Books and Boycotts

There’s little else I want to do during cold weather than make soup, and curl up in my heated throw and read. I recently finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (loved it!), and just downloaded another Catherine Ryan Hyde book, When You Were Older that I hope to start today.

I know some of you have very firm opinions about how you prefer to read. I used to fight the digital format, purist that I was, but I now go either way. Digital or bound, doesn’t make much difference to me, unless I know I’ll want to make notes in the margins, then I prefer the bound kind. I just bought a used copy of Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg because I know I will dog ear and highlight the bejeebers out of it. If you’re interested in the writing process or you love poetry or you are curious about Zen meditation, Natalie Goldberg has written it. If you love Anne Lamott (and who doesn’t?), I think you’ll like Natalie, too.

Getting back to Catherine Ryan Hyde, I first heard of her after reading Christina Baker Kline’s incredible book, Orphan Train. While sometimes Amazon and other book sellers get it wrong with recommendations, they got it right when one of Hyde’s books came up as a suggestion. Walk Me Home is my favorite so far, followed closely by Worthy, Say Goodbye for Now, and When I Found You.

Just like fashion, I’m hardly ever up on the literary latest and greatest. I’m usually a good 3 to 200 years behind. It’s why I didn’t realize that A) there was an actual book called Pay It Forward, published in 2000. I thought it was simply a good idea and something a lot of people do; B) that it was written by Hyde; and C) that it was a made into a movie shortly after publication.

In a rare move, I decided to watch the movie before reading the book. Usually I do the opposite. The movie was available to rent online, and in the small promo picture on the TV screen I saw Helen Hunt next to someone who looked like Kevin James. The problem is that it wasn’t Kevin James. It was Kevin Spacey, someone who’s work I’ve long admired, but in light of sexual assault allegations against him, I’d decided to boycott. I realized my mistake five minutes in during Spacey’s first scene. After a few choice expletives, I thought, ‘Do I stop watching or do I keep going?’

I chose to keep watching, but I couldn’t escape the allegations. How could such a gifted person behave like such a douchebag?

Like many of you, I’ve been asking that question way too often lately.  After listening to Al Franken’s farewell to the Senate, I read that Mario Batali, too, had been accused of sexual misconduct. So I asked my Facebook friends if they, too, were tired of all the allegations. An interesting conversation ensued. My daughter wrote, “I’m struggling with all this. There are actors and comedians and singer and artists whose work I truly enjoy, but who are also total assholes in real life. Right now I’m boycotting these people, but there will come a time when I will want to enjoy their work again, and I’ll have to figure out how to deal with that.” My sister wrote, “Maybe after they’re dead we can enjoy their work? Kind of like Picasso. I always have to separate the man from his work and that is often very difficult to do.” That reminded me of why I struggle with listening to Miles Davis. He physically and psychologically abused his wife, Cicely Tyson, on numerous occasions. Not cool.

I think this is something many of us struggle with, so I put the question to you: Has the myriad sexual misconduct/assault accusations waged against actors, writers, and others in the entertainment business affected what you read or watch? Please leave a comment.

Also, feel free to recommend a book or two! What are you reading, and in what format?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and Face…What’s Changed. It’s OK.

Many of you “met” me years ago through my Lynn’s Weigh blog, the space where I wrote about (mostly) weight and all the issues surrounding it (the good, the bad, the recipes, the exercise). I believed then, as I do now, that there is no easy fix for the physical and emotional complexities of weight, both gaining and losing.

I also believed, and I don’t anymore, that I would always be in control of my physical and emotional world if I regularly (obsessively?) did ABC. In doing so, I would maintain the results I’d worked so hard for: a (too) thin body and the (faux) happiness that it brings. I believed I had to be a certain way – the Lynn’s Weigh – in order to have a voice in the subject of weight, and when the physical changes and the weight gain started about four years ago, I felt I’d let everyone down – my readers, my children, my boyfriend, my doctors (some of whom kept the People magazine in my folder to inspire other patients). But mostly I’d let myself down.

And so these last 2½ years since absorbing Lynn’s Weigh into Zen Bag Lady and not writing, I’ve been quietly trying to make peace with my physical and emotional changes without laying blame, feeling guilty, or being angry and frustrated.

And the results? I fail miserably sometimes on all points. But I don’t fail all the time. In fact, I fail less today than I did a month ago, and less a month ago than six months ago, and less six months ago than a year ago. In widening my field of vision, I was supported by and found comfort in the words of former weight loss bloggers Jeannette Fulda and Shauna Reid, both of whom wrote pieces in 2017 that spoke directly to me.

In April, Jeannette wrote: “These days the internet seems like a much more misogynistic, judgmental place, like a flood of tourists have swarmed the local bar and you never know what asshole is going to show up, start a fight and then breeze off, never to be seen again.”

