Tidying Up

My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint. 
– Erma Bombeck

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Next to godliness, or just keeping yourself off of Hoarders?  Where do you fall on the cleanliness/organization spectrum?

Well.  I’m not that married to clean, so much as I am neat.  I actually actively dislike the idea of cleaning, especially dusting, though I love the end result.  But clutter makes me crazy, which means David often makes me crazy.  Look, I just took these pictures of our respective desks, no staging involved:

My desk

My desk

David's desk

David’s desk

And so it goes.  If I took pictures of our dressers, the level of clutter would be comparable.  Basically, this is a thing I’ve just come to accept.  I more or less ask him to limit the clutter to these two areas (and his half of the closet) and keep the rest of the house clear, and that works for us.  When it starts to bother me, I remind myself that company doesn’t spend time in our bedroom and we can always close the door to the office if need be, and when it’s just us, who cares?  Relax, lady.

Memory

Some people remember the first time
Some can’t forget the last
Some just select what they want to
from the past
– Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On

Today’s Writing Group prompt: Write about Memory.  Something you have experienced that you wish you remembered in greater or more clear detail?  Something that makes you doubt your own memory of an event as accurate?  Something you’d prefer to forget? Memory.

We got this prompt a couple of days ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  There are lots of things I wish I remembered better; I envy my older brother’s better memory of events that happened when we were young; and there are a few things I wish I could forget.  But what I was thinking about most with respect to memory is music.

In my younger years – high school, college, shortly after – I fancied myself a bit of a poet.  My “early” work stinks, straight up.  But one of the last poems I wrote, in April 1999, goes like this:

Just Music
The thing about a song
is that it’s just music
until –
until it attaches itself to you
and becomes yours.

Which is not to say
that it never becomes anyone else’s,
only that it will never be
anyone else’s
in quite the same way
that it is yours.

And each time you hear it,
you are reminded
of how it became yours –
how a boy you loved
once told you that this song
made him cry.

And how you found that admission
so inexplicably special
that this song,
about the power of first love,
has since been, is,
and forever will be,
for you at least,
connected to that boy
(now a man, whom you still love)
in a way
that’s almost enough
to break your heart
in the first two measures.

I really love that.  I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life (well, my whole life up until almost 11 years ago), and so there are certain songs that I only need to hear the opening notes of before I’m spun back into the past, tumbling down a rabbit hole of remembrance and nostalgia.  Like so:

All For You, by Sister Hazel: This is The Power Hour song, according to my brother, Nate.  When he and Andre were roommates and we’d have get-togethers at their apartment, this song in the CD player meant you got your shot glass and beer ready.  The single opening guitar chord never fails to put me back in that place.

Everything I Own, by ‘NSYNC: My best friend Aimee and I were unabashed ‘NSYNC fans in the late ’90s and early 2000s.  This song, off their debut album, is a remake of a Bread song (which I’ve never heard; the only Bread song I know is “If”) and was never released as a single.  It is amazing, though.  The best part?  Lance Bass – Aimee’s fave, who never, ever got to sing lead – gets a spoken word interlude: “You know, baby, my love for you will always stay true. That’s right, [chuckle], ’cause there is no me without you.”  Aimee and I would listen to the CD driving around Richmond and whenever this song came up, always, without fail, we’d speak Lance’s part together, chuckle and all, and turn and point at each other on “without you.”  And then we’d crack up.  Whenever I hear this song now, I can see us, shiny and happy in our early 20s, tooling around town without a care in the world.

Mr. Jones, by The Counting Crows: This album came out my freshman year in college and this song was everywhere.  When I studied in Spain my junior year, they played it in a club one night.  I remember so clearly standing on the steps up to the DJ’s booth singing my heart out and locking eyes with a Spanish guy 20 feet away also singing his heart out – he smiled the biggest smile and gave me a thumbs up, like “I can’t believe you know this song, too!”

All Along the Watchtower, by Jimi Hendrix: I lost my hearing in April 2002.  When I visited my parents the Christmas before, my dad called me downstairs one night after my mom had gone to bed (I think Nate must not have been there yet).  He put a tape in the stereo and pushed play.  It was a recording of him playing guitar and singing this song.  I’m so lucky that he shared that with me when he did.

