Monday, December 20, 2010
I don’t remember a December such as this. The end-of-the-years in my memory are filled with lights and festive feelings. The starkness of the snow outside has always been in sharp contrast to the warmth and luminescent atmosphere inside. This year is different. My mind has been elsewhere, focused on my studies to the exclusion of everything else. At the same time there has been a feeling of loss permeating everything like a heavy fog. I know four individuals who have lost a father this month. They range in age from 9 to 49, and yet the absence is razor sharp for each. My heart is where I felt their pain the most, it is an ache that won’t quite leave.
Finding time or inspiration for a blog entry this week seemed out of the question. In our free magazine bin at the Library I happened to glance down and spotted a book called, A Woman in Berlin. The cover was intriguing, so I took it home. Reading the introduction in bed that night I discovered that the diaries were an actual account of an anonymous woman over the course of eight weeks in 1945. I read on, interested to learn more about her. I was then rewarded with this quote: ‘My sole concern as I write these lines is my stomach. All thinking and feeling, all wishes and hope begin with food.’ There it was, like the clink of a shovel when it hits buried treasure. Yet I didn’t know how I was going to use this sentiment to inspire my own work. December is a time for food: eating and relishing, tasting and savoring. Plates and stomachs are often full, at least it seems that way to me. In some ways this is our gift to others: jars of homemade granola, bags of roasted nuts and tins of cookies. We also try to extend the bounty to other families by giving to local organizations. Everyone should be full this time of year, on good cheer as much as good food.
Still I didn’t find this quote to be the inspiration I was looking for, so I kept on reading. After a few pages I found it, the connection I had been seeking: ‘My stomach was fluttering… I felt the way I had as a schoolgirl before a math exam—anxious and uneasy, wishing that everything were already over.’ This is exactly how I feel about my thesis. There are butterflies inside my tummy who have taken up permanent residence. I think they’ve made themselves at home there, with a picket fence and a cute little handpainted mailbox. At all hours of the day I am anxious and nauseous, the thought of failing has me so paralyzed my fingers can’t often find the right keys. Then I try to put it all in perspective. The narrator of the book’s introduction illuminates a bit of the woman’s writing process when he says, “When a more permanent order was restored she was able to copy the contents of her notebooks on a typewriter.” My words aren’t a matter of life and death, and I am fortunate enough to be writing at a computer where I can revise and edit to my (or my advisor’s) heart’s desire. I am so lucky in so many ways. Maybe I should be thankful for my butterflies, they mean I care about my work. Heart or stomach, I feel just as deeply with each.
When I was about three or four months pregnant with T, I noticed that the space between my hip bones had filled out enough so that if I could tie a string across my stomach it would lie taught against my skin instead of sagging. I had always been skinny, and suddenly I wasn't. But I was pregnant, so I felt no compulsion to diet, exercise, or worry. Now I am not pregnant. I will never be pregnant again (knock wood). My non-pregnant weight is at the highest it's ever been. I'm not overweight, but I can't find myself in People magazine, or in any of the Boston Legal episodes we rent from Netflix. I can buy clothes off the sales rack at the local department store, but if I watch too many Hollywood movies featuring women who wear size two I start wondering if I'll ever attract the attention of construction workers again. Not that I enjoyed being, you know, objectified as I walked down the sidewalk, but on certain days a few pointed glances could really lift my mood. Now I make bargains in my head. If I eat salad for lunch I can have a cookie, or five, after dinner. If I manage to go for a run in the morning (back in the days when we woke to at least a balmy forty degrees) I can have a second helping of pasta. I wager, I stretch my neck in the mirror, I run up and down our stairs an extra time or two, and I misapply a virtuous patina to the physical sensation of hunger. What am I so afraid of? Other people's opinions. Embarrassment. That if I am overweight people won't think I'm smart. I know with my head that as long as I'm healthy it doesn't matter what I weigh, but my gut reaction to my current reflection is an internal grimace. I have digested the social concept of beauty: skinny. Kind've makes me want to throw up.
Ruben's women don't look like they worry about the overconsumption of ice cream and rum cake. They look delighted with their dimpled bellies and their thighs that could grip the breath out of their enemies. Botticelli's Venus - the string between her hip bones would certainly stretch to its limit. These ladies should be my vision of ideal, not the slips of girls holding their breath between the pages of glossy magazines or the leggy creatures on the screen who rely on generous cameras and a team of beautifiers for their looks. My stomach is not the enemy. Cupcakes are not the enemy. There is no enemy on the battlefield strewn with waistbands of the past. There is only perception. I always planned to grow old gracefully and cheerfully. I'm going to be one of those nutty chicks with a long gray braid who rides a motorcycle to the bingo game. To be graceful while growing out, too - that's a challenge, but one necessary to my sanity. It's bloody exhausting to mentally keep a running tally of consumed food. I've got other stuff to think about. Like the rum balls I plan to make, and eat, for Christmas dessert.