Thursday, September 26, 2013


My last blog post was rife with the word, bodies. 

And I can't quite get that out of my head. 

When I was my sister's age, I was a Style Channel devotee. This was back in the halcyon days when said channel actually addressed fashion - more often than not, I could turn on the television and see actual runway shows. I was thirteen - I liked to sketch out costumes and leather corsets and replicas of period drama's full skirts and luscious curves. 

I was thirteen. I went to a private school where everyone knew about that one girl who was in the hospital for an undisclosed eating disorder, where buying uniforms was parting with hundreds of dollars and seeing a girl in the mirror who wanted to be an extra small. 

There are so many threads to that tangle, so many little bits of life which eventually form disordered eating. Believe it or not, most women endure some element of disordered eating - and how can we not? Thinking about those models and clothes on the Style Channel, thinking about advertisements with thin women eating fat free yogurt and giggling, thinking about the picture on the packaging of a bathroom scale, stuck permanently on 125 pounds - how can we not be disordered, even a little bit? 

But of course, there's so much more than that.

I know that food was always a challenge for me. I had an allergy we hadn't discovered, so eating often resulted in stomach problems. We had a limited budget, and while my parents definitely tried to (and succeeded in) putting food on the table I knew, despite my young age, that food was money, that money was a problem, that Chinese takeout meant a paycheck and red beans and rice didn't. Not eating seemed easier. 

And being popular was a challenge. I had never been overweight one day of my life, but once I got to middle school I learned hard lessons - I learned that I was terrible at sports (fat), that my body (as yet undeveloped) needed a bra to be acceptable (fat), that the pretty girls wore small uniforms (fat), that girls got more attention by passing out with hunger than by adeptly analyzing poetry (fat). I went to a very well known private school for girls, and the number one lesson I learned was the calorie count of yogurt in the cafeteria and how to get all of those pretty girls to ask me how to lose weight. Because, well, I did. I think that's the one thing I did perfectly. 

Going to high school? I was so excited because no one would be able to know when I didn't eat. I saw myself, somehow grown up between eighth grade and ninth, slugging back espresso and talking with friends and never letting on, never revealing, never showing that I stayed up late to eat Frosted Flakes at midnight because sugar was the only thing which kept me going. I'd stick to my ten grams of fat per day and eat cereal in the dark because no one, no one could see me eat. 

My mom just posted a brilliant piece on underage drinking in Howard County. It garnered a lot of attention, and rightly so. Underage drinking - or, more worrying to me, binge drinking - is a huge issue for people my sister's age and a bit older, and I applaud her for tackling such an important problem. But - or rather, and - there are other things I worry about. 

My sister has never been overweight a day in her life. 

I've been through a lot - I've done the underage drinking thing with gusto, I've made mistakes with boys, I've self-harmed, I've been through bipolar disorder and keep going through it. I've done drugs (very, very minimally, and very much as a youthful reaction to my disorder) and I've been pretty stupid about a lot of things. But there's this terror which I can't shake and which I pray to God will never touch my sister, and that's eating cereal in the middle of the night because somewhere in the back of your mind you know that if you don't you might die. 

I didn't want to die. I wanted to live for my sister, then just born, because I didn't want the last thing she saw of me to be a picture of my too-thin body. A body which didn't even look like me. A body which fit in with the Style Channel and yogurt and scales but not with my incredible love for her. 

But I wouldn't eat. 

That's what scares me - and I'm scared of all of it, too, the drinking, the Adderall, the Oxy, the boyfriends, the girlfriends, the bullying, the rape, the hate crimes, even the freaking internet - but I'm so, so scared of my beautiful baby, my literal life saver, thinking that she is fat. 

Maybe we could de-stigmatize bodies. Maybe a girl of thirteen could buy uniforms in a medium and know that she would grow into them perfectly. Maybe we could keep our daughters out of hospitals and model whole body and mental health. Maybe the image on the box can show a scale reading a higher number, or lots of numbers, or just a smile; maybe we can have all sorts of bodies on runways, bodies of different shapes and different colors with thick or thin hair and muscles and yeah, a little fat. 

Maybe we could also do away with this image of what women are supposed to be, or what real women are supposed to be. Imagine - we could be moms and sisters and grandmas and aunts and not hate our bodies like we've been taught and instead teach our children to love theirs. We could be naturally thin or naturally not and have it all be okay, have our daughters and sisters and granddaughters and nieces see us as we are, beautiful. See themselves as beautiful. 

I remember what it was like to be thirteen, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody. What I do wish? 

I wish that my sister had better role models than the people on the Style Channel. Or on Nickelodeon. Or on Disney. 

I wish I could be her role model and finally, finally, feel like my body is something to be loved. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


What have we learned?

If you're like me, you've probably seen - on Facebook, on news sites - countless references to today's date and the anniversary of a terrible moment in time. I know the blogosphere has blown up with posts about today, and videos and memes and repeated tragic ephemera have set the tone for us all to examine not only our memories but our present life. I thought a lot about writing today - I thought about my experiences, my freshman year of high school, the smell of school-lunch spaghetti, the prayer (illegally) bidden by my voice teacher. 

But coming again and again in my head - between waking up this morning and sitting here on my porch as the sun goes down - is a simple and miserable question: what have we learned?

I'm afraid to answer that question. If I really examine it, I am afraid I must say - not enough. 

Not nearly enough. 

I just watched two videos - one, a slam poetry performance about 9/11, and the other, about a homeless man begging for enough money to get a room for a night. The first was shocking in its raw emotion; the poet described what he felt as a twelve-year-old boy, living in Manhattan, not knowing if his father was dead, dragging his fingers along the ash-covered window sill and knowing that his skin was covered in bodies. The second was almost as shocking - perhaps less so for its familiarity; it was of a nameless man describing the life he endured. 

