Sunday, November 05, 2017


I love dictionaries. I said that to David Meltzer once and he asked - which one? It never occurred to me there was a difference. I longed for my own OED but now they don't print them anymore. It's all on line.
There were years when I mostly read in bed during whatever amount of time I had before sleep took me. If I came across a word I didn't know I'd get up, go to the living room and look it up. Sometimes. I couldn't always push the covers away.
I just finished a book by John McPhee. His writing makes everything interesting for me. A whole book about Oranges! In the new book he writes about writing in terms of his career, editing, reasons for a given topic. He started thinking about oranges because he stopped at a fresh squeezed orange juice machine regularly and noticed changes in the color. I love that. In a sentence describing his reaction to a certain fellow he used the word horripilation. These days I reach for my phone and am always a bit surprised when the word appears after a few letters. It's one reason I might like a Kindle. You just click on the word. You stay under the covers in any case. McPhee has been gifting me new words for years.
I just watched the new documentary about Joan Didion. She's gifted me new words, specifically meliorative. After looking up the word there is the effort to use it in your life. I remember walking around with that word in my head waiting for a reason to use it. After a while the word is there whether I use it or not.
When I was in college I spent a lot of time with two young women. They made fun of my 'big words'. I didn't really know what they meant. I wasn't doing anything on purpose. Even worse was the time in my MFA program when a young man asked me why I used so many SAT words. Somehow I thought people who were trying to be writers might share my love of new (to me) words. Another person in the program felt that words that were too obscure made things too hard for the reader. Imagine the expletives that came to mind. 
Chiaroscuro was the last word that caught me. I think it must have been in something by Ferrante. I made a sticky and hung it on my desk. It's not a word that I can imagine using but it does come to mind when I look at Kristina's photos. It stuck with me because it's just so beautiful. I'm not sure horripilation will stick with me. I don't have the experience.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Years ago a friend read a draft of my book and noticed that I hadn't written any of my abuse story. There were a few reasons. One of which was it would have hurt the mommie. I wasn't just protecting her. I was protecting me from her reaction. She was not great with emotional complexity. And when I told a favorite aunt, she didn't believe me. It ruined our relationship.
There are so many repercussions from abuse. For me there was the bolt to my nervous system when the physical act occurred. And the mad scramble in my mind trying to understand what had happened and trying to deny it. It messed with my sense of my ability to understand experience. It gifted me a nagging inner drone of self doubt. And then there was wondering why the people around me didn't know. I know my behavior changed. My doubt was augmented by the sense that I wouldn't be believed. I never regretted not telling the mommie. I paid a price for not telling but I feel like I might have paid a different kind of price if I had.
For so many years I told people moments after I met them. My feeling was that it was obvious there was something wrong with me and if they knew they would understand. I didn't have the money to do therapy but I read books. So many books. Trying to understand myself. Trying to free myself.
We're in the 'me too' moment. I think it is powerful and important but I also am not sure that it will create change. There are so many moving parts to any abuse story. Stories in the news currently focus on the work place in which it's really always about power. In my story it was about a profound lack of understanding. There may have been elements of power but it was really someone who just thought he was being playful and loving. I'm not trying to minimize what he did, or rationalize. I do not forgive him. I am however very clear that he cared about me. The way he expressed that care was confusing and harmful and wrong.
I worked in restaurants and hung around rock and roll bands. The double entendres flew and I was better at them then many of the men. The line between an inappropriately sexualized environment and an Eros playground should be drawn with care. Even in those worlds we all sensed when things had crossed the line and we often blanched together.   
It's not like there was just one abuse story in my life. There are always a million stories in most women's lives. And there was another reason I didn't write about it. I'm fat. My book is a memoir about growing up fat in the particular time in history. It was a time full of pop psychology and quick fix solutions. There is an idea that abuse and weight gain are connected. And maybe they are sometimes. But it's not useful except in very individual and personal ways. In my case I was fat before the abuse. I was fat after the abuse.
I will say that I thought someone wanting to be with me romantically would be a function of something miraculous and that was about my weight. For years I thought that if someone did want me the weight would magically fall off my body. There is an intersection of abuse stories and internalized weight oppression. But, again, it's very individual and very personal and so often overly underlined.
In some ways being fat gave me a way to pass through the world of men with out fear. I wasn't sexually important so they didn't act out around me. They confessed and confided and trusted the way I made it all OK. I didn't always make it OK but looking back I sometimes wonder if I slipped into a need to make things easy for them. And that most certainly comes from the struggle to accept the abuse.
I often feel that life is about holding conflict in a way that doesn't minimize offence and doesn't allow erasure of the offender. We have to understand each other. However, it isn't my job to do the work for my offender. The abuse had a terrible impact on my sense of self and my relationships. It's my job to hold what happened to me. At 64 I feel like I have things in a good place but I'm not really sure if that's true or if I somehow believe it doesn't matter any more.
I've been annoyed by men wanting to add their abuse stories. They need their own #. The process needs to be specific before it can be universal. And I wish I'd see some kind of # from men trying to understand how they are complicate.
For me, #metoo is about breaking silence. Would I be breaking my silence if the mommie were still here? Probably not.
As I am writing this I feel I am being too cerebral. I don't actually feel cerebral but I save my rage and grief and confusion for the spaces in which I feel entirely safe. There aren't many of them.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Heart