Bed of Roses, by Bon Jovi: In college, I had two best friends, both named Jess.  Big Jess (who was 6’1″) was in my a cappella group, which is how we became friends.  Little Jess and Big Jess were best friends from home and roommates at school.  Little Jess always felt a little intimidated when we would go to karaoke because Big Jess and I would get up over and over and sing our hearts out because we knew what we had.  Little Jess always thought she sucked – she never sang in groups or anything, although she loved music – so she’d never sing with us.  Once I went home with them over a break and we were at a bar and this song came on.  Big Jess and I started singing along in harmony, just at our table, and all of a sudden, Little Jess joined in, finding a harmony right in the middle.  And she was perfect.  I’ll never forget that.

The Hard Way, by Mary Chapin Carpenter: When I was sixteen, I was driving with my mom in the car when this song came on the radio.  After it played a bit, she said, “I like this arrangement.”  I laughed and said, “I bet you do.  I’d like a chauffeur, too.”  Turns out she meant the musical arrangement!

These Are Days, by The 10,000 Maniacs: Big Jess and I dueted on this for our a cappella group in college.  Somewhere, there’s a VHS tape of one of our performances.  I’m nearly positive that, if you watched it, you’d see at the end this goofy little dance we always did because we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves after the words were done but the music was still going.  I miss my girl.

As for the song the poem’s about?  Maybe J knows.

You see what’s missing from this list, right?  There’s no song that reminds me of David.  I guess that’s not entirely true.  I mean, we danced our first dance to I Could Not Ask for More, by Edwin McCain, and I have lovely memories of that.  But David and I don’t really share music, since he’s only ever known me since I lost my hearing.  So we picked our wedding song not because it’s something special to us, or because it’s “our song,” – we don’t have one.  We picked it because it’s beautiful and has sweet lyrics (the runner up was When You Say Nothing at All, by Allison Krauss).  As much as I love that song, and as happy as it makes me to hear it when it comes up on my iPod, it’s not really the same as the other kinds of memories that music brings me.  There aren’t moments of our relationship that are defined by music the way so many of my pre-2002 moments are.  We keep our memories in pictures and trinkets, not music.

Blog News

I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
– from The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams

Yeah, so . . . Hi.  When blogging gets away from me, it really gets away from me.  But I’m back.  I’ve joined an online writing group and we’ve challenged ourselves to write — blogs mostly, but some will also do creative writing — every day in February.  Of course, we set ourselves up for success by choosing the shortest month of the year!  Go, Team!

I’m ready.  I’ve really missed this space.  Part of it is time – the longer commute means less time in the evenings, and the time I do have, David and I spend catching up on the DVR.  The other part is space – we’re still settling into our house, even after six months here, and my computer has lived on the coffee table for all of that time.  It’s not that comfortable to write there, so it’s not conducive to writing at all.  But I finally got my desk set up in our office; it’s not totally done, but it’s good enough for now.  Bonus that it’s not in either of the rooms with the TVs, so I can actually focus on one thing at a time.

Our writing group has daily prompts to be used if we feel like it, and I expect to use them, especially in the beginning while I’m getting back into the swing of things.  Who knows – I may get crazy and post other stuff, too!  Madness.  I’m excited for the first prompt, and I hope you like what I have on tap.  See you Friday morning!

I Have Thoughts

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
– Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlett, by Arthur Conan Doyle

So, this Jezebel article is making the rounds: Weight Watchers Probably Won’t Help You Lose Tons of Weight, So Maybe Stop Dieting?  The article was prompted by Weight Watchers releasing its latest iteration, Weight Watchers 360, this week.  Most of you know I have been on Weight Watchers for more than 6 years; I got the new plan information in my meeting earlier tonight.

There are a lot of different topics covered in this article; let me say up front that I’m not here to debate the science of weight loss.  I know the statistics, I know all about Health at Every Size (HAES), I read several fat-acceptance blogs.  I don’t dispute that many, if not most, people fail at “diets,” and I certainly believe that weight is not a barometer of health.

Also, I don’t disagree with this, either:

the new plan, dubbed Weight Watchers 360, is pretty much almost exactly the same as the last time I attended — “Members will still continue track their food intake with PointsPlus values — numbers assigned to foods based on the content of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat,” — with a few more add-ons to purchase.

In fact, as soon as I remembered it was roll-out week, I wondered how long it would be til my leader showed us the new crap to buy, which is always only marginally different than the previous crap.

