Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Damien Echols and Eddie Vedder

I wanted to throw together some thoughts about seeing Eddie Vedder interview Damien Echols about his new book, "High Magick: A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Row." It felt like a bridge between my old and new worlds, because Eddie Vedder=Pearl Jam=Seattle, and Echols' arrest in West Memphis, AR, was the news story in Memphis when I was in high school, at the height of Satanic Panic. I won't go into the details of the case, but the summary is that Echols and two other kids were arrested for a horrific triple murder. Their guilt seemed dubious at the time, and time and evidence eventually bore that out, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, including wealthy celebrities like Vedder, who put money and 15 years of effort into getting these men freed. It seemed clear to me, as a misfit and metalhead, that these guys were arrested for wearing black and listening to Metallica. I highly recommend the Paradise Lost documentaries, available on Amazon Prime, or the book "Devil's Knot" by Mara Leveritt, to learn about this case.

Off the bat, the rapport and affection between Vedder and Echols was apparent. Echols commented on the long-term effects that a decade of solitary confinement had on his developing brain, including being forgetful mid-sentence. Vedder replied, "You're in Seattle, and I'm willing to bet almost everyone here smokes a lot of pot, so you're in good company." Vedder's home here is where Echols and co-defendant Jason Baldwin flew immediately after their release from prison, and Vedder shared some of the artifacts that Echols had given him.

I was immediately struck by how obviously intelligent and articulate Echols was, especially in light of the fact that he has only a ninth grade education. He shared about some of his experiences in prison, his eight-hour a day magick practice that kept him occupied and sane while in solitary, and his difficulties reintegrating back into society after his release from prison. I remember reading about this in his first book, but was reminded of how after 20 years without seeing evolving technology, he asked his wife if she was moving the scrolling screen on her smartphone with her mind.

One moment I appreciated as a metalhead was that Vedder said that in preparation for Echols' arrival after his release from prison, he started amassing music that he thought might appeal to Echols. He said he bought every Black Sabbath album and Metallica's black album (Vedder: "Is that what you fucking call that?"). Echols asked for a different artist, so Vedder's wife used Spotify. At this point, Vedder starts singing the tune of Warrant's "Heaven," but not with the correct lyrics. Echols said, "No, it wasn't Warrant, it was White Lion." I'm guessing the song was "When The Children Cry" (my least favorite WL song, but whatever), because Vedder said: "If I ever had any doubt about your innocence, it disappeared right then."

Vedder took questions from the audience, including "What advice would you offer a teenage goth/pagan/magic practitioner in the South today?" Echols suggested keeping your head down and focusing more on improving yourself than on what you post on Instagram. Probably solid advice for anybody, really.

Friday, October 12, 2018

T's Spectacular Birth Story

We need to contribute more to her therapy fund, not because she was born this way, but because we keep milking the story.


Miscarriage Leaves Jewish Couples To Find Own Rituals

Throwing up some old writing of mine: https://mag.jewishinseattle.org/articles/2017/8/10/miscarriage-leaves-couples-to-find-their-own-rituals

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Tale of Pantera and Bad Parenting

"What's this? Is that a tear, Pantera? Oh, is Daddy's little girl upset? I'm gonna kick your ass into next Tuesday. Now get outa here!" -- Beavis

Every word of this is true.

As the heavy metal community is reeling from the untimely death of the legend Vinnie Paul, co-founder of the influential band Pantera, and drummer in Damageplan and Hellyeah, I have been taken back to one of the strangest nights of my life.

