Today is my anniversary. The clock moves on, pages pulled from calendars, life moves on, people move on. But dates remain, along with the people for whom they mean something. This date means something to me. But not to anyone else. Not anymore.
And so the day goes on. Lisa is at a funeral. I am at work. I’d be at the funeral too, but today is the last day of mid-term exams, and the last day before the winter break. Taking off today was simply not going to happen. People move on.
Bob was a friend. A radical in the style, location and times of the Chicago Seven, a musician, a photographer, and political activist, Passover and Hanukkah at our house, jam sessions – his funeral is today. Cancer. Everyone seems to die of cancer. Ryan wondered what to do with his anniversary with Joyce, after she died. He didn’t have to wonder long. He died a week ago just about two years after she did. Cancer. He is no longer worried about his anniversary, how it will feel when it comes around, how it feels when it’s here, whether to mention it, not mention it, toast it, ignore it. Bob was older. Early 70s. Ryan was in his 40s.
And I’m in my 50s now. Late 50s. I was in my mid 40s then, when I first wondered what to do with this date. Lots of people have died since then. But not me. So I’m still wondering. Like my father wondered. His father, too. Now, no more wondering.
And wondering how much longer I will feel this way. How much longer will this date still have this charge? If the answer is for the rest of my life, how much longer will I still wonder what to do with it?
I’m not looking to leave anytime soon, but I do want to know what to do. How to notice it, and give its proper due without tripping over it, without ignoring it, which I could not do. Would not do. Would not want to do. Could not forgive myself if I did.
Category Archives: psychology
What’s in a name? For a rose, very little. Roses don’t care. But people. People care, and why would they not? Identity, history, connection, and potential futures can come and go with a mis-identification, mis-recognition,or mis-spoken name. Names have power. Names have weight.
But old patterns die hard. They weigh more. Life changes, but old patterns don’t. The brain changes but the patterns are still recognised. Still followed. They are the watercourse.
Know a girl since you are fifteen, marry, have children, grow older, support each other, change with each other, be happy, develop patterns of speech, strings of words, ways of communicating, watch her die. Old patterns – they don’t die.
Life is relentless. Keep promises. Be happy. Grow. Change. Love again. Love well. Love fully and completely. Be happy together. And, always, yet, the danger of the old pattern. The name. The slight halt before the saying. The self-check. The nearly unconscious pattern of words as it nearly slips out. Nearly, corrected. Not always. Not even often. But sometimes. And sometimes, even seldom, is enough to give wary pause always.
Don’t make the mistake, though, sometimes the name is half-out before you catch it. Don’t make the mistake, though sometimes you know you must have. Hope you have not, but know you have. No one deserves that.
Food is a pain in the ass. I understand it isn’t supposed to be, but it is. And I understand how ungrateful I sound saying so. Food is necessary, I know, but I like to think it isn’t. That it doesn’t need to be.
I think I hate food, actually. I’d say I hate food except when I’m eating it, but that isn’t true. I hate food even when I’m eating it. I hate food even when I’m enjoying it. I know that enjoyment is thoroughly transitory and, unless my food it is perfectly chosen and portioned, it will be followed by regret, guilt, rapprochement, and replays of all choices I could have made better, with each imperfect choice a failure of my character.
I’d happily eat a “chow” instead, or food pills, and be done with it. The chow could come in cans, like dog food. Not that horrendous stuff but something like Merrick’s. Merricks has flavours like Granny’s Pot Pie, Cowboy Cookout, Brats and Tots. We used to feed Dusty Merrick’s and, once, when my son opened a can for her, he looked at his mother and asked, “Why don’t you ever cook anything this good.” She had no answer. Mostly because he was right. And there was everything Dusty needed there, made with the best of ingredients, in just two cans a day. Why can’t I have that? Why can’t I have that simplicity and security?
I’ve tried shakes and such but the results are less than positive after a few days. Troublesome. Uncomfortable. I’ve gone as much as a week, and didn’t get out much, other than to work, after day three. I’ve also tried simply not eating. Eight days is as far as I ever got. Just didn’t want to eat. Eight days and I finally relented. People began to notice. Not in my face or clothes, but just noted they hadn’t ever seen me eat or refer to any meals. This is what happens when people love you. They notice things. Sometimes I think that is a good reason to be alone.
