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Let It Go

April 9, 2014

Every few years I go from being sedentary and eating everything I want to walking more and paying attention to portion sizes. I do this with reading and writing, too—I cycle from reading more and saying less about it to saying more of what I think and reading less–at least less of what I think might be important and weighty (always I am rereading). Often the cycles correspond, in that I read less of the heavy stuff when I’m trying to become less heavy.

Recently I had a conversation about this with seven of my closest friends, all women, all in their forties and fifties, and each likely to respond to any conversational venture about weight with what she is currently doing to control hers. That’s what’s acceptable when women talk about weight. What I wanted to find out is if anyone else had experienced the feeling of looking bigger than ever to others while, paradoxically, feeling smaller. When things get to feeling out of control (work projects fall apart, the center of the family cannot hold while the kids are off at college), I get bigger to try to meet the need, and yet as I look bigger to others, I feel (and often get treated) like an ever-shrinking percentage of person. I find myself singing the “Let It Go” song from Frozen like it’s about empowerment, when for me it’s about trying to ignore the fact that the cold really bothers me (anyway).

My friends hadn’t experienced the paradox of feeling psychically smaller as they got physically bigger, but they did observe that yo-yo dieting is like being on a hamster wheel, and agreed that intelligence and willpower are not always enough to get a person off the wheel. One said
“I think intelligence has nothing to do with hamster wheels. If it did, we’d just get off them as soon as we realized we were spending all this energy to stay in the same place. Maybe the assumption that intelligence has anything to do with the hamster wheel is another dimension of the snare that keeps us on the hamster wheel in the first place…..In my house we refer to them as dead hamster wheels: every time it comes around the little dead hamster thumps around inside it.”

Oh, I said, so I need to stop necromancing the hamster.

Sometimes, it seems, it’s better not to think too much about what you’re doing. To really let go, it might be better to live an unexamined life, as in this William Empson poem:

Let It Go

It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
The more things happen to you the more you can’t
Tell or remember even what they were.

The contradictions cover such a range.
The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.

Certainly “the contradictions cover such a range” and the talk often goes “far aslant,” so probably it’s better not to talk about weight in polite company; perhaps that’s part of why we normally don’t. If we examine our reasons for doing everything, when do we have time to get anything done?

The process of getting myself off the dead hamster wheel will probably mean I’m looking for less of the kind of fiction that makes me reflective. For some of us, at least, “the more things happen to you” in fiction, “the more you can’t tell” whether they’re in fiction or in real life. So I need some escapist reading suggestions. Something to take me out of myself. Something to enable more “deep blankness.” Perhaps something that doesn’t include too many references to food.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2014 3:29 am

    Really interesting post. My escapist suggestion – do you ever read detective fiction? I like it when I’m in an escapist mood as its all tied up neatly at the end, unlike life. I don’t read contemporary stuff (too much blood & guts) but Dorothy L Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey novels usually do the trick. Hope you hop off the wheel soon!

    • April 10, 2014 11:16 am

      I rarely read detective fiction, but do think of it as comfort reading sometimes. I will file away the idea of reading and rereading Dorothy Sayers. Thanks!

  2. April 9, 2014 8:24 am

    I read The Barkeep a couple of months ago — it falls nicely into madamebibilophile’s suggestion of detective fiction. At first I thought it was a hard boiled detective story, then I thought it was coming of age and then I just enjoyed it.

    • April 10, 2014 11:17 am

      Oh, I see what you did there–he “drowns his emotions in a pool of inner peace” according to the Amazon synopsis.

  3. April 9, 2014 8:26 am

    My escapist suggestion is biography or history. A number of my musician and composer friends, as well as my wife, highly recommend “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven” by John Eliot Gardiner. I myself am a sucker for anything (history or biography) by David McCullough.

    • April 10, 2014 11:19 am

      You and my father, suggesting biography and history. One of these days when I try them again I’ll be old enough to appreciate them!

  4. April 9, 2014 12:55 pm

    I think I’m in an escapist reading phase myself. I can hardly bear to read fiction except detective fiction. Nonfiction definitely appeals. I remember reading once that the only thing Kafka could bear to read were biographies — the idea being that he was looking for the ways various people managed to make it through life.

    • April 10, 2014 11:20 am

      I think Kafka had more faith that he was like other people…oddly enough.
      I know Ron has a nonfiction book he wants me to read. Ordinarily, I find nonfiction tough going.