My main issue with the article is that it appears to have been written by someone who has not experienced Weight Watchers in several years, at least since the switch to the PointsPlus format (as opposed to the plain old Points format), and that the author appears to violate one of my scientist father’s favorite axioms: Anecdote does not equal data.  That is to say, she presents her own experiences with Weight Watchers as the Weight Watchers experience.

So, here’s my experience:  I joined WW when I was 29, the summer between my second and third years of law school.  I was tired of not feeling like I fit, both in the world metaphorically and in my own skin literally.  I lost exactly 50 pounds in exactly one year; it took me a year-and-a-half to lose the next 24.  During that time, I was following the program closely, though not perfectly or religiously.  I was exercising four to five times a week.  Once I got the hang of the program, I didn’t find it difficult at all, but I had a pretty laid back attitude towards things: I recognized that points are not an exact science and I accepted that, when I couldn’t calculate points precisely, I would just have to do my best to estimate.

The Jezebel author said WW and its focus on points caused her to obsess over food; that’s my default, though (healthy or not), so it didn’t feel any different to me.  If anything, I felt more in control of my eating when I was following the program.  Growing up, my mother didn’t allow junk food in the home, at all, and, far from teaching me to eat a balanced diet, I fairly lusted after the things that were forbidden to me.  When I baby-sat and the parents said, on the way out the door, “Help yourself to any snacks,” I was like starved man at a buffet.  When I had to sell candy bars for fundraisers at school, my poor parents always had to cough up the difference to cover the ones I secretly ate.  Because I constantly felt deprived (despite never actually going hungry), food is, to this day, probably the thing that occupies the largest part of my thoughts.

WW gave me structure, and rules, and a limit – when you’re out of points, stop eating. That seems crazy to some people, my husband included.  But I never learned to listen to my body, to feed it when it was hungry and stop when it was satisfied.  When there were good tasting foods to eat, I ate them in quantity, like I might never have them again.  And implicit in the limit is, if you’re still hungry when you’re out of points, you probably aren’t eating the right things, so make your points count nutritionally.  That’s another thing I think the Jezebel writer gets wrong:

If we really wanted to make a difference in national health — from WW to fat kids — we’d be focusing on health. Weight would not be a factor. Programs like “Weight Watchers” would be “Health Watchers” (or, er, something catchier?) and we’d focus on eating fruits and veggies, moving our bodies, and loving ourselves at whatever weight.

But as long as I’ve been a member, WW has, in fact, focused on eating fruits and vegetables, and exercise (Activity Points, anyone?), and not beating yourself up when you stumble (which is a form of loving yourself no matter your weight).  If the author didn’t get that at her meetings, she was going to the wrong meetings.

Speaking of meetings, this is another place where my experience largely diverges from the author’s.  In 6+ years on WW, I have never gone even a single week without attending a meeting.  I’m not kidding – I’ve attended meetings in at least five different states and in Canada.  I’ve gone when I was on vacation, and even while I was on my honeymoon.  My leaders have never “beaten into” our heads the amount of weight they’ve lost; some of them don’t even mention it unless someone asks.  I’ve never seen young children at WW meetings who are actually on the program (and you have to get special permission under 16, I believe, to even join).  I’ve certainly never seen anyone “shamed” at the scale, as the author contends; every receptionist I’ve ever encountered has been exceedingly discreet.  And while I have seen members “brag” about disordered eating behaviors, I’ve also seen my various leaders explain why those behaviors aren’t healthy and help the member identify the need she’s trying to meet and find other, healthier ways to meet it.  As for this:

There were the women who presented, at least to me, as being socially acceptable weights. I sat next to a few of them, and they shared with me the pain of trying to lose the “last five pounds”. Anyone who’s ever been to a WW meeting will let you know that this person is a common fixture. While perhaps not technically underweight, and you can’t tell anything by looking at a person, I’d find it highly unlikely that these people needed to lose weight for medical reasons.

Well.  First, there’s no rule that only people who need to lose weight for medical reasons can join WW.  Second, WW has a weight range for every height (which I believe also takes age into account); as long as you are 5 or more pounds above the low end of the range for your height, you can join.  Third, what the fuck business is it of yours?  The “last 5 pounds” is just as important to her as your 20-, 30-, 40-, or 100-pound goal is to you.  Is it difficult sometimes, as a much heavier woman, to hear a much thinner woman lament how hard it is, when you feel like you’d kill to be the weight she is?  Yes, undoubtedly.  But you are not her.  You don’t live in her body.  And you sure as shit don’t get to judge her or say, essentially, that she has no right to be in that room.

