Terry Pratchett and Leonard Nimoy and my husband’s lovely cousin Tony have all died in the past two weeks. I just read a piece on XO Jane by a successful woman (a lawyer) who had gastric bypass surgery and then more or less consciously made it stop working. I just managed to force myself NOT to watch a weirdly graphic video on female genital mutilation of very young girls because I wouldn’t sleep for days and had started crying and hyperventilating the second I clicked on it. Evidence is mounting that the obese are biochemically different from the non-obese. I’m getting really tired of “curvy” as the euphemism for fat women. Not all of us are particularly curvy (unless you count being oval), so it just sets up another standard for those of us who don’t look like the hyper-female lush-bodied plus-sized models whose pictures tend to accompany the word to feel we’re failing. I’m really sick of not being able to find a pair of comfortable black flats–my feet are weird, but they’re not SO weird that NOTHING on Zappos should not hurt somewhere or gap somewhere. I am not exercising and I can feel it making me weaker almost daily. It’s Lent, which I loathe and which makes me grumpy–and yet I’m wearing a strip of spice-impregnated muslin tied around my wrist (part of an interactive Stations of the Cross my church has been doing for the past several years) to keep me mindful of the fact that it’s Lent. I’m sick to death of high-fashion shoes that are not a whole lot healthier than foot-binding and high-fashion dresses featuring sheer skirts over what amount to couture granny-panties (not to mention couture granny-panties worn on their own, esp. if they’re paired with ankle-killer heels) and I more than suspect that the arguments about women experiencing this crap as somehow empowering are bogus, or the empowerment itself is bogus. And in so far as whatever passes for Feminism these days says that plastering your body all over the streets/stage/campus is a valid feminist choice, I’m going to insist on the idea that there is something between the burka and wearing your crotch around in public that is somehow saner than either. A friend (Tara Owens) has just published a book called Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone about the body as a route toward God that I suspect I’ll like when I get around to reading it. She’s a spiritual director and has had an interesting journey with her own body, so she likely has some good stuff to say. None of this has anything to do with any of the rest of this except that I have thought, at one point or another, about writing a Fatmatters entry about it. I have been writing, just not the blog. So this is going to be one of those skittery omnibus thingies until I write my way into figuring out whether there are any connections at all.
My two friends who had bariatric surgery are doing fine. I think about it a lot. I am certainly tired of this body. I like it when I feel strong. And after last summer’s face-meets-railroad-tie-step fall, I’m more aware than ever of the importance of keeping myself strong enough to move securely in the world. Something about that fall really hit me and left me feeling weirdly helpless. I’ve always fallen–most of my grade school photos feature me and a split lip in some stage of healing. I clearly got a bad gyroscope in my original equipment. But in the last three years, I’ve gone down stairs and face-first into some piece of heavy furniture twice and up stairs into the aforementioned railroad tie (that was August, this is March, the bones are still bruise-y and I have a pretty spiffy scar on the bridge of my nose) and that one happened after a really nice (healthy!) hike into a waterfall. Something about hurting myself so badly while doing the sort of thing that is supposed to be good for both body and soul has really gotten to me. I’ve been joking a lot about how I can pretty much figure on dying in a fall. The joking, oddly enough, is not making me feel better. The lingering fear and skittishness around stairs is not sending me to yoga or Tai-Chi classes, both of which would improve my balance and probably my state of mind, because I don’t do that sort of thing (and no, I don’t understand why or have any confidence that understanding why would give me the power to change my behaviors). But I am holding railings more consistently.
Powerlessness seems, now that I think about it, is the connecting thread in the first paragraph. Death is a no-brainer. We pretty much all feel powerless in the face of it. Or are in denial. The FGM thing is about an ugly list of powerlessnesses: of children in a world that claims to care about them, but so often treats them as commodities; of women in the face of profoundly intransigent male domination which is so often bolstered either by religious texts that actually exist or by cultures appropriating religion to explain various sorts of savagery (and the women who consent to it being visited upon their daughters as a result–as nearly as I can figure–of the weird bit of human nature that believes suffering should be handed down from generation to generation because even pellucidly positive change is scarier than submission to agonizing norms); of my own apparent inability to make indisputably positive changes in my relationship to my body–to will myself any sort of good; the choking sense of general powerlessness that the world seems to validate at every turn (I don’t know any longer what to sign, support, take time and energy for, write letters about, give money to because the loathing of women by men–culturally, not individually–and the willingness of the powerful to lay waste to EVERYTHING around them feel like things no voice, no chorus of voices can change any longer); my powerlessness to find decent footware (trivial, I know, but irritating as all get out); powerlessness in the face of Alzheimers; powerlessness in the face of almost anything outside my own small, generally privileged, universe, and a not insubstantial amount of powerlessness in the face of my live-in mother’s ongoing decline into extreme fragility and dementia.
