Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mammaries of Irene

Cruising the academic interwebs looking for back-to-school wisdom? Forgetaboutit, sweet peas. Click elsewhere, immediately if not sooner. We had us, like, a triple-dip disaster here in Roxie's World in the past week: Earthquake on Tuesday, hurricane on Saturday, power outage stretching from 4 a.m. Sunday to 4 a.m. Monday (and we got off easy compared to a lot of our neighbors!). Classes start tomorrow at QTU, and my typist is in her usual state of Holy crap, where did the summer go and do I really need a syllabus and why the heck can't I just keep thinking about peaches? and yoga? and other happy things?

Yeah, it's like that, so in lieu of a post, we offer a picture, taken by our dear Candy Man, to show the weird havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irene on one Baltimore row house. (Point of clarification: We are not making light of Ms. Irene. It was a scary, destructive storm, and we're glad it had lost some of its power by the time it smacked into lower Manhattan. We exercise the privilege of mocking something that we lived through because, well, because we think this picture is hilarious, and we want to share it with you. It will appeal to your inner 11-year-old. It will make you think up punny captions while you are standing in line waiting to copy your syllabus. [You could go paper-free on that, you know. Give trees a chance, why don't you?])

Anyhoo, here's Candy Man's pic of the damage to his home and his ingenious way of dealing with it. We call this photo The Mother of Invention:

Moose is going to remember this photo the next time she is doing battle against ice dams. Geoffrey has already left a witty, Irene, thanks for the mammaries! comment up on Facebook. The picture also brings to mind the revised version of "The Way We Were" Moose's late father was prone to sing after a few beers: Mammaries light the corners of my mind, misty watercolor mammaries of the way we were . . . .

Top that, PhysioProf. And have at it, lit critters. Ten points if your response combines a pun, a literary allusion, and an esoteric reference to whatever fountain in, probably, Rome Moose thinks of but can't quite recall when she looks at this picture.

G'night, lovelies. And may all the disasters that befall you -- and us! -- this week be small, unnatural, and not likely to lead the evening news.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

64 Flamingos and an Imaginary Dog

A Meditation on Two Earthquakes

Many readers no doubt felt the shifting of the earth beneath Roxie's World that occurred the other day. The animals at the National Zoo in Washington certainly felt it. The Zoo's Center for Animal Care Sciences released a fascinatingly detailed report on changes in animal behavior that staffers noted just before and during the 5.8 magnitude quake that shook the region on Tuesday afternoon: apes abandoning their food and climbing to the tops of tree-like structures, vocalizing in ways that indicated irritation; snakes (normally inactive during the day) writhing; a pride of lions standing still and facing a building; 64 flamingos rushing around just before the quake and grouping themselves together, staying huddled until the trembling stopped. 64 flamingos: I love that odd bit of numerical precision, don't you? Do flamingos always hang out in square numbers? (Flamingo photo via.)

Wa Po's Joel Achenbach has a good followup on the Zoo's report that explores the question of what it is that animals seem to know in advance of events such as earthquakes and how they know it. Shorter version: Scientists aren't sure, but possible explanations include an ability to hear, feel, or smell things humans can't detect or, more simply, that animals are paying closer attention to the natural world than humans are. Lacking smartphones and large-screen TVs, perhaps apes and flamingos have more room in their smaller brains to notice that the planet is gearing up to rearrange itself. Just a thought.

We don't have especially gripping tales to tell of the Day the Earth Moved, alas. Ms. Ruby, the new embodied dog of Roxie's World, was home alone at the time, so the Moms can't say whether she exhibited signs of preternatural knowledge of what was about to happen or put up a blood-curdling howl when the house began to pitch. (The house doesn't seem to have pitched much. Aside from a few crooked pictures [see photo at left] and a couple of crawl-space doors popped open, there's little evidence of seismic activity or stress.) Moose was in the car when the quake occurred and felt nothing, though she "heard" it by way of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," which she was listening to on her way to the office. Goose was having lunch at a restaurant on the campus of QTU, which was thoroughly shaken by the quake. (The university's main library, McKeldin, remains closed today, while structural engineers check for damage and workers re-shelve more than 13,000 books that fell to the floor during the episode. Check out these photos of the mess -- and then go find a librarian to hug, OK?)

