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Letter from My 48th Year (Jan 5)

There is no heat or hot water in my apartment complex right now. I should be miserable, but the blessed sun is blazing into the great room windows right now so, while I can hear the wind thundering outside, and there’s a faint chill around my ankles (mostly because I’m rebelling against the compression knee highs today), I am warm and cozy.

And sleepy. Very very sleepy. I was up till three last night/this morning. I wrote and edited till around 10 and then watched the last episode of the new series of Black Mirror (beyond unsettling) and a couple of episodes of The Crown. I was awake enough at three to keep going but I figured three a.m. was rock star-ish enough for the waning days of year 47. I vaguely remember that I used to be able to survive on very little sleep but…

I don’t mind aging, I should say, even if my powers of recuperation are somewhat on the wane. I think the glory days are still ahead of me, not behind me. In the opening chapters of Proverbs, the Bible talks over and over again about how precious and valuable wisdom is, which seems like a lot of hyperbole until you hit your 40s and you realize how much trouble you could have saved yourself if you’d only been able to make an early withdrawal on the wisdom that lay ahead.

And while I am vain as anyone (no, you absolutely cannot own too many face masks or brightly colored shades of lipstick) and while seeing my own neck in the mirror has helped me understand finally why Colette always made the older women of the demimonde in her stories and novels put away their pearls once they’d reached a certain age, I am also enamored of women who just let their faces collapse around them. Who bear their wrinkles and stretch marks and age spots proudly. Those are the women who are most beautiful to me, the ones I would jump the fence for (which I’m sure nobody says anymore but I also like 80s music so…)

Over Christmas my Uncle Mel, who is approaching 74 if he’s not there already, told a story about going to the senior center near his house and finding the people there his age terribly old (though the $2.00 lunch was quite delicious). He’s the uncle who travels in a pack with my much younger cousins, visiting parties and cricket matches and wherever they find a welcome, which is everywhere, awash in good liquor and good stories and as my cousins would say, vibes. He said his doctor praised him for keeping younger company as a way to maintain a youthful spirit.

For much of my life, by the nature of when I was born comparative to the school year (I was a January baby, but was in the same grade when I started school with the kids who’d turned 6 in September), I’ve always been the youngest in my cohort. I was definitely the baby in The Divas, the poetry collective I wrote with for several years in Chicago, women who made me so much of who I am. They spoke and wrote about miscarriages and menopause and divorce and empty nests while I was still writing odes to Lenny Kravitz and asking cab drivers to take my drunken self to the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home from carousing.

It is odd now to sometimes be the oldest one among my group of friends, to be the wise woman (relatively speaking) just because I’ve experienced or watched other people experience things for a good long while now. Is that how I’ll stay youngish—by telling other people what to do?

Still, it’s nice to visit my aunts and cousins at Christmas, to still be everyone’s “first babies,” even as I’m telling their kids, “Well, when I first knew your mother….” And I love that I’ve once again found a circle of older women who shelter me under their all-knowing wings as the Divas once did.

When we meet, I call it a gathering of crones. Some dictionaries say crone means “ugly, old woman,” and I like the idea of that. I don’t hear “ugly” as a lack of physical beauty, but rather the embrace of the fact that we are so much more than our physical beauty, that as we age, if we’re very very lucky, our physical looks are the last thing people notice about us, as they’re drawn instead to our wisdom, our strength, our persistence. It’s the letting go of vanity, the giving of fewer and fewer fucks, so that even a day with no heat and hot water is joyous because your pink bathrobe is soft and your blankets are warm and later one of your younger friends is coming over for apple crisp and coffee and poetry.

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On breaking up with Weight Watchers….

photo of author

Editor’s Note: This post is transcribed almost directly from a “morning pages” journal entry so please forgive its lack of polish. I gave myself a writing prompt for the morning’s entry: “Why do you think you won’t sustain your weight loss without Weight Watchers even though you haven’t really been doing it? Why do you think you will succeed?”

