Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016, the year we find peace with our bodies

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It's a Christmas miracle. I managed to get through all our Christmas celebrations completely fat-talk-free. No one in my family mentioned weight-loss or diets or flab to me this year. I spent four glorious days with my family, all sides--Mom's, Dad's, and my husband Will's--and there was absolutely no fat-talk. At least none I heard. Perhaps people are talking behind my big fat back about weight-loss or diets or flab, but I don't care as long as I don't have to hear it.

As a recovered anorexic and a woman who lives with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, fat-talk--even if it isn't aimed at me--triggers my anxiety. I've been twitchy about fat-talk ever since my parents first sent me to Weight Watchers when I was in third grade. Someone mentions that they've decided to go full Paleo this year and I begin to feel the sting of bile belched up from my gut. It's even worse if fat-talk is directed at me. Like the time my co-worker told me I'd probably get more dates if I'd lose a little weight. That was before I met my amazing husband Will, who has taught me to quit giving such a shit. As my amazing husband Will says, "Other people's opinions of you are none of your business." I have better things to do with my time than worry if people are gossiping about the size of my ass. Like proving them wrong by living my life happily.

Do you know how effing big this is? It means I have finally achieved my weight-loss goal: to love my body as it is. It means I have succeeded in propagandizing the Health at Every Size philosophy to my family. Either that or I've worn them down with my incessant posts about the issue. Don't talk about dieting around Becky. She won't shut up about it!

Either way, it's been a blessing to experience a body shame-free festive holiday with my family. Which is why my first reaction to seeing one of my favorite author's posts with the word "diet" in it was to feel sick to my stomach. No!!! Not Anne Lamott, the Goddess of Grace. Please don't let her quip about her flabby thighs like she usually does. I began reading Lamott's post hesitatingly. Ready to scroll past it at any point. But the more I read, the more I could feel a big fat smile spread across my face. Wow, thanks, Anne Lamott. This is the New Year's diet talk I'm happy to hear.

May 2016 be the year we find peace with our bodies.

We need to talk.I know you are planning to start a diet on Thursday, January 1st, I used to start diets, too. I hated...
Posted by Anne Lamott on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders visits Freddie Gray's Baltimore neighborhood, NBCNews reporter throws a fit

image source

NBCNews: http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/sanders-gets-testy-press-over-isis-question-n476251

Baltimore Sun: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-sanders-baltimore-20151207-story.html

Compare these two examples of how Bernie Sanders' campaign visit to the Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested are covered by NBCNews and The Baltimore Sun. Then try to tell me there is no bias in the news. It sounds like the NBCNews reporter is throwing a little titty baby fit because Sanders wanted to talk about the REASON FOR HIS VISIT and would only answer questions from the local media. See the video of Sanders' press conference here.

image source

And  yet, yesterday Sanders' campaign managed to raise over two million dollars in small contributions from regular people who want to make this country great again by bringing back the middle class. Way to go, Bernie! Way to go, grassroots organizations! Way to go, us, the hardworking citizens of this great nation who are struggling to make ends meet, American voters who for too long have felt like their voices are unheard.

Bernie gets my vote. How about you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson (book review)

The House You Pass on the WayThe House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a tender, pre-sexual love story about two fourteen-year-old cousins who don't yet know where they fit in. One girl is biracial--black and white. One girl is adopted. Both girls are struggling with their budding sexuality. Are they gay? Are they straight? Does it matter? Will they ever feel comfortable around anyone enough to reveal their authentic selves? Woodson gracefully captures the confusion these two feel as they grow from girls to women and start to question exactly what that means. This slim book contains unusual depth and beauty. Highly recommended.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Donald Trump Divides

"Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims in the US would apply to all, including tourists, his campaign manager Corey...
Posted by Mark Levin on Monday, December 7, 2015

I love this post from Rabbi Mark Levin, quoting Pastor Martin Niemöller demonstrating why it's important that we defend Muslims right now. A Jewish human being, aided by a Christian human being, defending our fellow Muslim human beings. THAT makes me proud to be an American. Not the hate that spews from a megalomaniac's mouth. Donald Trump is no patriot. Donald Trump is a shrewd politician who wants to win your vote. When Donald Trump states that we should ban Muslims from entering the United States, it reveals a greedy, power hungry man. Not a potential Commander in Chief.  Not a leader of the free world. Trump wants to ban Muslims from our country less for his love of this great nation and his desire to protect it and more for his love of himself and his love of not losing. Trump would rather be a hatemonger than a loser. Trump wants to win our votes by assuaging our basest fears.

