him and does not always want to eat very much, but wishes to eat only what pleases his palate. Another is when a man is overcome by a tendency to eat much …. He only wants to eat and eat, nor minding what the food may be, only caring to fill his belly. (St. Abba Dorotheus, Directions on Spiritual Training)

I get “stuck” on certain foods at times, and am strongly attracted to eating at nice restaurants with white table cloths and good china… or at certain bars and drinking out of just the right glasses. This type of gluttony is known as “gourmandizing.” My recent visit to New Orleans offered many opportunities for this activity.

So I went to Confession Saturday night and talked with my priest about gluttony. It’s a complicated issue for someone like me who struggles with eating disorders, and who more often than not cares more about being skinny and looking good (and even about my health)  than being godly and doing the right thing for spiritual reasons. He was very understanding and non-judgmental. I appreciated his words of advice, but mostly I felt the spiritual power of the sacrament strengthening me for the pilgrimage ahead. I want to enter into the Nativity Fast, but also enjoy the culture’s festivities. As is often the case, it comes back to moderation.

807c3295e6d88c31570994e1b33c4147Bill and I are off to Seagrove Beach on Wednesday, where we will spend Thanksgiving alone at my favorite place on earth. We’ll walk for miles along the edge of the ocean, burning up calories and soaking in the salty spray and the sunshine—it’s supposed to be in the 70s while we’re there. And we’ll enjoy fresh gulf fish at our favorite seafood restaurants. I think it will be easier than cooking all those rich Thanksgiving dishes, although I love doing that when our children and grandchildren come for the holiday. And yes, I’ll miss the traditional celebration, but I think this venue will offer a good opportunity for a healthy mix of feasting and fasting.

If you’re entertaining family this Thanksgiving, I hope that your time together will be rich with love, laughter, and favorite foods that feed not only your appetites but also your souls.

I Can Sleep When I’m Dead

He Qi. Christ in the House of Mary and MarthaChinese, ca.2005

He Qi. Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
Chinese, ca.2005

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about Barbara Crafton’s “almost daily eMos” from her online site, “The Geranium Farm.” Crafton takes a work of art and reflects on it in these posts, and I look forward to them every day. Today’s post shows a contemporary Chinese painting by He Qi, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary.” As Crafton reminds the reader of the scriptural account of these two sisters and their different approaches to serving Christ as a visitor in their home, I thought about how I have played each role during different seasons of my life—sometimes the busy Martha, serving my family and volunteering for everything at church, and sometimes the contemplative Mary, metaphorically sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Crafton shares an essay she wrote earlier, “Lazybones,” as part of her reflection on Mary’s seeming laziness set against Martha’s physical acts of serving. I love these words from Crafton’s essay:

People who sit and read—anything—are honoring their Mary selves. I am sure that starting anywhere, even with the silliest of novels, is just fine: the efficiency you build as a reader and your growing sophistication as a person will lead you toward more substantial fare, and to grow in knowledge of any kind is to grow closer to God.

During a more intense spiritual season of my life, I only read religious books. I must have devoured fifty volumes by early Church fathers, monastics, mystics, church historians, and theologians during a two-year period in the mid 1990s. I withdrew from “the world” in the sense that I also didn’t listen to secular music and rarely watched television. When I came out of this season, I found myself starved for good literature, good music, and good theater, movies and television drama. As I began to write seriously, my thirst for reading increased. It was as if the words I devoured in novels, memoirs, and essay collections had become the fuel for my own work. That’s still true today.

indexI couldn’t go to sleep last night. I went to bed around 10:30, but I had another bout of “monkey mind” and just couldn’t turn it off. So I got up around 1 and read until about 2:30 this morning. I think I finally fell asleep around 3 a.m. My current read is British travel writer Richard Grant’s amazing book, Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta. It’s about the move he made from New York City to the small Delta town of Pluto, Mississippi, where he discovered what he calls the best-kept secret in America. And because I probably have ADD and usually read two to three books at a time, I’m also reading Barbara Crafton’s short book, The Courage to Grow Old, which is a soulful reality check for those of us in our sixth decade and beyond.

