Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fat and Healthy

I'm fat and healthy.  That's right, you heard me.  Fat and healthy.  I just came back from my physical exam with my medically educated, thin doctor, and after examining my blood work, my body and my interview questions she determined that I am healthy.  Healthy as a fricking horse. I'm also fat, I don't weigh as much as a horse, as a matter of fact I have no idea how much I weigh, but I'm a size 18/20 at 5'7" and I'm sure my number is a good bit over 200lbs, and my BMI...please.

Me, fat and healthy, oh and happy

Maybe you've only heard the words fat and healthy together when describing a baby, or maybe you've never heard them at all.  In either case, it's time you heard that they can be liberally applied.  I'm no anomaly, there are lots of fat and healthy people on this planet.

Even though I've been healthy for most of my life, the sizeism that is almost inherent in the medical community had me believing otherwise for many years.  That same sizeism left me with a deep and abiding shame when I left the medical office of almost every doctor I saw.  Ironically, it also often left me with no help for the symptoms I was experiencing. Symptoms that, guess what, thin people also experienced.

Not today.  Today, I walked out feeling good about my choices and my life.

At the tender age of 3 before putting my toothbrush into my mouth, I looked up at my mother with my big brown eyes and asked, "How many calories is toothpaste?"  This moment is a sad foretelling of my relationship to food and my body for my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

In the sixth grade before a 5" spurt in height, I gained significant poundage.  I remember trying to sneak makeup in to school to disguise my face on picture day, and not being able to look at that photo after it was taken, (even asking my mother to burn every copy), because I couldn't bear to look at that fat cheeked pre teen.

By 7th grade I had visited a nutritionist, who said to me "You wear or rather hide your weight  well, I would never have guessed you weighed this much."  Which I understood was supposed to be a compliment, and I also understood that my weight was something to be deeply ashamed of.

I spent the early years of my marriage prudishly withholding sex from the man I adored and found sexy as hell because I didn't want him to see my body.

As a new mother I agonized over every bite, dismayed that I may become the lady that got fat after the kids.  And I did, I did get fat after the kids, which caused great shame and disappointment in myself and my body.

All of my adult life as I've sought treatment for maladies the first thing a doctor would say before asking me about my diet or exercise or lifestyle at all was, "Well if you'd lose the weight..."

And did I try....  I ate more cabbage soup, limited my fat, increased my "good" fat and watched my carbs, STEP AEROBICed, DANCE AEROBICed, POWER 90ed, ZUMBAed, YOGAed, ran miles and miles,  and still...  I was fat.

While I was running, I got a pain in the top of my foot.  It hurt so badly I thought it might be broken.  I mentioned it to my doctor multiple times, at one point even insisting on an x-ray.  I told him "I started running a while back and this pain developed after that.  It's worse when I run."  He looked me up and down (the look said, "you're a size 18, no way you're running everyday."), looked in my chart (I'm assuming at my weight), and said, "I don't know what to tell you, there's nothing wrong with your foot."  Knowing he was wrong, (I couldn't even tie my shoe at that point from the swelling), I sought out a second opinion.

My world changed.  I went to the new doc, told him about the pain, and the running.  He examined my foot, and said, "This is a really common sports injury, definitely caused by your running.  I'll get you some anti inflammatories, you make sure to take  a week off of running, and it'll will heal beautifully."  He never asked or mentioned my weight.  Never told me my injury was caused by my fat, and I realized that I could have interactions with doctors that were not full of shame, and where they actually helped me.

Fast forward 6 years or so, I hooked up with some ladies who were actively talking about body positivity, and I learned that I had to seek out body positive doctors.  That sizeism and fat bias were extraordinarily prevalent in the medical community, and that I would have to work to find a doctor that was right for me.

I did.  Much like a Bridget Jones novel, I went through a lot of Mr/Ms. Wrongs before I found Ms. Right, but I'm so glad I did.

I'm glad I can go to my doc, have an honest conversation, evaluate my health with her in a judgement free way, and walk out more often than not feeling great about my health and my body.