To set the stage, I was a tour guide at Graceland, where I worked for several years. Now, visitors get a headset with a canned recording, but back in the day, there were live tour guides who were supposed to follow a script. In fact, we took a lot of liberties -- what do you expect when you repeat the same thing about 100 times a day -- which is why I am sure they switched to a standardized recording. Thanks to the memory of the Internet, I can tell you with certainty that this story took place on August 10, 1994, when I had just turned 18. That afternoon, I was working in the trophy building, where a lot of Elvis' costumes and awards are displayed. I was, as I am now, a hard-core metalhead, and I recognize metal when I see it. A group comes in for my tour that clearly is a metal band, but one I did not recognize. "Hey, who are you?" I asked. "We are part of the band Prong," one of the guys answered. We chatted and I learned that they were playing the Mid-South Coliseum that night with Sepultura and Prong. I engaged them a lot during my tour, and at the end I asked them if there was any chance of getting comped to see the show. This was ballsy AF, but I am always of the philosophy that if you don't ask, you don't get. "Sure, happy to do it. Write down your name and I'll make sure a guest and you can get in," the guy said. Holy shit. I won the jackpot, but the plot thickens.

"Oh my God, can I come?" asks a teenager who also was on my tour and whom I had also been chatting with. "Um, I don't know how your mom would feel about that," I said. Mom quickly jumps in, "That's fine, as long as you can give her a ride back to our hotel." Turns out the girl is 14.

Let's take a break from our story here to collectively ask, "WT Actual F?" I am a parent now, and I can't for a second imagine letting either of my daughters go backstage to a heavy metal concert with a stranger. Not for a second, and not just because I would insist on going backstage. I wasn't a friend of a friend. I was a total stranger and one she just met. I guess I had a trustworthy look, because this girl's mom was down. Mom seemed totally normal, by the way, not at all sketchy.

The girl meets me after work and we ride in my car to the Coliseum. I was convinced my name would not be on the all-access list, but it was. We go backstage and the mayhem begins. Prong was already on stage at that point, but Pantera was hanging out backstage. Tales about vocalist Phil Anselmo's temper are legendary, and I only had a brief snapshot, but he lived up to the hype. Phil was having a huge tantrum about something, I don't know what. He was calmed by his girlfriend, a very beautiful, thin woman with full tattoo sleeves on each arm. After Phil left I complimented her on her calming skills, "I'm a social worker," she said with the resigned voice of someone used to deescalating conflict with an angry man.

Eventually, Pantera takes the stage and Prong has showered and come back to chill and drink. This is where things really got interesting. Tommy Victor, the singer of Prong, starts leering at the girl I am with, and not just leering: "Look at this. You are a fine piece of ass. I would like to do 1,000 things to you," was the gist of the conversation, which I definitely do not remember in detail because it was 26 years ago. I was hoping my guest would demure, but just the opposite happened: She goes and sits on his lap, and he starts kissing her neck and nuzzling her ear. Sweet Jesus. I told him, "Dude, she's only 14, " and his response was basically, "And???" Things progress and he invited my plus one to a quieter spot. Again, I'm thinking her self-preservation instincts will kick in, but no such thing happens, so I have to save her. I find some way to get her away from Victor for a second and say, "Whoa, you need to chill. Are you a virgin? I hope you're a virgin!" She told me she was, but was eager to be rid of that label. "Oh HELL NO," I said. "Not on my watch." She started arguing with me that it was her body and her choice. Please remember I am 18, not exactly old and wise, but somehow I knew I had to step up my game here.

"Listen, girl, I am about as degenerate as they come, but my degeneracy stops at letting a 14 year old girl lose her virginity to a rock star who will fuck her and forget her. You could get pregnant and you could get an STD, and this is not how you should lose your virginity. Trust me on this one." She actually continued to argue with me and then went back to sit on Victor's lap, where he continued to try to seduce her. Once again, things were getting heated, so I had to take a different tack. "Ok, girl. You have two choices. You can come watch Pantera with me, or we can leave." She wisely chose Pantera.

We watched their show, which was incredible. Sadly, I was not into music that heavy back then, and I had little appreciation for the talent and legends I was enjoying. I was thinking, "Cool band, great show, but I prefer Poison." Sigh. It is true that youth is wasted on the young. What I would give to see Pantera and Sepultura today!

After the show I had to take this wild child with me back to her hotel, which it turns out was really, really far away in Mississippi. Then I had to drive back to east Memphis. I don't think I got home until about 2 a.m., and I had to be up at 6 to get ready for another day of work.