The thing is, I was raised to believe that it was not only my job to be powerful (to hold my family together, take care of my mother, make my father feel proud and secure via my accomplishments, to care for my much-younger sister AND get good grades, to charm everyone into going my way, to be beautiful and strong and blah, blah, blah), but to understand myself as powerful and important. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing–I have, in fact, managed to live my life very well, and to an extraordinary extent on my own terms (met my husband when I flounced into his office and informed him breezily that, that in my 2nd semester of college I was going to do him the honor of taking a graduate class he was teaching…), to have my cake and eat it too, much of the time.
Turning 60, if anything, made me clearer about what I had power over and what I didn’t–a good thing more often than not. But the accumulation of wretched outside world news (yeah, I know, the 24 hour news cycle–but it doesn’t account for the rise of the War on Women in American Politics, the rape rates in India, the stubborn continuance of FGM, the resurgence of open racism in the US, or the apparently inexorable destruction of the planet) combined with the serious ding my sense of self has taken from my inability to make things with my mother anything other than barely tolerable for all concerned, and the serious dings to my head from stairs of various sorts have all kind of gotten to me.
And then there’s Lent, which consists, for me, of two not unconnected forms of flagellation. The first is the constant conversation about spiritual discipline(s) in their zillion forms, none of which I have ever found useful or practice-able, and all of which simply serve to remind me of what a lousy Christian I actually am (at least in even the vaguest conventional terms). The second is the brute anticipation of the annual dive into the narrative of the horrific and perpetual agony of a God I believe was so in love with creation that She took on flesh in order to teach us our own divinity. I will not, or can not abide the (for me) repugnant insistence that Christ suffered inconceivable agonies in order to save me, to “save” each human specifically from the eternal consequences (thank you Mr. Dante for giving us all those lovely pictures of Hell and making it vastly the most interesting part of your Comedy) of being part of that same Creation. I don’t get it. I don’t want it. I don’t think anything I could ever give up or take on will bring me closer to a mystery that large, and I can never celebrate it with anything more than half my heart. I wonder how much of the evil that goes on in the world goes on because humans have, in one form or another, absorbed the idea of the scapegoat so thoroughly that they cannot break their individual or collective consciousnesses away from the idea that they should let any one, or any thing else suffer for their comfort/security/eschatological safety net. For me, that Death on the cross was the inevitable culmination of a God taking on the fragility and transience of human life, and that culmination is enough–more than enough mystery for me or any of the great cloud of much-smarter-than-me humans who’ve worked at understanding it specifically and the human relationship to the universe more generally for many millenia.
Here’s the thing, if Christ’s death saved us from our sinful natures, it was kind of a huge failure, because we’re still, 2015 years later (more or less) still cruel, incompetent, ungrateful, vicious schmucks. Except when we aren’t–which is where I see the Incarnation manifesting itself. So Lent is a bummer every year, but not in the spiritual-growth-inducing, productive way it’s supposed to be. And Holy Week is like (forgive me, Wagner fans) like being locked into the barn at Bayreuth and force-fed the entire Ring Cycle along with films of genocides in a hideous marathon.
If I could, I’d be an atheist.
Meanwhile, I remain a biochemically determined fat broad, a congenitally (it’s the only explanation) believing grumpy Christian, a relentlessly self-lacerating failed fixer of myself/others/the world, and a bit of a whiner. That being said, I’m simultaneously pretty sure I live a life full of love and not entirely inconsiderable accomplishment and fun and badassery and art and scenery and friends and about as much security as a rational human can feel. Some days, being an ambulatory oxymoron is kind of fun, others it kind of sucks. Some days I am so full of gratitude for my life (and the fact that my head seems to be holding up pretty well in spite of the staircases of the world) and the deliciousness of it, I barely know what to do with myself. Others, I’m so confused by the muck and mysteries that I’m more or less paralytic. Most days are a combination of both. Which makes me fairly ordinary, right? And since I was raised to believe that extraordinary was the only measure that would justify my existence, dealing with my mere humanity can be a bit of a trial, too. Poor me. I can hear both daughters giving me entirely earned crap even as I type this.
Yeah. So. That’s pretty much this year’s Lent Grump.
Happy Spring, whatever festival you mark it with. Here’s a bunny who manages to be both glorious and a little befuddled/grumpy-looking. Seems appropriate.