A Short List of Things That Did Not Kill Me (And Therefore Made Me Stronger, I Guess. No Definitely. Definitely Stronger.)

If you pay attention to such things, you’ll note it has been quite a long time since I wrote here. Blame it on the booze, got you feeling loose. Blame it on ‘tron, got you in the zone. Blame it on the P P P P P P Prozac.

No seriously, blame it on the Prozac. I hardly drink anymore and I don’t know what ‘tron is.

I started taking a little blue pill with my morning coffee more than two years ago, and it has been a cure in all the ways I hoped and in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I was amazed by how much pain I was in, which I didn’t even recognize as pain until it went away, because I’d been living with it for so long. It’s been “a journey,” as they say, although mostly I sat on my couch and thought about things while looking out the window. I am nearly used to myself, now, this properly medicated version of myself, this (according to my latest performance review at work) energetic, kind, calm, generous, courageous, forgiving, resilient, resourceful, curious, friendly, self-preserving rather than self-destructive person who sleeps at night.

So now what?

Part of this “journey” (which I took on my couch) has been facing and doing things that have previously terrified me. Terrified me in the way being told to brace while your plane goes down, or seeing a shark fin in the water while you’re swimming far from shore, or waking up in a dark hotel room and realizing there’s a stranger standing at the foot of your bed would. No casual nervousness for this girl. No, I’m talking, “I’m gonna die, aren’t I?” levels of fear.

What were these harrowing tasks and incidents? Let’s review:

My favorite writer got mad at me, blocked me on social media,  and wrote a mean comment on this blog. Back in November of 2016 I wrote a post about how a story in author Jennifer Weiner’s collection, Hungry Heart, hurt my feelings (it’s here if you want to read it). Make no mistake, I LOVED JENNIFER WEINER and MY LOVE FOR HER is why the little story she told (in which she characterized my profession, advertising, as a place where shills go to sell crap to vulnerable citizens) gave me the spiritual ouchies. She could have done any number of things. For example, nothing. She could have done nothing. She could have written to me and thanked me for being a fan who BOUGHT HER BOOKS IN MULTIPLE FORMATS AND ALSO MULTIPLE COPIES THAT I GAVE TO FRIENDS and, I don’t know, said she was sorry my feelings were hurt? Instead, she blocked me on all social media (Sure. Fine. Whatever.) and sent me a note about my butt being hurt via a comment on this blog (which is below this post, if you want to read it). I was hotly embarrassed by this, and low-key devastated, because I honestly LOVED HER BOOKS AND DEEPLY RELATED TO THEM, and I had always dreamed Jennifer Weiner might blurb a book I’d write some day. I was also disappointed, because I kind of did think if Jennifer Weiner and I ever met we’d be friends. And I enjoyed her Twitter, and miss it. But I did not die.

I applied for a writing residency and was rejected. The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts introduced a new residency this year, designed especially for New York State working parents with a dependent child at home. I have always wanted to attend a writers’ residency, and Saltonstall is a beautiful colony located in Ithaca, NY, home to Cornell, gorges, waterfalls, and many adorable little shops. So I prepared my packet and included my writing sample — 20 pages from the novel I have been “working on” since 2013 — and in return was sent a polite letter (take note, Jennifer Weiner!) letting me know I didn’t make the cut. I was disappointed by this, and frustrated. I cried about it. But I did not die.

I stopped dieting and decided to live a full, rich life in the body I have.  Hey, so, I’m fat. I’ve been thinner than I am now and fatter than I am now, but I’m fat and have been fat since I was…uh, always? I’m also Type 2 diabetic since 2005, when my gestational diabetes decided to take up permanent residency in my body even after my daughter was born. Fat is an adjective that describes a body, like tall does. And diabetes is a chronic illness attributable to genetics, environment, and other factors. Neither is a reflection of how good a person I am, my value in the world, or how much love and respect I do or do not deserve. I know this, because I spent an excruciating 6 months working with Isabel Foxen Duke, powerful force for good and lodestar of food and body sanity, learning about the science of diets, diet culture, body respect, intuitive eating, and getting off the crazy train of misery I’d been riding since I was 11 and put on Weight Watchers for the first time. Through my work with Isabel, I have found a kind of peace and self-respect I never thought was available to me. I Marie Kondoed the hell out of my closet, got rid of all the clothes that pissed me off, and bought fabulous new clothes that fit. I started exercising regularly, because it feels good to move around. I started eating exactly what I want (which is sometimes fried chicken and sometimes salad and sometimes fried chicken ON a salad), and monitoring my blood sugar carefully to make sure I stay within healthy ranges. I cut off all my hair and now rock a pixie inspired by a French model. I travelled to Europe, to Vienna, Austria, a place I have always wanted to go, because my family is Austrian and Billy Joel has been telling me Vienna waits for me since I was a child. I have stopped waiting for my real life, the life in which I am finally thin enough, to begin. This process has been rife with grief. It has been painful. It has been unaccountably frightening. I hated a lot of it. But I did not die.

I stopped writing the novel I’ve been “working on” since 2013. The book I’ve been thinking about and puttering with for six years is called Rom-Com Rehab, and it’s the story of two best friends, one of whom saves the other from a rock-bottom self-destructive depression by designing a rehab program based on tropes from romantic comedies. There’s a lot of material about mythology and how modern female characters are avatars for ancient goddesses. Some funny scenes about working in television. A bakery/bookstore. And a bit with a dog. It’s a big, sprawling thing, heavily influenced by Wally Lamb, who I idolize and who has never said anything mean about my butt (take note, Jennifer Weiner!) But honestly, that book as it currently stands is a wail of desperation and rage tinged with vengeance, filled with coded messages to people I don’t want to talk to anymore. So I’ve officially abandoned it, by which I mean I no longer angrily berate myself about being a loser and a quitter and a coward who can’t finish anything for not writing it, and instead lovingly encourage myself to think about other things I might write. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday, with new eyes, a different approach, an untangled heart. With the right intentions. But for now, I’m letting it go. And I didn’t die.

I’m turning 50 in April. It’s a birthday, like any other, but it feels like a waypoint. A moment for deciding what’s next. And for me, what’s next is knowing I am moving in the right direction, amongst friends I can trust, including myself. Realizing the things I fear are far less powerful than my ability to face them. Understanding cake is not the enemy. Acknowledging Jennifer Weiner is fighting her own battles that have nothing to do with me (and if I ever do write a book, I’m definitely including, “SO BUTT HURT! -Jennifer Weiner” as a blurb). And believing even if I lose ground, make a mistake, don’t get what I want, or someone is a jerk to me, I will not die from shame or rejection.

There’s always another writer to love, another residency to apply for, another self-limiting belief to dissolve, and another story to tell. And so, what’s next is new stories. Told honestly. Without regret. A place in the world I don’t have to ask permission for, but instead can inhabit wholeheartedly, sure I will fail sometimes, and equally sure I will survive it.

 

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