Divide and conquer is Political Power 101. It's a way powerful people keep winning. Keep keeping the rest of us down. Focusing on what divides us rather than what unites us. Magnifying the importance of the one-percent who genuinely do want to kill us and ignoring the love and support of the ninety-nine who genuinely want us to live peacefully, in a nation founded on the values of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We live in a multicultural society which was settled by Pilgrim immigrants seeking religious freedom. Freedom to practice a religion for which they were persecuted in their home country. They sailed across an ocean in rickety ships to flee a people who fought endless so-called holy wars against each other. Catholics against Protestants. Christians against Muslims. Christians against Pagans. Christians against Barbarians. And vice versa. Basically it boils down to this: My god is better than your god.

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These Pilgrims' descendants and other immigrants formed our great nation--after killing off many other great Native American nations--and wrote into our founding documents laws that state clearly that our citizens shall not be persecuted for their religious beliefs.

When Donald Trump states that we should not let Muslim-American citizens return home from a vacation or a business trip or whatever other non-violent reason they left the country and now they only wish to return to their homes, what Trump is saying is that we should deny citizens' their private property and their freedom to travel and live their lives free from religious persecution. Doesn't sound like someone who's interested in upholding the United States Constitution.

We are an imperfect people living in a country founded by people who murdered people they called savages so that they could build a nation based on freedom. It's hard. We're mere teenagers in the whole scheme of unified government things. We make mistakes. But we pull through and work to make things better for our children. Together. Each and every one of us. That's what makes me proud to be an American.

I want a president who unites us. Donald Trump divides.

Friday, December 4, 2015

RIP Scott Weiland: or, STP, my brother Pat, and me

Scott Weiland died yesterday. He was forty-eight. Too young. Too close to home. 

I just turned forty-five on November 22nd. Around my birthday, I suddenly had a resurgence of my long-standing obsession with the band Queen, and I started playing their songs over and over whenever I was home. I thought I was just having fun, nostalgic thoughts since I grew up in the 70s with my mom blasting her A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races 8-track tapes while she shimmed around, cleaning the house. It was her "get up and get energized" music. She thought lead singer Freddy Mercury was a woman, having only heard the band on the radio and on her eight-track tapes. I have fond memories dancing around the empty dining room table, singing at the top of my lungs along to "Somebody to Love" while Mom was in the living room tidying up and my siblings and Dad were at school and at work. The music made me feel safe and free.

Then I realized my sudden, resurging obsession with Queen had, sure, a little to do with those fun memories, but it probably also had to do with the headlines bombarding my newsfeed about it being the anniversary of lead singer Freddy Mercury's death on November 24.

Holy shit. I guess I never realized Freddy Mercury was only forty-five when he died. Too young. Too close to home. My age.

My husband Will, our friend Sarah, and I joked around as we toasted to my forty-five years on this planet that I was now "Freddy Mercury's Death Age". It's kind of creepy when you reach the age of your idols when they died. Music fandom is personal. When you listen to a good song it feels like the singer is speaking directly to you. Sometimes directly through you. You and the singer become one. When they go and die on you, it kind of ruins the mood. Especially if their death is tragic. Too young. Avoidable. From an STI to suicide, from drug overdose to liver failure.

My first thought when I read the headline announcing Weiland's death was, "I thought he was already dead. Oh, no, that's Layne Staley. Oh, shit. Pat would be so disappointed in me."

My brother Pat died a few years ago at the age of forty-nine. Too young. Avoidable. Liver failure. He only managed to surpass Freddy Mercury's Death Age by four years. I hate to feel in competition with my brother over something so morbid, but I hope I can beat his score by at least another forty years. Give or take. I don't want to live hard and die young like a rock star. I want to live. Like a mom. Like a wife. Like a librarian. Like me. Period. Not that death scares me, per se. I don't believe in hell, and even if I did, I'm a pretty nice person if that gets you any free passes to the pearly gates. But I don't have time to die right now. There's still shit to do. I feel like Jimmy Carter, my favorite president, the man who was the leader of our country when I was a kid, during the most peaceful time in our nation. I feel like how Carter must have felt like when his doctor told him he has cancer.