  5. April 9, 2014 2:59 pm

    I read a lot of YA when I’m in this mood – and I am usually in this mood when ambient stress (in our case, that’s usually when family members are seriously ill, which is, like, most of the time) begins to mount. I like Brenna Yovanoff and Franny Billingsley. Also, happy endings that tie things up nicely are soothing – I like Marisa de los Santos for that. (But not Falling Together)

    Ugh, the long, cold, dark winter – it’s the reason I live in a place where no one agrees with me politically.

    • April 9, 2014 9:47 pm

      That and the food, yeah?

      • April 10, 2014 11:24 am

        I read more YA in this mood, too. I’ll look up those authors–I remember reading one book by Brenna Yovanoff a few years ago, and liking it.
        We are really looking forward to the warmth and the local food when we come to visit! The Walker Percy Weekend ticket promises crawfish, cochon de lait, and grilled oysters.

  6. April 9, 2014 9:48 pm

    Okay! My escapist literature suggestions: The Family Man by Elinor Lipman (go-to comfort read for me); something totally wackadoo like Special Topics in Calamity Physics or that Doug Dorst book S; and Hilary McKay’s Casson books starting with Saffy’s Angel because those books just need to get recommended oftener.

    • April 10, 2014 11:27 am

      I happen to have that Lipman and Pessl on hand waiting for me! I read Saffy’s Angel a while back and liked it but don’t think I ever went farther afield than my local library looking for the rest of the series. I see that it’s been since March 2, 2010 so maybe it’s time.

  7. April 9, 2014 10:01 pm

    I have so, so many thoughts about this post. I know precisely what you mean about getting bigger but feeling smaller. I feel that all the time. I’m (I think) at my heaviest weight ever right now, and I just crossed into my 40s, so I feel like I’m at an age and size that seem invisible. I’m bigger than ever, but less *seen.*

    And the point about dieting as a hamster wheel. Yes! The more I read about dieting, the more I think it contributes to weight gain. I’ve been trying for the last year to get off that wheel, but it keeps spinning, and I think if I just get on it for a little bit, I’ll get to where I want to go.

    Which gets to the whole unexamined life point. I used to be big into self-examination. In fact, my most successful diets were ones about examining everything I ate. I have also been a dedicated journaler, going over my thoughts again and again, but usually getting nowhere. I’ve stopped all of that and feel better for it. It’s strange because people thing of journaling as a way of healing yourself, but I think it made me wallow in what was wrong. I find it more helpful to sit with my thoughts.

    As for escapist reading, I’m drawing a blank. I tend to go for crime fiction when I want a comfort read.

    • April 10, 2014 11:31 am

      I thought you might relate.
      It seems to me that part of blogging is living a more examined life, but I think right now my blogging is changing to be less about the daily stuff and more about the long, uninterrupted kinds of thoughts you can have when there aren’t as many people around. And I’m finding that a little more interruption might be good. It’s nice to have the option of creating interrruptions for myself, though, instead of always responding to the needs of others.

  8. magpiemusing permalink
    April 10, 2014 4:07 pm

    i haven’t felt that “being bigger feeling smaller” thing – but i know that my mind’s eye image of myself is a lot smaller than i think my actual physical self is – which is compounded by big bones and an awareness that i’m pretty sure i weigh more than i objectively look. (this latter fact has been confirmed by doctors…who should know.)

    escapist fiction: perhaps you could read “outlander” if you haven’t already.

    • April 10, 2014 4:15 pm

      Body image doesn’t seem to be any more related to intelligence than being able to get off the dead hamster wheel is.
      Oh, Outlander is the one that spawned so many worthless imitations. Really, though, I should get over blaming it for that and read it–there must be something quite interesting there, or it wouldn’t have so many imitators!

  9. April 10, 2014 4:48 pm

    Outlander is pretty amazing —

    • April 10, 2014 4:52 pm

      And it’s got to be in the public library, so okay, it’s on my list.

  10. April 11, 2014 3:00 pm

    I’m constantly shocked and bothered by how much of our worth tends to be tied up in our outward appearance, but it seems unavoidable. When I need escapist reading I love KAte Morton’s books or a fast YA read.

    • April 11, 2014 3:03 pm

      Hmm, I didn’t care for the one Kate Morton novel I tried (The House at Riverton). Unless her other novels are very different, I guess I’ll stick with YA until tired of teenage angst and dystopia!

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