Scale says 199 but I think I’m better than that inches-wise because my pj bottoms are dragging the floor. At the same time I feel sexy and confident in my body, it’s hard not to worry that I’m not losing anything. It’s smart that I stopped Weight Watchers. I was spending the money but not counting points or tracking. I’m nervous that I’ll be 50 pounds heavier again. I mean that’s what always happened when I went off the program before.

But I believe there is much that is different about this time. For one thing, when I went off program before—or should I say when I quit before—I was already way off program in terms of eating and boozing. This time I’m more balanced. I had strawberry shortcake yesterday but I also had fish and salad for dinner. I’m not exercising every single day but I am being more consistent. My mindset is one of focusing on healthier eating, which doesn’t mean no desserts or no alcohol but it does mean I’ve let go of having bread every morning for breakfast, I continue to not have sugar in my coffee, and I’m working on being mindful about my desserts. I’m more mindful of the difference between snacks and treats, and I love kale!

The most important difference is, I think, my attitude toward myself. I loved being skinny in the past when I was down 60 or 70 pounds. I loved the way I looked, the clothing size I could fit into, the compliments. But that was all superficial stuff. I don’t believe there was any change on my insides. I had changed my behaviors but not my attitudes [toward myself] so I was already halfway back to being 250 or thereabouts again. I was getting tons of validation for my physical achievements, but I still didn’t believe I was worth much. I still couldn’t get a boyfriend, my parents still didn’t love me, blah blah blah.

What’s different about this time—I feel my chest tightening and my arms tingling even as I write this—is that I’m engaged in an ongoing conversation about what I’m worth. The physical changes are nice, but what’s important is my attitude toward myself. I’m seeing past all the ways I wasn’t valued in the past to the woman I actually am—not perfect, but smart, kind, imaginative, creative, generous, and supportive, with a killer smile.

This time it’s not about working and trusting the program, it’s about trusting myself. I was always so unnerved by the fact of being an overeater for life, which is why I’d need Weight Watchers for life. But that’s bullshit. I do think that Geneen Roth* is right: if we stop to realize that our ways of dealing with pain, fatigue, boredom, etc. are outmoded, that they’re left over from childhood when we had no other defenses, then we can stop turning to them.

If I stopped sleeping** all the time to avoid my life, I can certainly stop eating my way out of it, too. It’s interesting that as I write this, my inner critic keeps resurrecting all the ways it thinks I’ve already failed: “But you had two bowls of cereal at Fran’s house—Lucky Charms! But you’re going to that event with Jillian on Saturday that is all about eating! But you had dessert yesterday when you said you weren’t going to and you had dessert with Joyce on Saturday! But you’ve been using your credit cards a lot even though you’re trying to get out of debt; if you’re doing that, how can you possibly keep yourself from regaining all the weight.”

I weigh myself every morning, just to give myself an (objective) reality check. My critic tries to weigh in too. “See, you’re up a pound; you’re going to gain it all back!” And even though I stay around the same weight within a five-pound range, my critic’s not happy It’s interesting how much I resist myself. I had said I wanted to get to a certain weight and then maintain for a while. And even though I’m doing exactly that—something I haven’t previously been able to accomplish—my critic isn’t satisfied.

There’s also another thing that’s different now. I’m willing to do it in stages. Even if I’m in the 190s for the next six months, there’s nothing that says I can’t push through anouther ten pounds next spring if that’s what I want to do. Our new office building will have a gym and I’m fairly certain I will exercise more consistently at a higher rate because of the convenience. I’ll stay an extra hour at work gladly if I can go downstairs and work out in the middle of the day rather than in the wee hours [of the morning] or when I’m super tired. I’ll also have a cohort of friends who belong to the same gym.