There is a lot of information about being healthy at any size, and I urge you to seek it out.  As for me, I'm just going to skip along on this sunny day, whistling a merry tune, and loving myself.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Never Stop Improving...Or maybe do

Last week I was asked to sit on a panel by a young professionals group in our community.  The panel discussion was about board service, and the idea was that the panelists (myself included) would serve as mentors for the young professionals interested in serving on boards.

I've been serving on a local city commission for about a year now, and the only other boards I've participated in have been PTO  boards.  So while I had some experience I'm not sure I was necessarily at experience level; mentor.

You're probably thinking, "Well, shit, Angie.  Then why did you agree to sit on this panel?"  I'm still figuring out how to say no.  As one good friend put it, "We feel so flattered that someone asked us to do something, we can't turn it down."  Yep, that's about it.  Also I fed myself some bullshit about how it would be a learning opportunity for me.  It would help me improve.

Well, I got there, shaking in my conservatively chosen nude pumps.  We sat down, and as the organizer introduced each panelist, she put up on the projection screen behind us the list of boards, commissions and organizations we are all part of.  Little did I know that people include any organization they'd ever, even remotely, ever in their life, been associated with. 

You get where I'm going with this.  The other panelists had LONG lists, like really long lists, like Santa's naughty and nice list long.  I had two, the PTO I'm on, and my favorite Facebook group (mind you it's an amazing group that's doing amazing work in the arena of the body positivity movement).  But my list was short.  Embarrassingly short, like so short the organizer made mention of how she was sure I was involved in other organizations short.

After this humiliating introduction came a series of questions I could not fucking answer.  I don't mean when you take a test, and you thought you got a C, but you end up with an A,  I mean, I thought I got an F, but I probably got an F-.  There was one young professional in the audience who after I answered the first question, LITERALLY rolled her eyes every time I began another answer.

I got through it though.  I could put it on my list next time.  That's really what I took away from the experience, that I could put it on my list.

I went home to my family that I had neglected for the evening.  To my husband who had to take off work early and run everyone around to their different appointments and activities, and I thought, why the hell did I do this and how do other people do this?  Two of the panelists had raised families, and I could not understand how they did it, and grew their lists.  I also thought of all of those ambitious, driven young professionals, and I admired them (and was disappointed in myself for not being as ambitious and driven at their age), and thought about all the time they dedicated to learning how to make impressive lists like the ones the other panelists had.  I was left feeling not good enough.  Like I hadn't spent enough of my time improving my list.  But why?  Why did I feel the need to have a long list, why did they feel the need to build their lists, why does anyone feel the need to have a long list?

I only had to look as far as a Lowe's commercial for the answer.

Never stop improving.

That's right.  That's what we're supposed to tell ourselves.  I could be better.  I could be thinner, smarter, faster, more knowledgeable, make more money, get a promotion, be part of more organizations,  be funnier; you fill in the rest.

What if I couldn't? What if I didn't really fucking want to? What if I was already everything I could be?  What if there was no room for improvement? What if I was already good enough?  What if little old me, the dumbass with the two organization list, who couldn't answer the questions, was already good enough?  Even in that moment?

Well guess what?, I was.

I wasn't wrong to spend the majority of my time on my kids.  It's ok that I spent my early twenties dreaming about babies, drinking with friends, taking too long to get my undergrad, getting married too early, instead of attending meetings on board service and how to succeed in the business world.  It's ok that I spent my thirties raising the babies I dreamed about, drinking wine while I watched them play in a wading pool, spending way too much time hanging out with my friends, and helping build a business that had nothing to do with anything I'd ever planned or mapped out for my future.  I was good enough all those days, I was good enough as I fumbled answers on that panel, and I'm good enough today.

Right here, right now as I am.  I don't need improving.  I need to be open to the lessons that come my way, I need to stop glorifying a busy lifestyle, I need to be present in every moment, every joke told by my 3rd grader, every bit of time given to me by my new teenager, every hug my 11 year old curls into.  I don't need to improve, I need to be.  I'm good enough, and you are too.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Know It All

Luke's been dealing with some horrid anxiety as of late.  He's been having full on panic attacks about school work.  He keeps saying that he knows it's only going to get harder, and he freaks about stuff way in the future.

