The Gift that Gives

I volunteered to be on a panel for NaNoWriMo at my local writing center (plug for the amazing, free, resource that is the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s William N. Skirball Writers’ Center). Kit Willihnganz, Nyla Bright, Stacey Clemence, and Jason Lady on NaNoWriMo panel

Kit Willihnganz, Nyla Bright, Stacey Clemence, and Jason Lady on NaNoWriMo panel October 19, 2019

I’ve heard several authors I respect talk about how important it is to give back to the writing community by volunteering. Most of those talking about generously giving time are healthy men. I’ve learned to be skeptical of men giving career advice which often works for men but women are punished for following. Men are often viewed as assertive doing the same thing where women are deemed demanding and sharp elbowed. Women are often told they talk too much, even when, as one study showed, they talked less than the men. Women get a constant call on their time, so much so, we often don’t even register the bulk of the service and care work we do.

I also have chronic pain which means sometimes I need to carefully manage my energy resources. Last, by force of how I was raised and the culture I was raised in, I’m horribly bad at the word “no.” I don’t use it when I should. When I do use it and my objection is ignored, I generally surrender without a fuss and stew silently. If you’ve seen me stridently resist demands, you have no idea the mountain I kept my mouth shut about. This means I’m often doing things for others that isn’t in my own personal interest.

Despite my skepticism of the mantra of improving your writing career through service, I was honored the library Writing Center Specialist thought of me. And, I said yes without hesitation or thought. And I don’t regret it. It was a sunny Saturday morning. The audience was small, just those willing to be out of the house at 10 AM, up to facing the horror that is a sunny October day, and committed enough to try to write a novel in a month. The vast majority of the audience was new to NaNoWriMo so our advice, which was mostly obvious to anyone who had done NaNo at least once, was meaningful and well received. Questions were asked, ever the sign you didn’t put your audience into a hypnotic trance.

And the benefit for me beyond getting my ego stroked? I made two new professional contacts and I walked out of the room with two new short story ideas. My gift of time and experience instantly gave back. So, I’m going to try to pocket my belief that the world is out to eat me alive and try to say yes to public speaking opportunities more often, maybe, even — gasp — seek them out.

The Terror of Photographs

Recently I decided it was high time to update my headshots.  First, because I don’t have any professional pictures.  Second, I made another story sale (which I will announce shortly) so I could blow those ill-gotten gains.  Third, because, well, I wanted something to make me look pretty and I know my friend Gwen, a professional photographer, could do that.

Nyla under the hand sculture at MOCA Cleveland

Last week she excitedly sent me some previews and asked if I liked them. She did a lovely job.  I know when I couldn’t say I liked the pictures it hurt her feelings.  I felt shame I couldn’t like myself enough to just tell her I loved the work she did.  I could feel her hurt for me when I explained why I was struggling.

I’ve never been thin.  My son is underweight, so much so I’ve had doctors tell me to feed him daily milkshakes. My parents are thin.  My father was scary thin when he ran marathons.  I’ve been overweight my entire life, even when I did competitive synchronized swimming.  I was fat when I went rock climbing, fat when I hiked the Appalachian Trail, and fat when I crawled through the Pipeline cave.  I have no doubt I was a sight when I went wind sailing.

Nyla at Tacologist looking romantic.When Bill Maher did a recent screed on how fat people should feel shame,  I did.  I felt shame. I felt the same shame I felt when I couldn’t buy my clothing in the Junior section of the department store with the other girls my age.  I felt the shame I did when my parents packed me away to fat camp (the most unhealthy experience with exercise, food, and peer pressure I’ve ever experienced).  I felt the way I did when people look at me in the pool, massive in my swimsuit. It felt the same as knowing my parents were embarrassed by the way I look.  I relived the panic I felt having those recent headshots taken.

It took James Cordon’s response to Bill Maher to shake me free.  James, in a funny, but honestly, pointed way reminded me the problem isn’t a lack of shame.  I’ve been feeling that all along.  More shame wasn’t going to help.

I have a slow thyroid.  I’m at my highest weight right now in part because of Nyla next to MOCA Cleveland.Fibromyalgia.  When pain is bad, it’s hard to do the most basic exercise: walking.  And, push too hard and I can be bedridden for three days of horrible pain.  I could take stronger pain pills, opioids, and I do when I must move on bad pain days to keep commitments.  Before the opioid crisis, my doctor was encouraging me to take the pills to exercise, feeling that being overweight was more dangerous than the risk of addiction or that the pills would become less and less effective, requiring higher and higher doses.  She has, in recent years, come closer to my position on medication.

In my lifetime I’ve been on a LOT of diets: low calorie, low fat, high protein, low carb, grapefruit, cabbage, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, and probably a few I’ve forgotten about.   I’ve done hypnosis.  I’ve done diet pills (most of which are no longer legal they were so deadly).  I’ve had long conversations with my doctors.  I’ve visited nutritionists.  I’ve done that horrible weight loss camp (where every girl but one other was thin and obsessed with getting thinner). I’ve endured comments from my parents.  I’ve endured comments from my in-laws.   I’ve done intensive two hours a day, seven days a week swim training.  I’ve done everything but mutilate my intestinal system with bypass surgery (which I don’t medically qualify for because my blood pressure, glucose levels, and other metrics are too good).

Nyla with a blue and purpble jacket.I used to be able to white knuckle it for a few months but in the end, the weight always came back, plus more.   The crushing shame of being fat never went away, not even at my lightest (which was a size 14 – still safely in “plus-size” according to the fashion world, still obese according to my doctors).

There are very few pictures of me because I’ve always felt monstrous.  That feeling is come by honestly.  It comes from my mother, my father, my in-laws, the stranger who refused to sit next to me on an airplane (when I was far lighter than I am now), the media, every public space that is too small for me, and men like Bill Maher.

You might have noticed I didn’t link to his little piece.  I had been finding his whines about “kids these days” needing “safe-spaces” tiresome.  There is nothing more boring than an old man screaming for the kids to get off his comedy lawn.  Tastes change.  Change with them or become obsolete.  Before that, I was uneasy about the way he spoke about Islam and Muslims.  It felt biased and possibly racist, couched in rationalism.  He seems to have limited tolerance for things outside of his personal experience.  He’s a small man and what he said on his show about fat people was, basically, hate speech.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are bright spots in my life.  Online stores like ModCloth and eShakti now carry more sizes and larger sizes than were ever available in the malls when I was younger.  They make swimsuits in my size (which is a good thing as swimming is one exercise still available to me).  My husband has adored my body in all its shapes and sizes.  And, last year, a wonderful man sat down next to me on an airplane and told me to put the armrest up and “be comfortable.”

I’m trying hard to like myself because we don’t have a way to switch out meat-suits.  I’m working on being OK with what my body will allow and taking in stride that many people close to me, love me as I am.   So as a radical act of self-love: here are my pictures. Nyla writing outside. Hair in a twist.