This was not the first and hardly the last of the crazy stories that only happen to me. I don't remember that girl's name, but I hope she is happy and well and that she lost her virginity to someone who cared about her. As long as it wasn't on my watch, to a rock star, I don't care.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Fatitude: The Movie" Review

"What's wrong with being a sex pig?" -- My friend

I am too old to really get behind the concept of trigger warnings, but if there was ever a movie where I would have appreciated one, this would be it. "Warning: If you are a fat person, "Fatitude: The Movie," will trigger you. Do not resort to food restriction or diet mentality," would have been nice. The majority of the movie is a catalog of how much the world hates fat people and is disgusted by fat bodies, interspersed with interviews with fat activists and health care professionals who practice in a manner consistent with the principles of Health At Every Size. The interviewees were funny, smart, and pointed. The catalog of "the world hates fat people" was just ... depressing.

The movie demonstrated the general dislike of fat bodies by showing many, many fictional and non-fictional media clips of people displaying this hatred, as well as quoting depressing AF studies that present evidence that most women would rather go blind or lose a limb than be fat. The movie included these things to show the omnipresence of fat phobia in our culture (please note that I am using that term as a shorthand for "fat hatred") and to illustrate why fat people face discrimination in the workplace and at the doctor's office.

Although I understand the intent of including all this horrific, hateful content, the barrage left me feeling drained and terrible, so much so that I, uncharacteristically, had severe anxiety after the movie (God bless my friend who gave me one of her Ativan). As a fat person, I feel like I keep all of this stuff in the back of my head, but I have to maintain some cognitive dissonance to go out in the world, keep my chin up, and do my thing. I'm sure this isn't true for most people, but I have only found two ways to be fat in this world: fat and apologetic for it, like when I was dieting, or in warrior mode. The latter is more authentic for me, even though it's exhausting. Interestingly, after the movie, I talked with quite a few friends who are farther along in their HAES journey than I am, and they were not bothered with the content of the movie to the extent I was. 

"Fatitude" spent a lot of time demonstrating the negative portrayal of larger bodies in children's media; you can see a great clip of Lindy West talking about this in the movie trailer. This part actually was helpful to me as a parent because it made me aware of this aspect of the media my kids consume, as if I didn't have enough to be worried about in this regard. My husband and I work hard to push the "all bodies are good bodies" agenda, and I'll be damned if a Scooby Doo reboot is going to detract from that. One of the things West says in the film is that the two biggest fat archetypes in cartoons are the Ursula from the Little Mermaid -- a sea witch who literally steals merfolk's voices -- and Miss Piggy, the consummate sex-starved and food-starved pig. So in a great moment of comic relief after the movie, I went to my friend and said in a panic, "OMG, now I'm so anxious, because people will only see me as the sea witch or the sex pig, and I am certainly more of a sex pig, and ARGH!" Bless her heart, my awesome, very religious friend said, "Now, what exactly is wrong with being a sex pig?" Me: "Absolutely nothing." Glad we cleared that up. Sex pig it is, cuz I'm sure as hell not stealing your voice or helping those "wanting to be thinner" (yes, that is in the song, FFS).

The last 20 minutes of the film offered suggestions about creating a new narrative around bodies and body image, most of which I summarized in my blog post about ditching diet culture. That information is not new to me, because I learned it all in treatment, but I can understand it might be eye-opening if you haven't been exposed to it.

Overall, the film is highly recommended, but be prepared that if you're in a larger body, the film might make you sad. Hopefully, it will also fuel your anger and motivate you to torch the toxic narratives that dominate pop culture.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Keep Your Diet Culture Off My Toddler

"Your words cut deep
Your lies are fueled by your need for deceit
Too scared to speak
You're only alive when you torture the weak
Now hear me roar" -- "You Want a Battle?" Bullet for My Valentine

My normally cheerful toddler had a very tough morning the other day. After I made the horrible mistake of taking away the iPad she was watching videos on, she couldn't stop having a tantrum. I was on my way to the gym, and thought the poor kid might calm down when I put her in the car and put on Amazon Music's Toddler Time station. Alas, it wasn't to be, and I eventually got so rattled after an 45 minutes of this screaming that I had to pull over on the side of the road and get out of the car until I could calm down. This is all a long way of saying that I had a very challenging morning, so I was relieved when T finally calmed down when I pulled into the gym parking lot and she realized she'd get to press the elevator button.