Sometimes, as a writer, I just sit. Yes, I sit and read, but sometimes I just sit. This would appear lazy to someone who doesn’t understand that sitting still is part of a writer’s work. This sitting can take place in front of a blank page on a computer screen, or on a bench by the Mississippi River, just a few blocks from my house. It can take place in my living room, or (maybe especially) when I’m driving alone on a trip. I rarely turn on the radio when I drive, enjoying the familiar or new scenery, but also allowing my mind to wander in a way that it rarely does when I’m at home. I’ll be doing that tomorrow, as I drive over to Little Rock to visit a friend. And although it’s not part of the Mississippi Delta, the miles of flat fields and the occasional crop duster flying over my head on Highway 40 between Memphis and Little Rock will remind me of Grant’s life down in Pluto, Mississippi, and the lessons he learned there.
So I’ll walk through my Friday a bit sleep-deprived but filled with images and words that feed my soul. Like Jason Michael Carroll says, I can sleep when I’m dead.

It’s Always Going to Be About the Weight

Kate and TobyI’ve been watching the new show, “This is Us,” on NBC. It follows a family with triplets (well, two triplets, since the third died in childbirth, and the parents adopted a third baby who had been abandoned at the hospital) and the daughter has a weight problem. Shown as a girl of around eight, she was already a little chubby, and her mother was encouraging her to eat fruit when her brothers were eating sugary cereal for breakfast. Then there’s a discussion between the two of them where the mother says, “You know I love you. I’m just trying to help.”

Those scenes take me back to my own childhood—well, actually my adolescence—when I gained weight too quickly and my mother started in on me. But she wasn’t as gentle as the mother in the TV show (played by Mandy Moore). So I’m watching to see how their relationship changes as the daughter gets older. (The show goes back and forth between decades, showing their childhood and later the kids as adults.)

2016-0818-ThisIsUs-ChrissyMetz-1050x1050-CVIn the scenes where the “triplets” are adults, “Kate” (played by Chrissy Metz) is seriously overweight. In one scene in Episode 2, Kate meets “Toby” (played by Chris Sullivan) at a therapy group for people with weight/food issues. Toby is attracted to Kate and convinces her to go on a few dates, but as he pushes for intimacy, she is obviously afraid. There’s this one scene that tells it all for me, when Toby asks her to go somewhere with him where they can just be themselves and not think or talk about food and weight issues. He says something like, “Life is not just about being fat.” She replies, “For me, it’s always going to be about the weight.” As Avery Thompson says in Hollywood Life:

It invades every aspect of her life, and she just can’t change what she feels in her core. Her confession is an honest one. Not many people have the guts to talk about what really troubles them deep down in inside so openly.

I felt her pain in my gut a she said this. And I understand that it’s “what she feels in her core.”

There’s a slim young woman in Kate’s overeating therapy group who has body-image distortion issues. I also identified with her, from back when I was running an aerobic dance business in the 1980s and weighed 116 pounds. I would look in the mirror—in my spandex tights and leg warmers—and still believe that my thighs were too fat. (Of course I’d give anything to weigh 116 again.)

So when Kate says it’s always going to be about the weight, I worry that I’ll never be free of this obsession. I worked so hard to lose that 15 pounds last fall, winter, and spring, and then so easily gained back 10 of it this summer, and now I’m ready to start losing it again. But the prospect of having to focus on everything I eat (again) isn’t a happy one. I’m tired of this lifelong battle. Of course when I share this with people, I get lots of suggestions about different diets and lifestyle eating choices. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate people trying to help, but I’m pretty well informed. But “knowing” is only half the battle, if even half. For me, it’s about waking up every morning and as part of my morning prayers asking God (and Mary of Egypt, my patron saint, and my guardian angel and Mary the Mother of God) to help me that day to be disciplined in my eating and exercise habits, and to please help me lose weight.

I’ve been praying that prayer almost every day since I was a teenager. I’m sixty-five years old. And now I’d really like to lose 25 pounds, which sounds like moving a mountain.

Anne Lamott said (in an article for Oprah Magazine in 2009) that one thing she did to become the person she was meant to be was “…whenever I could, for as long as I could, I threw away the scales and the sugar.” She makes it sound so simple… to quit caring about her weight, but also to quit eating sugar. Neither is something simple.

And so I begin again. Today. I’m going to try to talk to myself as a kind, sweet, supportive, non-judgmental mother would talk to her daughter. As I know my own mother thought she was doing, God rest her soul. I’m going to try to quit blaming her. I’ve already forgiven her, which is a big step, but taking responsibility for my own actions and leaving her out of it is much harder. Today I’m going to focus on my writing projects (three!) which I love—proof-reading galleys for one book; working with an editor on the manuscript for another; and honing marketing plans for a third—and hopefully the joy this work brings me will flow over into a more positive focus on food and exercise. Deep breath. Here goes….

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