We see this all the time everywhere these days, way more than when we all started blogging in the 2000s. Some people have no filter, no compassion, and no common sense. Words hurt, especially mean and hurtful words that come from some anonymous little puke hiding behind a computer screen. People say to ignore it, but I’m not emotionally built that way. I never have been and I never will be. I’m fine with constructive criticism that comes from a place of love and concern, but it takes me an inordinate amount of time to unfeel the pain of hurtful and untrue words. While I didn’t have many trolls on Lynn’s Weigh and none on Zen Bag Lady, “coming out” like this, with the (not so surprising) revelation that I’m not the same person I was 2, 5 or 12 years ago, might cause some people to gloat or to throw my past words in my face. But I’m going to take that risk because speaking up for change rather than staying silent and hidden is worth it. As Jeannette reminded me and everyone else, “people have the right to change”.

Indeed.

In September, Shauna wrote: “What I struggle with is contradictory. First there are the feelings of failure for not remaining the After photo, like that invalidates any value of the book (The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl) entirely. I wrote about the After photo struggles on my blog for awhile, then slinked away from the topic. I avoided people and places. There’s been so much shame and fraudy feels… Then there is the part of me that is so bloody done hiding and ready to make peace with it all.”

Amen!

Sometimes I look at my After photos with a bit of regret, but I don’t regret the journey one bit. Like Shauna and Jeannette, I hope my words helped people on their own journeys. Gaining weight after my journey has been humbling, especially given the myriad physical shitstorm that’s been my life the last several years. But looking at the Afters also reminds me that nothing is permanent.

I don’t owe the Internet an apology. However, I would like to continue the conversation with all of you in this different chapter of my (and your!) life. You’re not the same folks you were 2, 5, 12 years ago, either, right?

So what’s new with you? What has changed? What have you held on to? Leave a comment, and please don’t be bothered by the fact that I have to “approve” (or not) all comments. While I’ve learned I am not in complete control of my physical or emotional life, I can definitely control what gets said on my blog 🙂

Also, I dusted off my old Twitter account. I’m @TrixieB1963 (after my beloved childhood book heroine, Trixie Belden), if any of you want to stalk me and I you.

Thanks for being here again. And welcome if this is your first trip here! Namaste.

In 2018, Maybe Poetry Can Help

The Internet can be a brain suck, for sure. Then there are sites like Dictionary.com that can inflate the brain, sort of. For instance, the word “pajamas” comes from the Persian words pah, meaning “leg,” and jammas, meaning “clothing”. The British spell it as “pyjamas.” If I were in London, I’d still be in my “pyjamas”. But sadly I’m not. In London, that is. Here in the U.S., I most certainly am still in my “pajamas”. Happy New Year to me.

And Happy New Year to you! Have you made any resolutions? Established any goals for 2018? Still in your jams? I made no resolutions, but I do have a goal: to see The Moody Blues inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April!! I’ll stand in the parking lot if I have to, but I need to be there. IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME THEY WERE INDUCTED! Whoever thought inducting Dusty Springfield, Kiss, and The Animals before The Moody Blues needs some serious musical educating.

Looking back over 2017, there are several more things in my Best Of grab bag than I thought there would be, given how discomfited so many of us felt last year at this time. I had little hope for 2017, but a lot of good things happened. Jim and I had fun growing our on-the-side antiques business at a local antique mall. Zuzu the Wonder Dog moved in. I completed the fifth of six semesters of my master’s program (Graduation: May!).

And I solidly fell in love…

… with poetry.

I had the great fortune of teaching a poetry workshop this summer at the Indiana County jail. I’d taught a few classes in the women’s block, but this was the first time that my students were from two men’s blocks, and the first time the topic was all poetry.

I’ve always liked poetry, even though I have zero patience for epic poems like “The Faerie Queene” or the Sylvia Plath-ish ones that make me want to bang my head against a brick wall. But poetry asks us to pay attention to a moment for a moment. It gets in your face and says, “Look at me! What do you see?” It turned out that reading poetry with a group of men in jail was not a bad way to spend summer vacation.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with poetry, and I wake up to a poem every morning in my email, thanks to Poem-A-Day from poets.org – another non-brain-suck website. While not every poem is a wake-up call or invites contemplation, each one is someone’s attempt to make sense of some part of their world. What speaks to you might not speak to me, but that’s the whole point!

I really like this book: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. It’s a collection of poetry selected by Billy Collins when he was poet laureate (2001-03). Collins’ own poetry is accessible (meaning it shouldn’t usually make you want to bang your head against a brick wall). I use his work in my classes, and his Ted Talk is a lot of fun. It’s not a brain suck, I promise.

Suffice to say, poetry will help get me through 2018. I hope it lends you some comfort, solace, and contemplation, too.

Below are a few of my favorites. Please send me some of yours! Add them to the comments.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World by Sherman Alexie

Losing the Narrative

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
I’m okay. 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
I’m just about there, no? 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.
Credit:

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem:
“I injured my hand rather gruesomely last spring and it took a longer than expected time to heal. That injury triggered memories of earlier, more traumatic injuries, which got me thinking about how my instinct is to always reassure everyone I’m okay, whether I am or not.”
—Lynn Melnick