Notice I emphasized “want” in the last paragraph, and I think that’s the most important piece—along with self worth—that I’ve been working on. We all carry around a lot of “shoulds” and when shoulds stay undone, they produce guilt. And carrying all that guilt saps all our energy away from things like eating kale and taking a walk. We spend all of our time inventing ways to punish ourselves for our failures to attend to the “I should” list. A want is a different thing entirely. Wants have more flexibility and they seem to not have the built-in guilt factor if we don’t do them. But because it’s a want, a desire, we try a little harder to get it done. Going after a desire is so much more fulfilling—and fun—than a mere task.

If we truly value ourselves, we want those things that truly support and nourish us. We want that exercise to help us feel strong. We want that serving of vegetables because we feel full but light….

My inner critic just said, “Just because you wrote all that down it doesn’t mean you won’t fail. It’s not like you haven’t had epiphanies before, you know?”

But this isn’t an epiphany. It’s not an “aha!” moment or bolt-out-of-the-sky idea. It’s something I’ve known all along; I just didn’t realize I knew it. It’s a remembering, or, perhaps, a recognition. Whatever you call it, it’s real change, and Miss Critic can fuss and fume all she wants but I’m not going backwards or living in fear that this won’t work. As Geneen Roth wrote—I’m not broken. I’ve just finally chosen to recognize my wholeness, and, believe me, that radically changes things!

*I just finished Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. Her idea of God is a bit wonky, but reading her book helped me articulate some of the wisdom that I think was already making itself known inside me.

**I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I never knew that the fact that I slept away half of my childhood was a sign of depression. Sigh…

“Only Connect”

I had big plans for what I was going to write today. But now at 9:23, I’m a little tired, and—truth be told—a little drunk after starting my birthday celebrations in the company of four extremely wonderful women. This morning I tweeted about networking—how the word has come to mean meeting that person who will give you your next step toward advancement, but really what networking is about is finding a support system, a group of people who will push you and pull you toward your goals, who support you through your steps forward, but also your steps backward. I had planned to try again to blog this year every day, but I wouldn’t be getting off to such a strong start if it weren’t for the fact that Phillipa and Karen are with me, virtually pushing, prodding, applauding, and setting the pace. As for my dinner companions,  there’s Maryrose who when I headed back to work after pneumonia, able to walk only with the aid of a walker, decided that she and her husband would come pick me up at my new apartment every morning so I didn’t have to stress about climbing the steps of the Metrobus and so someone would be there to watch over me as I braved the subway every morning and every evening. There’s Mary Margaret who bravely left her day job to excel as an arts consultant, who is the best schmoozer I know because she is so genuinely interested in and supportive of others. There’s Jillian who’s whip smart and funny as all hell and who understands what a great adventure it is to check out the old-school bra shop so one can get “organized.” And there’s Meaghan who has weathered more physical challenges than most anyone I know with grace, a sense of humor, and the most amazing style. My little sister Debbie is also blogging every day this month and every day with her I learn more about what it is to love and be loved. And then I think about all the women I’ve known—Ronica and Angelica and Patty who never quit on me in college no matter how many times I stopped to pee behind the Dunkin Donuts on the way home from soccer parties and “The Divas,” my writing group in Chicago who taught me how to write, how to be brave enough to send my work out into  the world, and without whom I never would have dared to apply for  fellowships and residencies and even graduate school. There’s Joyce, one of my sisters in the Lord, who loves pink as much as I do and thrift shopping and who has healed my heart broken by careless friendships in ways I don’t think she even knows.

I guess what I’m saying in this litany, as I drink one last chocolate martini and contemplate the dishes in the sink and when tonight’s premiere of Downton Abbey will be up on the PBS website, is that I’ve been so utterly blessed by the company of women. My sisters, my friends, my beloveds. There’s no moral to this story, only the wish that you find and treasure your own networks, whether they’re networks of two or twenty. I wish for you that you will embody E.M. Forster’s maxim and “only connect” because it’s in truly knowing others and allowing them to know us that we truly apprehend the world and who we are called to be in it.

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