When we made it into the lobby of the gym, T was understandably hungry and I gave her the two snacks I had packed for her. She asked me for more food, but having none -- and trying to forestall a continuation of the tantrum, if I'm being completely honest -- I bought her a cookie from the gym's market. Of course, it's a market at a chain of gyms, so all of the food is packaged high-protein/low sugar foods. I bought her a protein cookie, which will hereto be referred to as the "Fucking Fake Cookie," or FFC. You'll see why. T was happily munching away on the FFC when a woman came up to us and said to T, "Oh, you're so cute! You're SO LUCKY you can eat cookies."

I instantly thought, "Not today, Satan!" and this conversation transpired:

Me: "You can eat cookies, too."

Nosy Lady: "Oh, I can't," she laughed. "If I eat one cookie, I have to eat the whole box!"

Me: "I used to think that, too. The interesting thing is, if you give yourself permission to eat what you want, suddenly the cookies become just another food and not a big deal."

Nosy Lady senses what she's gotten herself into and says, "Oh, but I'm a sugar addict."

Me: "If you give me your email address I am happy to send you a link to some journal articles that debunk that."

Nosy Lady: "I have a doctor's appointment! I have to go!"

Me: "Bye," but I really am thinking "CU Next Tuesday!"

The article I was threatening to send her was this. The TLDR is: "We find little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and finding from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours only occur in the context of intermittent access to sugar. These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar." This certainly is true in my experience, but I'd rather talk about that in another post.

What bothered me more than this woman's phony science was the fact that she came up and tried to involve T in this nonsense. First of all, let's be honest: she wasn't trying to lecture T, who isn't even two. She was trying to lecture T's fat mom, but was too pathetic to take me on directly (#lame). I shut down diet talk fast when it's directed at me, but I move at warp speed when it involves my children.

I can't say this often or vociferously enough: I consider dieting and diet culture the worst thing to have infiltrated my childhood. My kids will be exposed to this so many places, our family won't be one of them. My husband and I are committed to keeping this garbage as far away from them as possible.

I feel like there are some days that God tests you, and this was one of those days. The fun continued: I had posted a pretty innocuous meme on Facebook exhorting people not to comment on people's weight loss. You can take it or leave it, but one person commented with some really fat-shaming and stereotyping comments, which royally pissed me off (I know, I know, that's what I get for posting on the dumpster fire that is Facebook).

The coup de grace on this really shitty day is that the FFC caused T massive diarrhea because it was full of sugar alcohols and inulin and things that are really not great to consume. I was covered in poop moments before needing to leave to pick up my older daughter from school, so I was late getting her.  The poor kid would have been better off if I had brought some Oreos for her.  I'm sorry T for feeding you fake food that messed with your tummy. At least I fought the good fight against diet culture.

Monday, March 12, 2018

How I Ditched Diet Culture In 10 Difficult Steps

I have gone through a radical change the last 6 months. Most people in my life knew me as a dieter and someone obsessed with weight loss. All that has changed and people have noticed. This post is in response to the many personal inquiries I've gotten about this that I can't take time to answer in depth. I'm happy to answer legitimate questions about this and help educate you, but any health trolling and diet culture crap will be immediately deleted for the good of the planet.

So, here is how I ditched diet culture and stopped hating myself:

1.You Know I'm No Good: Grow up inundated with messages that being fat is bad and unhealthy, dieting is good, and restricting food is praiseworthy. Learn from culture, friends, media and my family that my worth is dependent on the size of my body and that I have an obligation to be aesthetically pleasing to you.