I've been trying to help him by telling him to focus on the moment.  We've been youtubing meditations for anxiety, and practicing our yoga breathing all in an effort to help him find peace.

Mostly though, I've just been telling him to change his mind.  To get in control of it and make the switch when he's feeling anxious.

Grace told me what a crock of shit that was in her usual kind, gentle and wise beyond her years way.

She said, "I don't know, mom.  When I'm having an anxiety attack, I can't just tell myself.  'Grace, take some deep breaths.'"

Did I listen to her?  No.  Well, that's not entirely accurate.  I did listen to her, and I did hear what she was saying, but I thought she was mostly wrong.  Not entirely wrong because I asked him if it would help if his teacher reminded him to breathe, but mostly wrong.

Then today, I felt blue.  Blue for lots of good reasons, but really, really blue.  I also felt a little anxious.  The last thing I wanted to do was meditate, or deep breathe, and I sure as hell couldn't just think on the bright side.

What I did do was eat a cold piece of fried chicken, drink a cup of hot cocoa followed by three mini candy bars, stay in my jammies while I worked, and wallow in the sad, anxious feelings.  And I think that was ok.

I obviously don't have the answers.  Normally I think I do, but I don't.

One of the things I told Luke when he was in the middle of this feeling was that he was allowed to feel whatever he was feeling, but I don't think I really thought he was.

I do now.  I'm going to let him feel whatever he's feeling, and I'm going to feel whatever I'm feeling, and if we find some answers after that, great.  If not we'll keep feeling it.


Divorce is happening all around us.  I don't mean in general, I mean that literally all around us, our inner circle, people are getting divorced.  I know this happens everyday, I know everyone will get through it, and lives will get better, but it's strangely upsetting for me.

Josh and I were talking about one of these divorces, and I started to cry.  I was crying for the wife.  I was crying because I identified with her, and it has been painful for me to see how this has all just "happened" to her.  I think it scared me, I started thinking about how I had no control over whether Josh stayed or left, and not having control is a really hard thing for me to accept.

As we talked and the tears continued to fall, Josh reached over and took my hand, looked at me with great compassion and said, slowly and carefully, "Angie.  I will never leave you.  Never."  This statement, as comforting as it should have been at the time, just wasn't.  I said to him, "You don't know that." His reply, "Yes, I do.  I will never leave you."  I didn't react the way he wanted me to, I condescendingly dismissed him, and he said, "It's true.  I will never leave you."  Uncomfortable with the intensity of his stare, I said, "Ok. ok.  Let's just not talk about it."  He dropped the subject and we unpaused the Netflix show we'd been watching before all this big talk started.

I know Josh.  I have loved him for 23 years now.  He proposed to me when he was but a wee lad of eighteen, and could have been having what most other guys his age would have seen as a lot more fun.  He has chosen me. I know that marriage is a choice.  I know enough to know, that when Josh makes a choice, he sticks to it.  He's resolved.  Why then, do I question his clearly heartfelt and truthful profession that he will never leave?  Maybe, my fear is more about whether I will choose it, maybe I have to trust myself.  Maybe, I'm afraid I can't say, "I will never leave you."  Or maybe I don't trust myself enough to know I could handle my shit if he did leave.  I don't know if I could handle him making another choice.  

After a few minutes we started up the stairs for bed, and as I peeked in on my babies, Josh's words were echoing in my head.  "I will never leave you."  And it hit me, there was another guy who said that.  No, not some lost lover, some liar.  God.  All of a sudden, I understood, that it didn't matter if Josh held true to his word, (although, I really believe he will), because He will never leave me.  I have no control, it's true, but I know that no matter what ends up happening in my life, I will be ok.  My children will be ok, because He will never leave me.

I know not everyone believes.  And for those of you who don't this probably won't make you feel any better, but there's something, something bigger for everyone to hold on to.  Somewhere inside you know that there is peace even when something scary or awful comes at you without you having any control. I guess that's my secular point.  Storms can be weathered, and even when big scary things happen, if you seek it out, you will find normalcy and peace.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Life Changing Magic of 25

I haven't written here in a while because I've been working on some other things:

> an article on the rhetoric of the ecomodernists, which I presented at a conference in San Diego a few weeks ago and and am working on with a student.  We have a very shitty first draft and he's found me a bunch of literature to read.  So I'm pretty excited to get back to it.