Funny thing, though, and this will take us to the imaginary dog referred to in the title to this post: Both moms, in the excitement of the day's events and independently of one another, thought back to an itty-bitty earthquake that rattled the Washington area not too long ago. They both remembered it, though they were fuzzy on when it happened. "Summer," Moose said with confidence, "but I'm not sure if it was 2009 or 2008. I'll have to check the blog. We posted on it." They both told a similar story about how I, then embodied, awoke them by starting to bark moments before the rumbling of the quake began. They told this story, independently and with absolute certainty, before they had seen any of the reports about animals at the Zoo seeming agitated in advance of Tuesday's temblor. I am charmed by this tale, flattering as it is to my animal wisdom and the vital work I performed as guardian of two sweet but largely clueless humans for darn near sixteen years.

The only problem with this happy story, as you might have guessed by now, is that it isn't true. The itty-bitty pre-dawn quake the Moms so vividly recall occurred not in 2009 or 2008 but on July 16, 2010 -- seven months after I had moved on to what we might, for lack of a better term, call Heaven. When Moose finally tracked down our post on the earlier quake, she was astonished to realize how utterly mistaken she and Goose had been in their recollection of the event and by how sincerely they believed something that was demonstrably untrue. Moose had told the story a couple of times that afternoon: "Sure, I remember that other quake. It was summer. Roxie was still with us, and she started to bark just before we felt the tremors." Late Tuesday evening, Goose spoke to her brother, a criminal defense attorney, and they had a good laugh about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. "People don't necessarily mean to lie," they agreed. "They often just misjudge or misremember what they saw."

That's true, but Moose is still marveling over the imaginary dog that somehow found its way into her and Goose's memories of the Little Quake of 2010 that came before the Not So Little Quake of 2011. Yes, memory is fallible, but our mistakes may be significant. What psychic need was fulfilled by this particular lapse? she wonders. Last summer, we were still grieving the loss of our much loved and fiercely protective companion. Did we insert her into that memory because at the time she was, psychically, still very much with us? Or is this an instance of the present reshaping the past? We have a new dog now who in many ways strongly resembles the old dog. Did Ruby's presence fill in the blanks created by Roxie's absence from the original earthquake? Was our memory lapse really a case of mistaken identity, as in all those times, in the early months of her being with us, when we would slip and say Roxie instead of Ruby? Is the imaginary dog an instance of seeing Ruby where we once would have seen Roxie?

Grief is funny, sometimes. Sometimes literally. Two weeks ago at the beach, members of the extended pack slipped a few times and said Roxie instead of Ruby. "Roxie is dead," Moose declared when one such slip occurred. "That's Ruby." She said it sardonically but with a twinkle in her eye that let kiwiboy know it was OK to giggle. It was her way of saying, Yes, she is really gone, and that breaks our hearts, but we carry on as best we can and find ways to love and reasons to laugh again. This is one of the two lessons Moose sees it as her duty to teach little children. The other is that grownups get to cuss whenever they want to but kids can't. Hey, Miss Jean Brodie she ain't, but you have to admit that resilience and pragmatism are useful life skills.

So, darlings, consider this an invitation to tell us your quake tales or your stories of real or imagined shaggy dogs. Where were you when the earth moved? We're dying to know.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Body Matters: Short Takes

As we ease our way back toward serious blogging, we thought we'd call your attention to a few stories that caught our attention in between ocean swims and fine meals and beach reading of books Moose emphatically decided not to include in the trans lit course she'll be teaching this term.