He said that people walked by him and shouted, "get a job, bum." And I've heard that line before - never said it, no, but I've stood in the same party with a young woman saying the exact same thing. It shamed me. It shamed this man, too, because - as he described - how can you get a job when you look homeless? What phone number can you give, when you sleep under bridges or on benches or in boxes, for people to call?

The commonality between these two videos begged that question again. However dissimilar, both narratives were about something so simple that it is often overlooked - 




What have we learned?

In the twelve years past, I think we have learned a lot of things. We've learned more about war, about not-wars, about tyranny in our own country, about racism, about new ways to hate, about guns in the home, about pointless wars on drugs and how the US fuels them with poverty and poppies. We've learned new words for brown skin, new words for religion, new words for homelessness, new terminology for the other, the not-American, the socialist, the Muslim, the homosexual, the female, the liberal. Maybe it isn't that we haven't learned enough - maybe it's that we've been so busy learning the wrong things. 

We've been learning the wrong things about bodies. We've trained ourselves to think of certain bodies as lesser - though the ash on the windowsill was grey and anonymous, somehow that ash has given rise to some deep and desperate part of ourselves which longs to exclude and shame and deride. Bodies in the street begging for money, bodies in the airport with dark skin, bodies which must be male or female and unchangeable, zygote bodies, fetus bodies, female bodies. Bodies to scorn, to fear, to blame. 

We've been learning the wrong things about agency. We've been relying on an American Dream which, at this moment, is nearly impossible. We've been talking about Welfare Queens and tax dollars and health insurance and never, never getting an answer, and never understanding the terrifying complexity which is being poor or a minority or sick or worn all the way out by the humbling and humiliating process which is proving your worth in a society which thinks you are worthless. And we've taken agency, also, away from people of any faith - we group everyone together and make assumptions: Muslim, Evangelical, Jewish, Catholic, Atheist - all boxes to check, all generalities, all terrorists or nutjobs or killers of Christ or blood-drinkers or apostates. 

And sadness?

We've learned a million ways to be sad and a million ways to stave that off. We've learned to brush past the homeless person on the street and not notice the truth in their eyes. We've learned to watch videos about 9/11 and post statuses and never get to the root of it and how terribly we have failed at turning it into a greater thing, a better thing, a new motivation to love each other. We have emojis of the American flag. We have pictures of soldiers. If we're lucky, we haven't lost anyone to the horrible drone of death which is unprevoked war on countries we needed for oil. Sadness - we can be sad, today. 

We can be sad for everything we haven't learned. 

Maybe, on today of all days, I should be waving the American flag. And none of this - not one single word - is intended to take away the tragedy and power of men and women who died, and who tried to save others in the midst of an unthinkable act. Yeah, for them, I'll wave a flag. Of course. 

But what have we learned? What was their sacrifice worth? 

When I was in the black box theatre in my freshman year of high school, the director of the department came in and told us the news. I don't think he knew how, but he did it. It was unimaginable, but still, we cried.  My voice teacher bade us to hold hands and she told me to offer up a prayer. I'm pretty sure I prayed for peace, pretty sure I prayed for love. 

God, I'm still praying. I pray that we learn more, and that we learn better. 

I pray that all bodies be equal, all persons have agency, and that all of us turn our sadness into compassion. 

I pray that on this, and all future anniversaries, we pledge our allegiance to more than a flag. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The process of writing is entirely grasping at straws. 

It's the first game of football season, Ravens/Broncos. I've been spending the evening at my local haunt, the Second Chance in Oakland Mills. I've been hiding my eyes between tight hands, raising my arms, shouting and cursing and feeling passionate. I've taken moments away from the game, in the bathroom, belting out Sinatra and being young. I've spent the evening texting my best friend, Jamie, as we watch the game separately. Now, back at home, my husband is upstairs watching the second half and I am, as always, out on the porch. 

I'm listening to music. 

I adore football, in a way I never thought I would. I've written a bit on my childhood here, but to reiterate, I was not raised in the Ravens Nation. Rather, I was raised in albums, in Berlioz, in Poulenc, in the soundtrack to Henry and June. I was music, from the late Friday nights in the back garden with Jazz to the early Saturday afternoons with the broadcast from the Met. I never knew there was anything else. 

But now, oh, how I love football. Watching the game tonight, I expected that I would write about how football and the American identity are intertwined. I had this whole thing about consumption and fellow-feeling and the Roman games. I had a dialogue prepared between me and my mother, in which she told me I could be anything except a ballerina and a professional football player. I had all of that. 

But here I am, on the porch, feeling something else entirely. 

If writing is grasping at straws, so am I. So is life. 

In everything I've done - in Puccini, in Satie, in Charpentier - I have never felt young. I was always the "old soul" in the group. There I was, with the opera length gloves, the feather boa, the fanfiction habit I couldn't kick, the teeth dyed blue with cheap red wine, and I was old. And suddenly, tonight, I feel terribly young in a way I couldn't before. And I feel old, too. My husband, upstairs, watching the remainder of a game which is apparently not going well, and me, on the porch, listening to music and the crickets and the beat of night. 

Grasping at straws. 

Maybe football isn't quite this complicated to other people - maybe music isn't, either. But I'm sitting on the porch utterly paralyzed by some kind of internal choice - to be old, to be young. To join my husband, to listen to music and feel like my teenaged/middle-aged self. I honestly don't know what to do. 

I could go on and on here, as I usually do. Maybe tomorrow I will write that post about football and consumption and glee. But the more I think about it, the longer I sit here on the porch by myself, I think that the straws I grasp are only the shreds of an identity limited by a narrow experience. And frankly, as much as I love listening to my music, I love spending time with my husband more. 

Good night, y'all. And Ball So Hard.