Fuck, I can't die. I've got shit to do. People to house. People to love. World to peace. I think I'm more useful on earth than I am in heaven.

Hahaha. Pat would have liked that one. He loved word play. He's the one who introduced me to Tom Robbins and Still Life with Woodpecker and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. It's a rare, beautiful bird who can appreciate a book that takes place on a pack of Camel cigarettes and another book about a cowgirl who was born to hitchhike with an oversized thumb. My brother was that rare bird.

It wasn't just books. While Pat was alive, we bonded over music. We had similar taste. Basically, anything hard or heavy or sharp--especially if it's difficult, moody and complex. Some say you are what you eat. I say you are what music you listen to. When I first heard R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction back when I was in junior high, I walked to the record store and bought the cassette tape with my babysitting money. It was in the "college radio" section of Peaches, a record store that used to sit at the corner of 75th and Metcalf, but which long ago went out of business. I still have one of their old Peaches crates which are just the right size for storing LPs. 

There's now a 24-Hour Fitness and a Dunkin' Donuts in the parking lot where Peaches used to be. I know, right? I wish I could say I'm kidding, Pat. I tell ya. Sometimes life in the suburbs is a joke that writes itself.

During a visit home when I was in junior high, Pat saw my Fables tape in the cassette player and got excited.

"You like R.E.M., Beck?"

"Yeah. They're my new favorite band."

"Mine, too," my big brother Pat said.

He looked proud. That made me feel proud. Somebody gets me. Mom and Dad don't get me. Kids at school don't get me. My big brother Pat gets me.

It should come as no surprise. He molded my music interests. Pat was always playing music when I was a kid. Either himself, on the guitar he taught himself how to play. Or his favorite albums on his turntable. Led Zeppelin. The Who. Joni Mitchell. Pat had bought me my very first album, when I was in first grade. Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Kinda a little Milquetoast for Pat's taste, but I guess he figured it was a kid-friendly album that would turn me onto other good folk and rock music. Not this Disco Duck shit that was playing on my friends' record players. (Shh! Don't tell Pat, but I actually owned Disco Duck too. It was a Christmas gift from Santa. And I secretly loved it. I was seven. Come on.)

Pat's opinion of my music taste was always important to me. It's a big brother/little sister thing, I'm sure. Pat was nine when I was born. When he was fifteen, our family moved from St. Joseph MO to Kansas City MO. Pat stayed behind and lived briefly with our grandfather, a bachelor who let my brother smoke cigarettes and oversleep rather than going to school. Pat soon moved out and by the age of sixteen he was on his own. It was a hard life. He sold pot at first to pay the rent, but soon he started drinking beer, at first just to be social, but later because it numbed the pain better than pot did. He enjoyed pot, but beer made him bolder. Angrier, yes. But also assertive. Self-confident. The boss of himself. Important things to a young man whose family left him to fend for himself at the age of sixteen.

Pat moved around a lot in the early years, from friends' to friends' couches. Sometimes he was homeless. When he was older and more settled, once he'd met the love of his life, Sharon, who he lived with for the last decade of his life, he'd often bring home homeless people he'd met and let them stay in their basement til they got back on their feet. He said he did this because he knew what it felt like to not have a home. Sometimes, if he'd had too much beer, or if he'd been taking shots of Peach Schnapps or Hot Damn with it, Pat would become angry when someone who'd been in his basement for a month suddenly brings home a dog. Pat would fly into a rage and kick the guy out. He'd keep the dog. He'd just kick out the irresponsible man who had no money to buy food for himself who goes and buys a dog he'll have to somehow find a way to feed, too. Keep the dog, kick out the dude. Pat wasn't a monster. True story.

Pat made his way to New York to live with a friend for a couple of years, then he hitchhiked across the country to Southern California and lived there for a few more years. He finally settled down back in Kansas City, which is where he died. Sharon, the love of his life, had just died of liver failure. He decided to join her. He died three months after she did. Also of liver failure. Pat's last words were, "I'm trying," which he said in response to our brother whispering into his ear, "Go to Sharon."

By the time I was in junior high I saw Pat once every couple of years when he'd hop a train or hitchhike his way back home for a quick visit until he was off on his next adventure. That's what Mom called them. His adventures. Our Mom grew up in the era of "Que Sera, Sera". Mom makes Pollyannas look like a bunch of Debbie Downers.