The author also says that WW and its focus on points drove her to disordered eating behaviors, like “starving” herself before meetings, eating whole packages of WW gummies because they were only one point instead of eating an apple, because that’s 2 points (again, this, too, goes to show her info is outdated; fruit is now points-free on WW).  My experience is the opposite: Never in my life has my eating been less disordered than it was during the first three years I was on WW and carefully following the program.  During that time, I was much less likely to hoard food, sneak food, eat alone because I was ashamed of what I was eating, eat until I felt my stomach was going to explode, binge eat, eat mindlessly, etc, etc, ad nauseum.  My entire eating life prior to WW, and in the last 3.5 years, has been defined by those behaviors (why is another post altogether and beside the point for today).  It was only with the structure and support that WW provided me that I was able to eat like a normal person.  I finally fit.

Now, obviously, I have gained back all of the weight I lost, plus 12 pounds, over the course of the last four years.  That places me among the storied 95% of people who reportedly are unable to sustain their weight loss.  That’s not WW’s fault, though, and to suggest it’s a failure of the program is folly.  WW didn’t stop working for me, the way the author claims it did for her.  I stopped following the program, first in small ways, and later altogether (I never stopped going to meetings, though, because I never wanted weight loss as a goal to fade from view; also my unbroken meeting streak is kind of a freakish point of pride for me).

It started when I began dating my husband and wanted to make him all the foods he loved and join him in enjoying them, and when it was more important to spend time with him than to go to the gym.   Basically, I made the decision at that point that something else was more important, and my lack of diligence caught up with me.  Over the last several years, I’ve made numerous halfhearted attempts at following the program for a few days here and there, but I never put in the same level of effort that I did back in the beginning, and so I never saw any results that would lead me to keep putting in the effort.  It’s a vicious cycle.

But.  I know WW would work for me again if I really committed to it.  I’ve never met anyone who truly followed the program (and not even “religiously,” just mostly) for whom WW did not work.  I’m not saying those people don’t exist; the Jezebel author claims to be one of them.  I’m saying, that’s not my experience and the experience of many of the people I actually know who have done WW.  And I’ve known A LOT of them.

My purpose in writing all of this is not say how WW actually is; it’s merely a counterpoint to the Jezebel article, because I feel that author did try to say how WW is, and I don’t believe that any one person’s experience is universal.  Accordingly, as they say on the internet, your mileage may vary.

P.S. Was I the only one who thought it was awesome that the name of the researcher quoted in the Jezebel  article — an article about weight loss — was Dr. Bacon?

Ten

When you come to the edge of all the light you have and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of two things will happen to you: Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.
– Patrick Overton

Ten years have passed since this terrible day.  In my sadness and anger, I could not see this far down the road, could not even imagine that a life existed for me this far in the future.

These ten years seem both the blink of an eye and a lifetime, and in some ways, I think both are true.  Whenever anyone asks me what happened and I tell the story of that terrifying morning, my face, my eyes, my voice reveal that it’s always with me, right under the surface. But so much has happened in that time, and I am so different from the person I was that day, that it sometimes almost seems like it happened to someone else and I only heard the story.

It didn’t, of course.  It happened to me.  And it was, as I’ve said, heartbreaking and terrifying.  And I was so angry and so sad for such a long time.  I spent literal years in counseling, dealing with the aftermath and accepting my new reality.  Mostly I’m ok with it now.  There aren’t whole days where all I do is cry and feel sorry for myself anymore.  I don’t melt down anymore when someone reacts rudely or ignorantly when I reveal my hearing impairment.  I don’t often get frustrated when I can’t understand someone.  In fact, I rarely cry about it at all anymore.  Not because it’s ok, and not because I’m not still sad about it – there are aspects of my life that will break my heart forever – but because, really, what good does it do?  This is just the way I go through life now.

Truth be told, it’s not that hard anymore.  I “pass” as hearing for at least 90% of my day, thanks to my cochlear implant.  David’s gotten used to communicating with me late at night or in the morning when I don’t have my processor on – we would kick ass at charades.  I’m surrounded, both with family and friends and at work, with people who know about my hearing loss and accept me without reservation and who don’t blink when I ask them to repeat themselves or turn the captions on.  I’m lucky that way.

Ten years ago, I thought the world was over.  Now, though, I can see that it was really just a kind of beginning.