The Aging, Vegan Ex-Presidential Body: Bill Clinton turned 65 the other day, which prompted a spate of stories on the Big Dawg's impressive efforts to manage his heart disease through diet and exercise. The former president, who has a family history of seriously bad tickers, had a quadruple bypass in 2004 and angioplasty in 2010. Since then, working with Dr. Dean Ornish, he has dropped 20 pounds  and become mostly vegan, though he confesses to CNN's Sanjay Gupta to having a bite -- one bite, he says, with a wag of his famous finger -- of turkey at Thanksgiving. Moose liked this story because she is delighted to claim her favorite living former president as a comrade in Lifestyle Adjustment. She also thinks it's good for the country to have to reckon with seeing the nation's most famous devotee of Big Macs and Krispy Kremes as a poster boy for clean living and healthy eating. Moose imagines she would choose death over veganism, because she isn't sure she could live in a world without eggs, but she was endowed by her creator with a ridiculously healthy heart and so has never had to face that choice. Mostly, though, we like this story because it offers further proof that we just can't stop thinking about Bill Clinton's body. We need to know what he is ingesting, how he is looking -- fabulous! -- and how he is feeling (more energetic than ever!). Clinton's successor in the Oval Office also turned 65 earlier this summer, and the AP story focused on the thousands of virtual birthday greetings he received through a campaign orchestrated by his wife. No one, it seems, wants to think about Shrub's aging body or what's going into it. I know: Quelle surprise. And we sincerely apologize for putting that image into your head so early in the work week.

The Professorial Body: Duke's Cathy Davidson, who is garnering raves for her new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, did a marvelous blog post a couple of weeks ago on a Pilates class that resonated with some of our musings here about yoga, bodies in middle age, and minds/bodies in techno-culture. The post advocates balance, breathing, and compulsory dance movement in schools and workplaces as a necessary counter to the seated life of the mental worker staring at the screen. It offers compelling observations about kids' relationships to their bodies and movement in an age in which bike helmets and pain avoidance constrain them in both body and soul. It even offers a couple of simple exercises to foster alignment and deep breathing. Read the post. Try the exercises. And get Davidson's book, for dog's sake, because everyone else you know is getting it and you don't want to be out of the loop. We've got Now You See It loaded up on Kindles and iPads throughout Roxie's World and can hardly wait to read what this passionate yet practical digital visionary has to say about the world in which we live, think, work, and breathe.

The Lesbian Body: Christina Santiago was 29 years old, a lesbian, a native New Yorker living in Chicago, and manager for the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center. She was killed in a freak accident at the Indiana State Fair on August 13. Four other people died, and Santiago's partner, Alisha Brennon, was also seriously injured when a concert stage collapsed in a strong thunder storm just before the group Sugarland was to begin a show. The story caught our eye in part because the tragedy occurred in Moose's home state but also because of allegations that began circulating on the queer interwebs that the Marion County coroner's office refused to release Santiago's body to Brennon for burial because of the state's DOMA law. First reported by Bil Browning on The Bilerico Project, the charge went viral when Dan Savage wrapped it up in a fiery denunciation of how such laws "serve to torment and persecute gay people at the most trying moments of their lives."

The problem, as it turned out, is that the story wasn't true. The critically injured Brennon had not contacted the coroner's office and appears not to have been treated disrespectfully by anybody. Her partner's body was released to an aunt of Santiago's who was listed as her next of kin. Santiago's funeral and burial were in the Bronx, but those closest to Santiago and Brennon suggest matters were handled amicably and sensitively. Brennon is still hospitalized but seems to be recovering. Bil Browning posted a lengthy apology for his poor judgment and reporting, admitting that his "history of dealing with homophobic behavior by Indiana office holders" likely predisposed him to believe the story without sufficiently verifying it. In his retraction, Savage noted that, "These sorts of things have happened -- surviving gay spouses barred from bedsides, not allowed to retrieve their partner's remains, barred from funerals by hostile family-of-origin members -- but it didn't happen this time."

Savage is right, of course. Such things do happen, and we need to work hard to reduce the likelihood of their happening by securing full legal equality for LGBT relationships. That will require overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and every mini-DOMA on the books in states from sea to shining sea. Bil Browning is to be commended for his thorough and thoughtful self-criticism, but we can also learn something from his mistake, from his -- and our -- willingness to believe that a low-level functionary in a coroner's office would see it as his or her job to enforce a state DOMA in such a cruel fashion. (Since Santiago and Brennon were residents of neighboring Illinois, Brennon could presumably have claimed her partner's body under that state's domestic partnership law.)

Again: Such things do happen, but that doesn't mean we can assume they've happened without fully and fairly investigating the claim. Browning didn't try to speak with Brennon because she was still in intensive care and "it seemed crass to call her for a statement." Fair enough, but shouldn't the fact that Brennon was in intensive care have made him doubt that she was in a position to call the coroner's office to try to claim Santiago's body? That it apparently didn't is powerful evidence of how strongly inclined he was to believe what he was hearing without fully corroborating the charge. Yes, Indiana is full of homophobes in high places and lacks the most basic protections for LGBT citizens and relationships, but that doesn't justify jumping to conclusions and circulating falsehoods about particular offices or officeholders. Such mistakes don't serve the cause of advancing LGBT rights, as Browning knows. They also don't honor the memory of Christina Santiago or comfort her grieving partner, family, and friends.

Attention, please: This brief rant has been brought to you by Moose, who feels bad for circulating Savage's post about the Marion County coroner's office on her Facebook page without independently checking out the story. You heard it here first, folks: Not everything you read on the interwebs is true. Be skeptical. Be fair. Be thorough.

RIP Christina Santiago. Your memory will endure, and your vital work will go on. Our condolences to those who loved you and healing thoughts to Alisha Brennon for a full and swift recovery.

Peace out.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beach Week Highlight Reel

Cocktail of the Week: Mojitos, by Candy Man, the Official Mixologist of Roxie's World:

Culinary Revelation of the Week: Strawberry Risotto, by the Italian Stallion:

Transgression of the Week: Late-Night Beach Walks with Dog, in Clear Violation of Stupid, Local, Anti-Dog Ordinances:

(No, that isn't a freakish August snowstorm, just salt on Geoffrey's camera lens. Looks cool, doesn't it?)

Restaurant Meal of the Week: Blue Moon, Rehoboth, where we celebrated somebody's 39 + 1 birthday:

The Moms ate at Blue Moon aeons ago, back when their idea of Beach Week was a couple of nights at a just-a-notch-above-seedy dyke-owned B&B in Rehoboth. They were delighted to revisit the blue-and-yellow Victorian just a couple of blocks off the beach and discover that the kitchen is still putting out the tastiest and most creative food on the shore (that's a superb fried green tomato appetizer in the photo above) and the bar is still a mecca for pretty boys on the make. The main difference between then and now? The cruising gets a tech-assist from Grindr. Oh, yeah, and the pretty boys aren't, you know, dying.

Yes, there are photos of our happy queer family frolicking on the beach in bright sunshine, but we won't be posting them here. We figure we've shown you enough skin. this summer, darlings. School's about to start, so we need to start figuring out ways to boost our academic cred. That's right. Y'all can look forward to a series of posts so weighty and profound you'll think you've stumbled into Tim Burke's corner of the blogosphere. Soon, kids, I swear to dog. In the meantime, we'll play you off with something light and fun and beachy while we're still shaking the sand out of our shoes and you are still wishing this crazy-a$$ed summer would never end. Peace out, surfer dudes and dudettes. May you catch the wave of your dreams and ride it, like, forever.

(Photo Credits: Moose, except for that artsy-fartsy shot of Ruby on the beach, which Geoffrey, the Official Prep-School Teacher and Forty-Year Old of Roxie's World, took.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Late Summer Mellow

A Photo Meditation on Rain, Pasta, Beach Kitsch, and Queer Affinities

The Moms and Ms. Ruby are hanging out in a beach town in Delaware this week, getting in a little queer family vacay before they hunker down for the start of a new academic year. They are with Geoffrey, Candy Man, kiwiboy (also known as Son of Candy Man), and a charming new fellow who shall be known in these precincts as the Italian Stallion. Yesterday was a rainy day, so our resourceful gang did what beachcombers from time immemorial have done when nature puts the kibosh on plans to spend the day staring at the ocean while the sun turns one's skin to shoe leather.

They strolled the beach between storms taking moody shots of the scary looking sky and the nearly deserted beach, which Moose made even moodier looking through the magic of CameraBag:

They prowled the rooms of their rental home documenting the many fine examples of the style known as Beach Kitsch:

And, of course, they cooked. And ate. And drank a little. Moose declared it a no-point day and gave herself permission to indulge without guilt, though she did take Ms. Ruby on a number of walks.

Candy Man and the Italian Stallion collaborated on a gnocchi so good it would make an Italian grandmother wish she had a gay grandson:

And tomato sauce so simple and so perfect it would make Marcella Hazan swear off onions forever:

And because there were peaches aching to go out in a blaze of glory, Moose whipped up a batch of what she termed beach cobbler (recipe and rhapsody on this delicious dish here):

It was a lovely day, despite the torrents of rain falling from the menacing sky, which just goes to show that even a deluge can't rain on your parade if you are determined to have a good time. Who'll stop the rain? asks a famous song of the hippie/folkie/rockie era. Why, no one, darling. You're never going to stop the rain by complaining, so, you know, don't. But, still, a great song is a great song. We'll play you off with a little CCR before we head down to the beach -- where, we are pleased to report, the sun is for the moment shining as happily as Michele Bachmann at a Christian corn dog festival. Peace out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tuning In/Out (Live!) to Melissa Etheridge

Caption this (kinda blurry) photo, which does indeed show rocker Melissa Etheridge sandwiched between Moose and Goose backstage last night at Baltimore's Pier Six Pavilion:

(Photo Credit: Emily Rodgers, 8/9/11)

What? You're surprised to see a couple of humble English profs consorting with a Grammy Award-winning mega-dyke? On a Tuesday night? You're shocked to see Moose 2.0 in the arms of a woman with a, um, reputation for getting around with the ladies -- while Goose looks on with a smile? You didn't imagine that Moose's new wardrobe included sexy belts and at least one Peter Pan/Robin Hood/Jane of the Jungle-type tank top?

Well then, darlings, it's possible you don't know the wimmin of Roxie's World quite as well as you thought you did, isn't it?

Here's the scoop, you brave and crazy gals and non-gals: The Moms have the good fortune to be represented in the Maryland House of Delegates by the awesome and openly gay Heather Mizeur, who just happens to be good buddies with Etheridge. (Because, yes, all lesbians know all other lesbians and hang out with them on a regular basis. Which is why Moose has spent the better part of thirty years waiting for Jodie Foster to call, dammit!) The meet-and-greet with Etheridge was a fundraiser for Mizeur. The Moms were happy to contribute, because Heather is the real deal, a politician who truly believes in government of, by, and for the people. We see a great future for her and look forward to being seated in the friends' box when Heather is sworn in (by, uh, Chief Justice Elana Kagan) as the first openly lesbian president of the United States of America. Moose is already trying to decide what to wear.

Anyhoo, dolls. You are probably dying to know what they talked about and what morsels of gossip they picked up among the dyke-erati. The Moms impressed Melissa by recalling that they had seen her at the Bayou in Georgetown way back in the day -- 1988, Etheridge was quick to recall, before she had really broken through to popular success. (The Moms credit one of Goose's very first grad students with bringing Etheridge to their attention -- and getting them down to the Bayou that evening.) A totally unexpected bonus was that Etheridge's new partner, Linda Wallem, was also in attendance last night. Wallem is a TV writer and producer who co-created Showtime's spectacular Edie Falco vehicle Nurse Jackie. Moose did not quite get down on her knees to thank Wallem for designing and developing one of the most extraordinary female characters in the history of series television, but she came close. Wallem, we are pleased to report, is a funny, friendly gal. We wish her and Etheridge many years of attracting and captivating one another.

Oh, and the concert? Fabulous, of course. Etheridge, who turned fifty in May and faced breast cancer seven years ago, still rocks her guts out on stage. We think even Comrade PhysioProf, who usually takes strenuous, visceral, Anglo-Saxon exception to our musical taste, would have enjoyed the show, which was loud and tight and kept the audience on its feet all night. It was a sweaty, satisfying evening, which is more than one can say for a lot of Tuesday nights in Baltimore, n'est-ce pas?

Now, aging rockers, about those captions you are going to write: Hop to, will you? You come up with some pithy lines of dialog, and then we will tell you what Moose was actually saying as the world's most famous lesbian rock star wrapped her bare shoulders in a vise-like grip, while her partner of 27 years looked on with delight. Go on. We know you weren't really planning to work this afternoon. Go on and close your eyes, imagine yourself there last night. You know you want to.

Peace out.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Tuning In/Out to Stevie Nicks, In Your Dreams

The long. hot. horrible. summer of 2011 continues, and Roxie's World is working hard to ignore it. Why? Because we don't have any economists or climate scientists on staff, and political prognostication is really just kind of a hobby for us. Besides, we figure our legions of smarty-pants loyal fans know where to go to get their fill of bummer-inducing news and analysis and come here to get little dribs and drabs of health and happiness to try to keep their glasses close to half full while they wait patiently for the handbasket to come whisk them away to Hell. Which should happen, like, any minute now, don't you think?

We'll return to more serious programming over the next few weeks as the Moms shift into Back-to-School mode. (Srsly, kids, I swear: Moose is not going to turn this into a health, food, and fitness blog, recent appearances notwithstanding.) Meantime, let's indulge in a little musical interlude to wile away a cloudy summer evening.

Stevie Nicks released her first solo album in ten years a few months ago. It's called In Your Dreams, and it's been in extremely heavy rotation in Roxie's World ever since it arrived. It's a smooth, tight record, as dreamy as its title would lead you to expect, with 13 songs written by Nicks and, mostly, producer Dave Stewart. Nicks' voice is in fine form. The singer is 62, and you can hear the marks of time and experience on a voice one reviewer described as having "steely sides, but its center is worn and approachable, like suède." Perfect.

In Your Dreams doesn't break new ground, lyrically or musically, but it comfortably mines the emotional, intuitive terrain Nicks knows so well. Moose has a soft spot for "Cheaper Than Free," a sweet celebration of love in which Nicks' and Stewart's middle-aged voices blend to give rich texture to the admittedly sappy words -- but, hey, high passion is demonstrably better than high fashion. Both moms are keen on "Wide Sargasso Sea," a hard-rocking synopsis of Jean Rhys' novel, and "Annabel Lee," a lush adaptation of one of Poe's creepy/beautiful poems on the allure of a dead woman. These two exercises in feminist criticism induced Moose to describe In Your Dreams as the album you always wished Gilbert and Gubar had made.

And you did always wish that, didn't you? Isn't that how everybody got through the 80s? In any case, treat yourself to In Your Dreams. It will mix well with all those other albums by husky-voiced wise women that are rattling around in your record machine. We'll play you off with "Annabel Lee," because that's the cut Goose has been passing along to all the 19th-century poetry geeks in her acquaintance. Take it away, Stevie.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Daring to Eat a Peach (Cobbler)

(Photo Credit, Food Prep, and Point Calculation: Moose, 8/2/11)

Longtime readers know how much we love the peach cobbler recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook. You might -- or might not -- have been wondering how we were going to get through peach season without indulging in a treat so delicious Moose says it produces a response similar to Meg Ryan's famous scene in When Harry Met Sally. The first few weeks of the season, Moose had been experimenting with LAP-approved crisp recipes that were delicious and happy-making, if not quite, well, orgasmic. What can I say, people? Quaker oats and agave nectar are super cute but not, you know, sexy.

This past Sunday, though, the peaches were so stupendously beautiful that Moose began to dream about her old flame, peach cobbler, the one with two-thirds of a cup of actual sugar, not to mention white flour and vegetable shortening! And -- here's the truly orgasmic part -- topped off with whipped cream (right there!) spiked with peach (oooooh!) brandy (yes!). Goose seemed to be thinking about it, too, and got a little misty-eyed when Moose indicated it might not fit into the household's new food plan. "Oh," Goose said, "OK." [Translation: I have been with you for 27 years and know I need to express support for your ludicrous position while also conveying the slightest bit of disappointment. That way, when your position shifts -- and I know it will --, I get points for being willing to forego pleasure for your sake -- and I get the cobbler, too!]

Goose got her cobbler -- and several relationship points for epic forbearance over the course of the past six months. She's been a trooper, but how, you may or may not be wondering, did Moose come around to the idea of making -- and eating -- a dish that contains all those sinfully delicious ingredients? Is the virtue binge over? Has she fallen off the wagon and returned to the kind of mindless, decadent eating that got her into her middle-aged funk?

Hardly, darlings. Moose woke up Tuesday morning, stepped on the scale, and saw that she was still losing weight rather than merely maintaining it, which is the goal now. This whole clean living thing can get a little addictive, you know, especially for a girl who finds it hard to believe that what she sees in the mirror is real. Anyhoo, she came downstairs, used her LAP's recipe builder to calculate the points per serving for the glorious peach cobbler, and sent Goose to the store to get heavy cream. "I love you, honey," she said, "and there is room in my life for an 11-point treat. Get asparagus, too. We won't be having carbs at dinner tonight."

So, see, it wasn't a lapse or a sin or an instance of being bad. It was a conscious choice, an instance of eating mindfully and well. Resulting in a happy little food orgasm and a week's worth of motivation to keep racking up activity points. Step aside, kid. That is MY treadmill for the next 45 minutes. I've got a date with the sweetest cobbler on dog's earth, and you're in my way!

Feel free to weigh in, as it were, with your own summer food delights. What are the treats that get you, um, going?

By the way, if you missed it, WaPo had a couple of good pieces on aging well in yesterday's "Health and Science" section. Here's one on a 62-year-old guy who has stayed remarkably young looking just by being consistent in his commitment to a pretty sane and simple set of health and fitness habits. One expert quoted in the story estimates that after 50 how you age is about 30% a matter of genetics and 70% a matter of lifestyle and behavior. The good news here is that moderation works. You don't have to work out seven days a week and forego booze and, you know, peach cobbler in order to live long and well. Moderate exercise and a diet low in saturated fats will do the trick. Oh, and not smoking, of course, but you knew that. Here's another article on older athletes that focuses on injuries and how to avoid them. Also helpful.

In other news, the United States narrowly avoided fiscal disaster yesterday, but no one seems too happy with how things worked out. Gosh, kids, do you think this deal would taste better if we could throw a dollop of whipped cream spiked with peach brandy on it? Yeah, me neither.

Peace out, my pretties, and may your day be sweet as an August peach.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Virtue Binge

Goose has been out of town on urgent Emily Dickinson-related business for nearly a week. Moose has been batching it, which used to mean she'd revert to grad school habits of having popcorn and beer for dinner while zoning out to really trashy movies on Lifetime. Good times, right, Moose?

Anyhoo, this week, aside from Wednesday night's decadent dinner at America Eats, in which Moose permitted herself the (now) shocking indulgence of a third glass of wine, she's been living like a freaking monk. It's been all yogurt and whole grains and farmer's market veggies. Not a beer in sight. Her big indulgence food-wise was to use half a cup of olive oil in some pesto she made. Half a cup! And pesto meant that she treated herself to pasta for dinner! Whole wheat, of course. Whoa, Moose. Way to ride the edge.

Then there's been the whole activity thing. The trips to the gym. The rides on the stationary bike in the basement when she felt too lazy to schlep to the gym. The Friday yoga class. The Saturday yoga workshop. Yes: Two and a half hours spent painstakingly refining plank and cobra poses. Srsly, kids, the fun just never stops around here, does it?

You leave town, and I go off on some kind of virtue binge, Moose quipped to Goose in a text message yesterday. The quip got her thinking, and -- Oh, heck, I think I'll just let her tell you. Being disembodied, I am less equipped, as it were, to talk about certain kinds of things these days. Take it away, Moose!

* * * 

(Photo Credit: Anon, Self-Portrait After Plank Workshop, 7/30/11)

You have to admit it's a funny line -- I go off on some kind of virtue binge -- but it's also a revealing one, loaded with assumptions and, perhaps, anxieties about bodies, behavior, discipline, moralism. It registers a certain pride, yes, but it also captures some of the discomfort I've experienced in recent months as I've tried to find ways to talk and write about losing weight without sounding sanctimonious or fat-shaming. (That discomfort is explored in this post.)