I had actually planned on going much longer, and in my head didn’t think anyone would notice at all. That I could go a month and no one would notice. That was my plan. A month. Longer.
Planning, choosing. Worrying. Food is never simple. So much of it is obviously crap, and I don’t want to eat that. And there are so many diets to choose from. Even when one dismisses the idea of a diet as specifically for weight-loss, the number of ideas of how a person should eat are staggering and contradictory. How to choose? They all can’t be right.
Michael Pollan says we worry about diets far too much. “Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.”And “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it is made in a plant, don’t.” Those are his rules. They should be easy to follow, but planning any meal shows they are not. This is why I tend to just eat the same thing again and again, even though I am a more than adequate and inventive cook who can plan rather nice meals for friends and family when occasions calls for them. For other people, yes. For myself, I’m happy to do the same thing for each meal, without getting bored, just for the sake of simplicity and to remove the tyranny of choice.
Mornings, if I can just put stuff in a blender and know it’s good for me, I honestly don’t care what it tastes like. Greens, protein/eggs, a nut milk (no dairy unless I want to spend the day with a headache and stuffed sinuses). Done. I can add cocoa powder and stevia. That’s fine. But I don’t have to. No having to make choices, plan, choose, “what do I feel like,” etc…
My mother worked her whole life to lose weight. We are a thick people. Cabbage diets. Liquid protein. Carb free. As long as I can remember, she was dieting. I can’t recall it ever working. She finally lost her extra weight, twelve years into her fifteen years with parkinson’s. She was an exquisitely thin corpse.
I went carb-free, or nearly so, at twelve or thirteen. No more than forty grams of carbohydrates a day. I counted. I don’t remember how much I weighed or how much I lost, but I recall I thought I was still horribly fat. My clothes could not be tight. Nothing could cling. It had to be loose or I would pull at it, stretch it, tug it away, misshape it. I could not stand the feel of it and always blamed it not on the clothes being too small, not on skin sensitivity, but on one thing – I’m, obviously, too fat.
I was 140 pounds. When I see pictures of myself then, I’m astonished how thin I was. What was I complaining about? What could I not have liked about my body? But, then, the answer to that question was “everything.” There was everything not to like, and nothing to appreciate.
Even then, I could not look in a mirror. I pass mirrors and close my eyes. My wife once noticed, when I shave, I lean into the mirror, but close my eyes. Nothing to see here.
Once, a few years ago, a decade, less, I passed a mirror and saw someone I didn’t recognise and thought, since it was a small office, and my office at that, “Nice/Who is that?/Cute” all at once. I remember this so well, and the pile of thought, because within that same moment I realised it was me, and I saw the image shifted into one I could not stand. I could not recapture that moment, that feeling. I can remember it, but can’t feel it. And delusion does not succumb to logic.
In the mid 2000’s, I was in Weight Watchers. I had to lie to get into it. They asked me if I binged or starved. I lied. I binged and purged. Since I was a teen. Certain foods were hooks. Peanut butter. A jar would not last. A bag of potato chips would not make the night unless I froze it. Then it might make a few nights. A tray or box of fried chicken? Gone. Sometimes I’d buy a tub of frosting and eat the whole thing while watching TV. That would make me tremendously sick. I’d tell myself I’d never do it again. Why would I? Then I’d convince myself, a month later, or on a special occasion, that it was ok. I’d rationalise it. I could rationalise anything. That was especially true if it was at night. Nights are dangerous. Every purchase a personal failure.
The best way to handle this was to simply not buy these things. They didn’t come into the house. I finally did manage to learn to do that. But I might get a cookie. Or a roll. Then I’d punish myself by having to run a mile for that cookie. Eat a cookie? Now you need to run. When I couldn’t do that, laxatives. Then, realising that was easier, I’d take laxatives anytime I considered what I did binging – a piece of cake or slice of pie, too much at a potluck. My definition of binging is very liberal.