The first time I saw him he was sitting behind the desk in the poetry office of my small college. He was back-lit by a window that was not exactly stained glass but had some kind of filter or color. His head was turned and he was looking up. He had an aquiline nose and soft brown curls around his shoulders. It was like a pre-raphaelite portrait. My heart stopped. It's a moment I will never forget.
He taught a class at the college, which I took. It was interesting. There was never any energy between us. He didn't even seem to want to be my friend which was not something I experienced very often at that time. I wasn't exactly in love. I was ... I dunno. Compelled. I wanted to connect.

We walked out of a restaurant in SF and my friend pointed out that he was standing a few feet away. His hair was longer and white but otherwise he looked the same. Just. Beautiful. I said his name. I said, you don't recognize me do you? He didn't but he smiled.
Right before all of that I'd heard the story of a friend who had an aneurysm a few feet from where we stood. Her partner's eyes filled with tears as she told me. Waves of memory shook me on that corner.

I don't really claim anywhere as home.  I grew up in my grandparents house being told the mommie and I were lucky to live there. We were always going to move when the mommie could afford it. We had a small apartment for a few years and then moved to a house in Maryland when the mommie married K. When I graduated from high school I rambled around. Landed in Colorado for a long time. And then New York and SF. Everywhere felt temporary. But in SF I felt home. I felt congruous and right. I didn't leave because I wanted to and ... you know. Like the song says. I left my heart.
He didn't turn out to be the love of my life. San Francisco is not my home no matter how it feels. I can't even imagine how I could be there again.
So. I'm back in my nest. I do love my nest. Baring unforeseen circumstance I should be here for what's left of my life. It feels like my home. I've made it my home. To the extent that I am able to feel at home. It just doesn't come naturally.
But my heart ...
I've always given my heart too easily. To men who didn't really want it. To organizations and beliefs in which it never fit. To jobs that barely noticed when I left. I was always willing to lay it down.
I often refer back to that conversation between Moyers and Parker Palmer. You can watch it here. It feels relevant all these years later. In it he articulates a notion of the tragic gap.

"The tragic gap, and I call it tragic not because it's sad. It is. But more fundamentally because it's an inevitable part of the human condition.
Tragic in the sense that the Greeks talked about it. Tragic in the sense that Shakespeare talked about it. The tragic gap is the gap between what's really going on around us, the hard conditions in which our lives are currently immersed, and what we know to be possible from our own experience."

He talked about it especially in the context of middle age and depression.

"I was living by oughts that weren't mine to act out. I mean, there are a million oughts in the world. There's a million ways in which I ought to be serving the world. But the ways I'm gifted to serve and the opportunities that come to me to serve are not a million. They're more like one, two, three, four dozen over the course of a 70-year journey."

We drove back into the Gorge through a cloud of smoke from the fires that were still raging. It was unnerving. I never felt at risk but it's unnerving to be so close to so much damage. We had a few days of rain and things seem to have calmed down. But now there are worries about landslides.

Two moments now. Two that organize around a man who doesn't remember me. I don't even mind. It's just my heart. It's on a corner in North Beach.
I mean. I'm here in my nest. In the chair by the window with a book. The sun making me woozy. The nest smells like peaches and tomatoes. There are dahlias and marigolds on the counter. I'm fine.
But my heart...

"Because if you don't have a capacity to hold the tension in your heart between reality and possibility then you're just going to give up eventually."

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


The bulk of this post is the one I mentioned having finished a few weeks ago. I don't really try to match my writing with current events but this one is a personal dump and had nothing to do with what felt like very important events of the day. Ironically this week because of the flooding in Houston there is more news that connects to my post. There was on photo in particular that felt like a gut punch. In it a group of older women in what looks like night gowns are sitting wast deep in flood water. There is reporting about their eventual rescue but that photo haunts me. They look so alone and vulnerable. It was always one of my biggest fears. The mommie and I being stranded in some kind of disaster. Me not being able to take care of her.  