Pat and I were both terrific music snobs, too. We used to make fun of Mom. "Her music taste is so shallow!" Pat used to joke about pop singers who had Bee Gee's disease, that high-pitched banal sound emanates too often from top-40 stars' mouths. Not the amazing sonic experience that is the voice of singers such as Freddy Mercury, Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley. Singing at a high pitch isn't what sucks about someone with Bee Gee's disease. Singing with no soul is what sucks. Just singing the same-ole, same ole with dollar signs in your eyes--that's what pissed Pat and me off. Music is art, not a commodity. Music is important. People who treat it as a way to make a fortune are contemptible, Pat and I thought. Pat and I were alternative before alternative was cool.

So naturally, when grunge became a thing in the early 90s, Pat and I felt a bit vindicated in our opinions that music needed more than a good beat, a catchy hook, and a generous sprinkling of cliches. When bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots started releasing albums, we bought them and played them and talked about them whenever we got together.

Which wasn't often. I avoided Pat for much of my early adulthood.

Which is too bad, because now he's gone. I wish I'd had the courage to talk to him about deeper subjects than what do you think is the meaning behind the lyric "when the dogs begin to smell her" in STP's "Plush." I wish I'd had the courage to ask him, "Why did you and your friend sexually abuse me when I was five?"

But it never came up. We'd talk about how shallow everyone else in the world was but us, and yet we couldn't bring ourselves to discuss the putrid memories, stagnant between us.

Since Pat died, I can't listen to Stone Temple Pilots without thinking of him. Partly because we were both fans of their music. But so were lots of people. As I grew up I discovered that there were lots of emotionally wrecked people to bond with, to form foundations of support for when it's our turn to crack a little.

One thing I need to put out there. Anniversary dates and memory triggers are inevitable things I have to live with as a person who was sexually abused as a young child. As someone who lives daily with post-traumatic stress disorder. I realize now another connection.

The reason I can't think of Stone Temple Pilots without also thinking of my brother Pat is because of the initials STP. You see, STP is one of my triggers. I remember vividly the clock radio my brother Pat had at his bedside table. The one that was playing songs non-stop. It had an STP sticker on it. An STP sticker like this one: 

I don't recall Pat being a big fan of muscle cars, but for some reason he had this racing sticker on his clock radio. I'd stare at it and it would help focus my attention away from the pain, if only briefly.

Since Pat died, I can't listen to Stone Temple Pilots without thinking of him. Partly because we bonded over their music. Partly because of horrible memories of sexual abuse he inflicted on me.

Since Pat died, I can't listen to Stone Temple Pilots without thinking of him. It's not entirely a bad thing. I love my brother. My brother hurt me. That's the truth and I can live with it. Hopefully for a long, long time.

Since Pat died, I can't listen to Stone Temple Pilots without thinking of him. So today when I read that Scott Weiland died, it made me feel sad. The same sad I felt the day that Pat died.

It helps to not ignore the pain, but to find the source and confront it. It's hard. But I'm trying.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George by Kelly Carlin (book review)

A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with GeorgeA Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George by Kelly Carlin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I returned this book to the library without finishing it. I just couldn't take any more pathetic celebrity name-dropping. When Carlin bragged about bedding Leif Garrett--"Nothing could possibly top having sex with Leif Garrett in Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett's bed"--even the Tiger Beat teen inside me felt embarrassed for her. I had wanted to read her biography after seeing Kelly Carlin shine on the irreverently funny YouTube talk show, Getting Doug with High, especially since I'm a fan of her father's work. I wish I hadn't bothered. I hate feeling judgy about my favorite entertainers' personal lives, but it's hard not to on this kind of family outing. George! Really?! You think buying your daughter another BMW's gonna make everything OK? I'll never be able to listen to Carlin's classic "Stuff" routine without feeling sad for the comic's materialism rather than impressed with the unconventional spirit I thought he had. You can blame it on the times, but it's hard when your heroes turn out to be mere mortals. I guess because Carlin was such a comedic iconoclast I expected him to be a different kind of father instead of the sadly same-ole neglectful celebrity dad we hear about all too often. Major disappointment.

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Here's the awesome video of Kelly Carlin as a guest on Getting Doug with High. Forget the book. Watch this video and be thankful that Kelly Carlin turned out relatively OK despite her early childhood trauma: