Let It Go
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.