I think a lot about care giving. Both in terms of individual care givers and care facilities. I've been saying that I feel like my grieving process for the mommie is relatively normal. It's cyclical. Rises and falls. Sometimes a tight circle that keeps me on the verge of tears for days. Sometimes wide. Days go by. But my feelings about so many things that happened during her last few years always feel like they're right under the surface.
The first "senior village" the mommie moved into seemed really nice. She was still in great shape. Active, alert. Her husband was at first but there was evidence that he had a few mini stokes and he was slowing down. They lived in a sort of town house. Small in comparison to how they had been living but a nice size. There was a dining room in a building a short walk from their place and a hair salon. Handy men. Grounds keepers. There was an assisted living section with limited medical care but nothing for dementia or Alzheimer's. It worked quite well for a few years but I knew she was worried about what would happen to him if she passed first. That combined with boredom and a love of change caused her to move to the next senior community.
Senior communities may have assisted living and memory care but many are just enclaves for older people who are still independent. The second place was extremely expensive to enter but promised levels of care that should have carried the resident all the way through any aging process. They were new and developing. Mom's cottage wasn't quite finished when they first moved in. She loved it. She was still active and alert. Her husband's decline continued and one night, after they'd returned home from a day of doctor visits and dining out, he fell down and never got back up.
She was there another two or three years and her decline began. She made the choice to leave but not happily. As we drove away she stared at her little home and I knew she was afraid and sad. I held her hand but I couldn't really comfort her. She had to let go of so much. Furniture. Memories. Friends.
The big problem with the second place was that even though they had the facilities to care for her they didn't have a system to track her decline. She was neither willing nor able to make choices about her care needs and they weren't watching. I was but I lived on the other side of the country.
I managed to get her to stop driving by having temper tantrums when she did. I interviewed home health care so I would have them at the ready and tried to set some systems in place but that last year was nerve wracking. And when I arrived for what I thought was a visit I saw that things were not good. By then she'd made the choice to leave but I still cringe when I think of that last year on her own.
I chose the first assisted living place in Hood River in too much of a rush but I feel like I might have chosen it even if I hadn't been in a rush because the apartments were bigger. It was horrible. The second was wonderful by comparison but fraught with the same problems of all the other places. Under-staffing. Not great food. In many ways all these placed say here's a facility, here's your options. But they don't handle the transitions from one level of decline to the next very well.
To be fair, it's hard. The mommie was independent and stubborn. Determined to do things her way and not really able to see what she could no longer do. As much as I wanted her to do the things I needed her to do I hated messing with her autonomy. And institutions are rightly not permitted to mess with someone's autonomy.
Most of the individual care givers were great but there were problems. We were very lucky to have Mandy as her main care giver other than me. But she was in a facility. And by the end Mandy and I did all the care. We had very little help from the facility.
You understand from the beginning that if the care needed is more than the facility can provide you will need to move. My mother was (essentially) evicted from the last two places she called home. She was very sick both times. That is one of the things I cannot let go off. The meanness of that fact. The first place was actually mean. The second was not. I feel they just panicked. But the fact is she had no where to go except for the nest. The nest is a perfect size for me. Not as much for both of us. Twice I had to turn my small sanctuary into a nursing home. Several times I looked for a larger place we could move into. But I couldn't care for her alone and the cost of home health care is off the chart.
Most of these places are well intended but they are all a bit of a scam. It's really hard to predict the ageing process. Sudden decline is unexpected and often confusing. I always felt like I was playing catch up with the mommie in terms of my understanding of where she was at. I was there enough to notice subtle changes but caregivers who aren't supposed to spend much time with any given person may miss things. Even physical changes sneak up on you. If Mandy hadn't been with the mommie five days a week and had such familiarity with her body things would have been missed.
In the example of the second place the mommie chose they offered so much but didn't really have the resources to fulfill those promises. Despite the huge amount of money she paid to get in and the huge amount she paid every month the more she needed the longer her bill got. Five dollars for the nurse to stop by and check a bandage. Twenty for the guy who did her shopping. On and on. If you're in good shape when you go in and die before you get too sick (in mind or body) then it's all good. But the more care you need the more you pay. Which is why I will always think of assisted living as a scam.
There was one extremely difficult event when the mommie was still in her house in NC. She had fallen in the bathroom and there was a huge mess. I called for help and two of the snottiest girls I've ever met came. They did the bare minimum and left me to try and get her settled, clean up the mess and we had just returned from shopping. The car door was open and there were bags strewn through the kitchen. I remember thinking that if I had walked past that situation as a stranger I would have tried to help. The lack of kindness was infuriating. I have a long list of moments of kindness in my experience of trying to take care of her but the moments when a "it's not my job" attitude prevailed were so shocking that they haunt me.