2. I Don't Like the Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me): Spend childhood and adulthood dieting, taking prescription medications, and otherwise trying to turn a bulldog into a dachshund. In the process, wreck my metabolism and weight set-point for life. Continue to restrict broad categories of food and taking speed and other medications that have since been pulled off the market.

3. Doctor, Doctor, Please: Continue to buy into outdated health norms not backed by actual science, and freak out when a doctor suggests gastric bypass surgery. Join a spirituality-based diet program where I engage in severely disordered behavior, like measuring everything I eat for seven fucking years and seeking permission to substitute broccoli for cauliflower for dinner because the store was out of cauliflower. If I was in a small body and did the aforementioned things, someone would have been referring me to a psychologist. But hey, I’m fat and get thin, so my eating disorder will be praised by doctors and friends alike. Pro tip: If a behavior is disordered for small bodies, it’s disordered for larger ones, too.

4. Not a prisoner: Eventually I realize that I would rather be fat than live like a slave. Ditch the “spiritual” diet program, begin to eat like a normal person, and see my weight stabilize where it was before my restriction, because that's what bodies that have repeatedly dieted do.

5. Sweet Potato Pie: I still believe that being fat is bad and unhealthy, so start a ketogenic diet that completely throws my body and mind off the rails. Prick my finger to test ketones in my blood, calculate macros, and fantasize about eating sweet potatoes, all of which made me very bitchy. This was the beginning of the end.

6. My Darkest Days: Start seriously binge eating and binge drinking and doing other destructive things. Call my therapist from summer vacation and when I get back home, she calmly informs me I am going into a partial hospitalization program for my eating disorder: "They can do more with you in 3 months than I could do in two years." I assume my therapist is referring to overeating. Ha ha.

7. They Tried to Make Me Go To Rehab…. : I am admitted to an eating disorder program for 50 hours a week where I am diagnosed with a restrictive eating disorder. I am pissed and fight with every single expert there about how wrong they are about the diagnosis and everything else concerning my care. Several times a week I curse at them and tell them — in spite of all evidence to the contrary — that they are just after my money. I also accusing them of hating me and I routinely bring up their "thin privilege" (I can't believe they still like me, but they do). My therapists at my treatment center spend many hours educating me about the futility and harm of dieting and become used to my requests for peer-reviewed data. My registered dietitian there prescribes two Oreos at every meal, and since I ate all meals at my treatment center, she definitely kept tabs. This intensive treatment changed my life in more ways than I can detail here. My world was turned upside down. Did I mention I was pissed?

8. Superman's Dead: I unfriended or unfollowed anyone who routinely posts on social media about orthorexia, diet culture and disordered eating or exercise. This includes anyone who is a “health coach” for a multi-level marketing scheme or anyone who has ever shared a “sugar shot," “Transformation Tuesday” or “We don’t GAF what you’re eating Wednesday” picture. In the process, fire my fat-phobic physical therapist and get a new one. As part of this, stop having any conversations about others' diets, "life styles," "changes," "clean eating," etc.

Start Seeing the World Through Diamond Eyes:  Instead, I populated my social media feeds with badass men and women who reject diet mentality. I begin to follow people who look like me. I looked at fat bodies in various states of undress until I was no longer disturbed, and eventually found their softness and curves beautiful. Simultaneously, I started reading the works of body-positive activists. I connected with Health At Any Size health care practitioners and read the research they shared with me.

10. Heart of Fire I eat and enjoy all the foods. I have cookies in the cupboard that I can take or leave, because when one has full permission to eat them, they are no big deal. I appreciate the incredible donut shop two blocks away, but go very infrequently. I am grateful to no longer being the mom who couldn’t accept her daughter’s offered bite of ice cream because "Mommy won't eat that" or the person who brings her own food to friends' houses because I can't eat regular food or don't know what they'll be serving (SMH).  I move my body regularly and feed it nourishing, balanced meals because I love it and want to treat it right.