> an article on how nonprofit conservation organizations in the Boise area use science to make claims about what we should do with/how we should manage our gorgeous but highly polluted Boise River.  I worked with some students last year to interview a bunch of people from these organizations and we're finally to the writing stage.

Yep, it really is this beautiful.  I bike across it everyday on my way to work.

I'm just kind of advising on the piece, actually, because a super talented PhD student is driving the boat.  I took the research group down the wrong rabbit hole with a concept I thought would work, and didn't, but we reconvened this week and I think we're back on the right track.  Realizing you went down the wrong rabbit hole is sort of terrifying, but it also makes getting back on track really satisfying.  I'll be excited to see what she does with this work, and to contribute as a co-author.  Much easier to work on something that's already in place that sit down and write from scratch.

> and today, I finally got going on a piece that I think is going to be a chapter in my next book, if I'm lucky, and that I was able to really make some headway on today.  This one is about how universities use the rhetoric of innovation to bring in a lot of money from private industry, which can be really positive, but then also use that rhetoric to mask problems that arise when industries try to suppress research they don't like.

Anyway, when I was in San Diego at that conference I mentioned, I participated on a panel with some friends of mine that was about writing groups and writing practices.  It was so fun to nerd out about writing and writing strategies.  My writing group and I have been pretty productive, so we were excited to share our process with other people.

My crew.

But I also heard about this idea that I really liked and was excited to try when I got back.  One woman on the panel talked about the pomodoro method, which I hadn't heard of before.  As I look it up now, I see there are lots of ways to make it more complicated if you want, but she basically just described it as tackling tasks in 25-minute chunks and then moving on to something else, or taking a break before tackling another 25-minute chunk of time.

I love, love, love this idea.  It reminds me of Gretchen Rubin's power hour, but even more achievable.  The reason I love it is because, while I love writing, 1) I often don't have huge chunks of time to devote to it, and so I sometimes figure why bother and don't even start, 2) it is sometimes super hard to start writing, even though I love it once I do start, and 3) 25 minutes seems like a long enough time to get something meaningful done without feeling overwhelming.  Plus, it jives with my favorite method of working, which is to pair a work task with something pleasant (e.g., grade 3 papers, read a chapter of a good book).

So I got home from San Diego, and while I don't have a pomodoro app on my phone, I do have a timer.  And I've been using it for everything.

I particularly like using it for email.  I'm a big fan of trying to hit inbox zero--if something is in my inbox, it requires action.  But I also can't spend all my time on email or else I won't get other things done.  So I set the timer for 25 minutes, work on email until it goes off, and then I check my to do list and see if there's something else I can work on for a while.  Awesome.

It also works great for tasks I don't really want to do but need to do.  Writing letters of recommendation, reading articles, assigning journal articles for review.  Anything where I'd rather procrastinate or it feels like I could get sucked in for a really long time so I'm putting it off.

I think you could probably use this for chores or other blah tasks, too.

Most importantly, though, it is awesome for writing.  I did, in fact, have this entire day blocked out for working on the rhetoric of innovation chapter.  But I was also feeling really freaked out and nervous about it.  I need to have a draft done by next week for another conference I'm going to, and while I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about it, all I had written on it was a very half-assed piece from a year ago.  So I needed to figure out whether I was going to use anything from that old material, what to do with some feedback friends had given me on it, what to do with all my new sources, and how to bite off a reasonable chunk that I could finish by next week.

Cue panic.

But I just set my timer and decided that all I would try to accomplish for the first 25 minute chunk would be to read my friends' feedback.  Weirdly enough, that's all it took to get started.  I wrote for 7 25-minute chunks over the course of the day, stopping to put laundry in, shower, go for a run, eat lunch, whatever.  But I have half a draft to show for it, and it's not bad.