I don't know why this gets stirred up in me. I wrote most of this before I saw the picture of the women in the water so it wasn't that. Today is just a bad day.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Words. No words.

I had finished a post a few weeks ago and was about to post when Charlottesville happened. I never listen to the president. He's never said anything useful or interesting. I also know the news I watch will pull stuff and replay it if I ever miss anything of any import. But I listened to the repulsive news conference in which he talked about "both sides." Dumbstruck. Not surprised but dumbstruck. Twitter and Facebook exploded. I retweeted and shared but I couldn't form my own words.
There are times when I am wary of being part of the noise. Opinion is the new opiate of the masses. People talk about silence being consent. I'm not sure about that. I think there are always people doing great work quietly in the background. I'm not doing anything really. I'm just always wanting to find the most useful conversations.
And. Sometimes ya just got to vent. If you come to my nest I will vent. I will prattle and sputter and spit and tirade. But I can't always form a thought that feels useful. There's so much (understandable) rage. It knocks me back. Makes me feel hyper-vigilant and wary. A few weeks went by and the storm did not abet. It just got wilder. It's hard to say it got worse because it's such a sustained horror. A dull ache.
The eclipse seemed to lighted things up. People were upbeat. And then he said something stupid. I don't even remember what. This weekend is (and should be) about hurricane watch and he drops a few bombs into the fray. It's. Just. So. Wrong.
I don't know how you stay grounded with this much fury always being stirred up.
I'm reading a novel set in the Nigerian civil war and the birth of Biafra. The stories are about individuals but the politics are always hovering. The radio is always on waiting for news. But life keeps chugging along. People get married. Babies are born. Anniversaries and birthdays are celebrated. The school year starts. Someone quits a job. Someone finds a job.  Someone gets a new car. People lose loved ones. Funerals and graduations and life just chugs along. But always hovering are the politics of the time.
Every morning I hope for the turn around. Articles of impeachment have been filed and are ignored. In Houston today nobody has time to think about pardons and rights and outrage.
I keep trying to find usefulness.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Roxane. Sigh.