I hate food-centered events and try to not participate. At work, I stay in my room anytime there will be food involved. I “feel” people are watching what I’m eating, judging. It’s easier to just stay away. Required to attend? I go early, race to get there first, so i can choose an empty table, sit far away, as long as i can sit alone. “There are donuts in the teacher workroom.” That day, I don’t even check my mailbox.
With Weight Watchers, I lost weight. I never got to goal weight though. I did get down to 152. Their charts said I should be 118 to 128. My wife said that would be a ridiculous weight for me – far too thin for my body-type. She, being a doctor, could certify, and did, that my goal was 142. It might as well have been 118, as it was just as unreachable. Food log, pedometer, a scale for me and one for the food, measuring cups, a well-used gym membership. 152. I must have recognised I had done well. I even wrote about the hard work of losing weight, and the success of it. But I still hated seeing myself. The failure of it. Now I look at that and wonder, what was I complaining about? But that’s gone too.
When she died, my weight was 202. A few months later, after I began to look at the world again, I got a membership at a gym that was open 24 hours. I was there when I couldn’t sleep. I was there when I was bored. I was there when I could not stand being in the house, or going home, or going to bed. So I was there nearly as much as I was home. I was there at ten at night. I was there at four in the morning. I was there twice a day sometimes. Work, gym. Work, gym. Presidential debate? Watch it on the treadmill. Show I want to see? Watch it on the treadmill. Lift weights, lift some more. I tore my right deltoid. Keep going. Eating nothing but chicken breasts and vegetables. Keep going.
I got down to 158. I thought it was terrible. When I see those pictures now… What was I thinking? I couldn’t have been thinking. It isn’t possible.
I’m back at the gym. Walking with my fitness watch. Biking. Watching what I eat. Eating. How I wish I could stop that. I gained weight last week. Despite everything. Still gaining. An obvious failure of my character.
I’m told “do this.” Do this, Do that. Try this other thing. Thyroid. Took stuff. No effect. Testosterone. Sorry, in the normal range, even though it’s at the bottom of it (like we are machine that run to the same tolerances and configurations) so none for you. Try this, wait, try that, wait, working at it all the time. And, all the time, walking, biking, lifting, eating. All the time, eating. How much I’d like to cut that last one out. How much I’d like to stop.
I think, maybe,
I’m made of fog,
In the dark,
From afar, look,
Walk through it.
There is no substance.
It dissipates into
Air, the sun rises,
There is nothing there.
Do you remember fogs?
Or a ghost, maybe,
An aggregate of
Used tos, weres
And faint ideas.
Walk through it.
There is no substance.
It dissipates into
Nothing, the sun rises,
There is nothing there.
When no one is around,
Who notices a ghost?
I can hear the angels
Sing songs only the angels
Sing songs of being
Neither here nor there
Angels and those
Close to death
Sing songs often sweetly
Sing songs below hearing
For all those
Neither here nor there
Hearing the songs of
Angels and those
Near to being angels
Sing songs I hear
In my room,
3am, I have woken to
The awe of the black heavens.
the stars are
Filling the sky
On this cloudless night.
I scanned the far reaches,
Clusters, and lone lights,
Galaxies, Nebulae –
The glory of the dark
Whose depths are infinite,
Ineffable. And, all at once,
Only I got to see.
For however many minutes
There was a
Universe of one.
Letter of Resignation
(On my third reading of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse)
Is it really necessary
We live in this hut together?
Isn’t it enough
I gave you my clothes
For the privilege of tending oar?
Can I only find myself
In the eternal now of the river
Always flowing, but never the same?
Must I sit under that tree
For an entire week to find myself?
After a week, I should have found my navel by now.
Must I sit there to
Defeat my demons? Afterall, they are
At my heels no matter where I happen to be.
Grows from mud, I know,
But I want a bath and clean soft towels.
Why can’t I find myself
In a club somewhere,
Meditating in the beat and the groove?
What about the
Constant flow of people and machines,
The never-ending now of the ever-changing traffic?
Why can’t I
Subdue my demons
Over a great meal or between olive thighs?
You snore horribly.