I will say the one trick for writing that makes this possible is to stop when the timer goes off and then decide precisely where you will pick back up next time you sit down for another 25-minute sprint.  If you stop at a good place and don't make that decision, you run the risk of reading everything you've already written and nit-picking it to death while not creating any new text.  This is its own form of procrastination. So stop mid-sentence, if you have to, because it will force you to pick up where you left off.

That's it.  25 minutes of magic, my friends.  Try it out.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


L.O.S.t.:  Late Onset STage fright.

A real bummer, especially if you are a professor and you spend a pretty significant time speaking in front of people.

A real bummer, especially if you feel like you actually like being up in front of people and talking, engaging, teaching.

A real bummer, because all that adrenaline feels hard on your body, and worrying about it happening seems like a waste of time.

But there it is.  I have it, this LOSt.  I didn't have it for a very long time.  I was a pretty confident public speaker for the most part.  Then it started to happen, late in my 20s.

I remember some pretty significant examples of having it flare up throughout my professional life.  Once:  when I gave a "job talk" to try to convince the people at my old university that I was a good bet and should be rolled over from a teaching faculty to research faculty on the tenure track.  I didn't quite know how to present myself because I had an interdisciplinary degree, and then switched my research focus early on, and had a lot of doubts about my own abilities but had to seem confident.

In other words, I couldn't just stand up and say "I am a historian," or "I study literature" and present my neatly organized dissertation research.  I had a degree in Cultural Studies, had written about popular culture and politics, but wanted to write about environmental controversies, and was mostly working in engineering education.  What the hell does that all mean?  I had to convince a room full of smart, cynical people that I could pull off publishing and teaching in these areas.  No wonder I was a little nervous.

I fumbled through.  Didn't do a very good job.  My knees and voice shook uncontrollably.  And somehow I still got the job, probably in spite of that talk, and not because of it.  The impostor syndrome set in, and I felt like I had fooled people and would be found out at any moment.  Workaholism and deep insecurity resulted--the never-ending battle to prove myself at last.

Then LOSt went away for a while, only to resurface at a professional conference where I had had too much coffee, was jittery, and found myself again in a room of colleagues I wished to impress.  My voice sounded too loud to me, forced, and began to shake again, and I felt desperate and out of control.  I was so disappointed in myself, and scared.

Another reprieve.  I give a few good talks, including another job talk for my new job, which went well.  Then another incident, at my new university, where L.O.S.t. struck again.  Misery for days after.

So it comes and goes.  Sometimes I give a talk and feel like I killed it, like I'm supposed to be doing this job, like I might have actually reached people and belong here.  And other times I think I've just tortured a room full of people who have to listen to me be nervous.

Having LOSt feels like a shameful thing, and it has been really painful.  The experience of it also doesn't match what I felt like is really happening in my life, which is an increasing sense of professional identity, focus, accomplishment, and happiness.  I actually feel much more confident and at ease inside; so why can't what's happening on the outside reflect that?

But one of my life rules is to go toward what scares you, rather than run.  So I did what I do and started bringing it out into the light, talking to people about it, asking for help.  Scary, scary, but the only way out.

I talked to friends about it, to other professors at different schools.  Explained that it feels like a physiological response rather than a response to any real present threat.  It was like my body had just developed this habit, and I needed to find a way to tell it that it was okay not to do that.  Everyone said that they were nervous too, when they presented, and offered suggestions.  I started seeing articles and videos and tutorials on how to conquer stage fright and read each carefully.  None seemed to solve my problem, but it was helpful to know I wasn't alone.

Then I told colleagues here about it.  They had seen it happen, of course, but they were really kind.  And bringing it out into the open maybe took some of its power away.

I scheduled a Skype session with a voice coach, who was incredible, and that helped me a lot.  She got me thinking about the mechanics of how to use my voice, what register to speak in, how to breathe.  I still forget these lessons some times, but it gave me hope that maybe I wouldn't be a victim of this thing forever.

And yoga.  Belly breathing.  If I can remember to do that, my body clues into its relaxed yoga state instead of its fight-or-flight state.  I can sometimes transform my nervous energy into just energy, and direct it to different parts of my body in a pleasant way, rather than let it grow into a crazy-making feedback loop.