I've been mildly obsessed with Roxane Gay. It started after the This American Life episode. (My post about that here.) But I became aware of Roxane Gay much earlier because she was on MHP a few times. (I really miss that show.) She was always smart and charming and fun. If she had reason to call out a diversity list she always included fat.
She's every where right now. On radio. In magazines and news papers. She was in Portland the other night. So close and yet so far.
I wrote a long post about her and then deleted it because I found examples of her saying things that knocked down my concerns. Really smart things. It's tough because the articles about her memoir call out the things that are the hardest for me to take in. There's what she wrote and there's how people are talking about what she wrote. It is hard for me to accept the narrative of getting raped and then getting fat. Not hard to accept that it happens but hard to have them causally linked.
Fat women get raped too. I remember hearing the story of a fat woman who reported her rape and was told by the police that they didn't believe she was raped because of her weight. Eventually, they took her to the hospital where she over heard the doctors arguing about who would have to do the exam. It's an old and worn out idea that gaining weight protects women from sexuality. But it is an idea that more than one woman has embraced. Roxane knows that the weight isn't really going to protect her but she still sees her body as a self generated fortress.
I'm not being critical of her. I'm critical of the ideas but I've held them. I was always fat so I don't have an event that caused me to become fat. But in my young adult life I believed if I got clear I'd get thin. It would just happen. And I believed that my weight was generated by bad psychology and fear. I thought true love might melt it off.
One of the words she uses a lot is nuance. She is a fan of nuance. Me too.
In a way the rape almost grants her a kind of understanding for her weight. Like she had an understandable reaction to the wounding. And her repeated acknowledgment of wanting to be thinner makes her a good fat person. I really want to be clear about what I'm saying. She was being trolled by fat haters before the memoir. I don't know if it's worse but she still gets trolled be fat haters. She isn't having an easy time of it. But there is a way in which the narrative about her is about the rape and ... that's why the fat. It's slippery and not useful.
I'm obsessed because her book and her experience is driving a conversation about life in a fat body right now and it's frustrating for me. It's her story and I can't pick it apart looking for faulty reasoning. I can (I am) but that seems like bad faith. I feel a lot of the things she does. I also think the size acceptance movement is (somewhat) driven by younger smaller fat woman. They buy clothes at Torrid and pose with pizza and it's all so ... what ever. She thinks the acceptance movement is important but she can't get there.
I hate acceptance. Why should I have to work to accept something so fundamental about who I am? My project is to up root all the internalized body oppression I've been FED all of my life including today. (Lefty news woman making sure everyone knows she's always on a diet.)
When Roxane was being interviewed by Terry Gross she was asked why she didn't get bariatric surgery. In the book she talks about having met with a doctor to discuss it and making the (very wise) choice to not do it because ... (I'm paraphrasing) it's dangerous and it doesn't work. I was taken aback by the question. I mean. Is that just the thing that people do now? Not join a diet club or a gym? Just get your body hacked?
Roxane is said to be brave because she wrote this book. I think she's brave to go through the process of thinking about her fat body in public. I want to be supportive. I want her to get to where she wants to be, not where I want her to be. And...she is thinking about her fat body in public. I could quote twenty insightful things she's said that are so important about life in a fat body. She has a great analysis of how the culture impacts our lives. And then twenty that make life in a fat body sound so horrible that you imagine people running to join a gym.  I want deeper analysis. I want surprising attitudes. I want new ideas. She's often pretty good at those things.
I wish we could uncouple the rape narrative from the fat body narrative. Always. I realize it's a truth. But it's not the truth and, again, it's not useful. I wish we could uncouple the food and exercise narratives from the fat body narrative. It's (pardon the expression) too broad a brush.
One of the things that influenced me to own the fact of my body was a line from a Frank Zappa song.
"there will come a time when you won't even be ashamed if you are fat." Startling idea. Rocked me to the core. I decided to work on getting there. I feel like Roxane is not exactly ashamed of her body. It's more complicated and ... nuanced. But when I was reading the book I often wanted to grab her and beg her to put on something brightly colored and go out to dinner with me. Let's talk too loud and eat too much. Let's be who we want to be and not have a thought about the size of our ass. And if people are asshats let's roll our eyes and smile.
There may come a time ...

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Grandmom's Chair

I have my Grandmom's chair in the library. And the footstool that my uncle made. My aunt made the needlepoint cover for it. I can picture Grandmom sitting in the chair, feet on the footstool, reading the paper. In my memory she is huge, dominate, not to be messed with and beautiful. White hair and fierce blue eyes. Skin so pale and paper thin.
The other day I was moving some books around. I had pulled the chair out to get to the shelf. When I turned around I realized the top of the chair was at my waist. I have been aware that the chair is smaller than my memory of her in it but standing there it became even more real to me.
I say I am a forth generation fat woman. I am talking about my maternal lineage. The women on my Dad's side were big but not fat. Although they thought they were. They talked about needing to lose weight all the time. They also seemed to think my mother and I were fatter. We were.
Looking at the picture of my great grandmother I see that she isn't exactly fat. She's round. My grandmom was round. They had bellies and breasts and thighs. My grandfather was tall and thin. My aunt took after him, tall and thin. It was a source of frustration for my mother who gained weight eating less than her sister. Genes are a grab bag.
I am fatter than all of the women in my family. I could put Mom's shoes into my shoes. I was a head taller.
Grandmom had no shame about the size of her body. It was just part of who she was. My mother was always trying to change her body. She sat sipping her liquid diet drink while the rest of us had dinner. Grandmom did not approve and she let it be known.
Grandmom had to walk up two flights of stairs to get into her house. She had to walk up one and a half to use the bathroom. For years she went down one to do laundry and carried the basket back up and up another to hang the laundry in the yard. She worked in her garden which was all slope. We walked to the store and the bakery and post office and church. She was on the move all the time.
When Grandmom's bridge club was in session and I came home from school they discussed my weight. At some point Grandmom would grab my arm, squeeze and say, "she's big but she's solid. I was never sure what that meant but it felt like she was saying my body was OK the way it was and no one should think other wise. I know that part of why I experience being fat as just ... my body and not a disease ... is because of my grandmom. I'm big but I'm solid.
I'd be afraid to sit in Grandmom's chair. It's very low and narrow. I'd be afraid I wouldn't fit and I wouldn't be able to get out. But I love it. Mom had it recovered at some point in lovely rose covered upholstery. But I sat in it when I was young.