Finally, working through the complexity of my professional identity and embracing it rather than feeling embarrassed by it has been central.  Seeing my diverse training, experiences, and interests as a strength and not a weakness.  Trusting myself in unexpected situations.

I push myself now to speak up in groups, to say yes to speaking engagements, to raise my hand and make comments.  Sometimes my voice shakes, sometimes it doesn't.  I forgive myself when it does, and breathe, move on.  I figure the more opportunities I have to do better, the more chances I have to rewire my experience, and my body will eventually associate public speaking with something pleasurable and rewarding.  Until then, I'm trying to just be kind to myself and accept whatever happens.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

About the Gray

I posted a new profile pic on Facebook yesterday

and a friend whom I hadn't seen in person in a long time messaged me to ask if I was coloring my hair again.  Not accusatory, just curious.  But now I feel the need to explain.  Because if you've been reading this blog you might remember that I made kind of a big deal out of growing out my gray hair last year.  And you all were and have been very supportive.  So here's the deal.

I did grow out the gray hair.  All of it.  It took about a year.  The sides were almost totally white, which I loved.  And I think a lot about growing those back out.  But the rest of my hair wasn't silvery white.  It was a pretty dull brown, streaked with gray.  Sometimes I was okay with this.  Sometimes I even felt fierce about it, like I was doing something pretty badass.

But honestly there were quite a few bad days, too, days where the Voice of Shite really had his way with me.  I would not sleep well or be stressed out and the dark circles would be bad under the eyes or my skin would feel particularly sallow or I'd notice other signs of wear and tear on my body, and then also my hair would look dull and--even though I know it's a cultural construction and not terribly feminist or brave--I would feel old.  Where the white was coming in around my face, especially, my hair looked thin and I felt pretty washed out.

I noticed that I started to refer to myself as old.  I also noticed other weird social hiccups, as in we would go out with new friends and I would feel the need to explain away or apologize for my gray hair, right off the bat, and to just casually mention that I was 40.  In case they were thinking that I might be 60, I guess?  It was like having a cosmetology version of Tourette's.

[Clearly there was something else going on here, some other deep-seated insecurities about making new friends in a new city, occupying my new position of "authority" or "seniority" at work, turning 40, that manifested in an obsession with markers of age and trying to figure out where I fit in the larger system of women's identities.]

So on the bad days I was feeling and even acting some cartoon version of "old."  Very often I could talk myself out of these feelings because 1) I don't like how we think about "old," generally speaking, especially when it comes to women, 2) most of the time I think I still looked pretty good [confirmed by looking back at pics of that time], and I was aware that I obsessed about my hair/appearance much more than anyone else did, 3) lots of gray haired women I know are super sexy and confident, and why shouldn't I be too, and 4) it was a practice of self acceptance that frankly I was craving and still crave.

Alas, the dull days started to win.  I found I was thinking about the hair more than I was not thinking about it, and I had grown the gray out so I could think about my appearance less.  I talked to my stylist and she put some low-lights in my hair, just to give it a bit more definition.  I liked how it looked.  I felt better.  I felt a lot better.

But then, you know, I was getting low-lights every six weeks.  And I correlated these little touch ups with feeling better.

So then, you know, why not just start coloring again.

I texted my gray-goddess friend N. and whined to her for the umpteenth time about having a bad gray hair day and she finally had had it with me and essentially said, color it, don't color it, who cares?

Right.  Who cares.  Perspective.

Went back to the stylist, said let's do it, and she took me back to a pretty tasteful brown with highlights, thank you very much.

But at some point I won't keep coloring.  At some point I'll get tired of the monthly appointments or  cost or I won't like how the color looks anymore and that will be that.

Here's what I will say:  The value of that experiment was that I found out that something I thought I had to do--coloring--wasn't compulsory after all.  I can make a different choice any time.  And it was a good lesson in accepting something about my looks I wasn't always happy with.  When the gray starts to peek through now it just doesn't feel like a big deal, although for the moment I am happy to go and get them colored over, too.  It wasn't easy, but doing this allowed me to break some rules I had for myself, and serves as a reminder that I can break them again, when I'm ready.