At this particular moment, the notion of a virtue binge also resonates with the political fiasco unfolding on Capitol Hill, as Republicans and Democrats battle, with nearly equal disingenuousness, to position their nearly indistinguishable plans for trimming the alleged fat off the nation's fiscal body as the morally correct one. (And how telling that the fiscal and governmental bodies are so frequently imaged, as in the cartoon anchored to this paragraph, as obese to a degree designed to elicit disgust.) The binge will end -- because binges always do -- the moment the deal is signed and there is no more political advantage to be gained by exaggerating one's own virtues and the vices of one's opponents. It will be resumed -- because binging generally is -- when new circumstances arise that once again make it expedient to demonize the opposing side as lacking in virtue. (Yes, darlings, I am well aware that one of our two major political parties is more in thrall than the other to a strategy of framing any kind of difference or disagreement as a world-threatening conflict between good and evil. I am lumping them together because everyone involved in the debt ceiling debacle has behaved so badly and because both the president and Senate majority leader Harry Reid strike me as guys whose lives have been one long virtue binge.)

Anyway: The virtue binge may be a uniquely and obnoxiously American phenomenon, a hangover of what one astute student of cultural history has described as The Puritan Origins of the American Self. That is a major source of the discomfort I feel with my own little quip. I am troubled to hear myself describe my weight loss and my recommitment to fitness in such terms because they suggest that I have internalized a set of value judgments about physical/moral fitness that I am deeply committed to contesting. (See, for example, the first two chapters of this book.) A quip is just a quip, of course, and I could take refuge in the idea that the joke mocks the tendency it names and therefore does contest the values that might motivate any kind of virtue binge. I was a firm believer in the salvific power of parody long before Stephen Colbert came on the scene.

All kidding aside, though, perhaps what really bothers me is the inadequacy of the language available for describing experiences like the one I have had over the past several months. How do we talk about weight and fitness -- especially as women, feminists, and queers -- without falling back on metaphors that equate physical health and "normal" size with moral virtue? I'm obviously a big fan of the Lifestyle Adjustment Program I used to lose weight, but I can't bear to read the "Success Stories" prominently featured on its website because they so relentlessly emphasize the virtues of being on track and in control. Success in these terms is a matter of reasserting discipline over a body defined as unruly, disorderly, and out of control.

"I feel like I've conquered the world," says my LAP's most famous current spokesperson, singer Jennifer Hudson, of her weight loss. Such language perpetuates a dualistic model of the relationship between mind and body that is both punitive and terroristic. I hate it -- even though I know full well that I had come to feel fairly out of control in relation to food, drink, and weight. Even though I admitted, right here in Roxie's World, that I had reached the point of feeling miserable in my body by January of this year and proudly offered an illustrated announcement just a few weeks ago of "what feeling better looks like." Careful and non-fat phobic as I have tried to be, my own language is as problematic as Hudson's, even without the cheesy metaphor of world domination.

I want another way to narrate this story, some alternative to the plots of conquest or redemption that have done so much damage in American culture and the world. I don't want to see what I am doing these days as either a virtue or a binge, because virtue is boring and binges are transient. I want to say to the friends and the sisters who are looking to me for advice and inspiration in their own efforts to take off weight that mind and body are one and we have to let go of self-loathing. We need to find ways to relate to our bodies, ourselves with love and compassion, whatever our size and shape. And we need to find ways to talk about the disciplines of self-care not as regimens of self-punishment and sacrifice but as forms of pleasure and play. You hear some of this rhetoric in the wellness industry's "this is not a diet" mantra, but my LAP's emphasis on tracking and control still sounds more anxious and paranoid than I would like.

The most satisfying language I've come up with so far is one that emphasizes mindfulness in relation to eating and activity. I put on weight over the course of several years because I stopped paying attention to how much I was eating and let go of a commitment I had maintained for most of my adult life to regular, vigorous exercise. In cultivating mindfulness, I've discovered new pleasure in food, which tastes better and is more satisfying when you pay attention to every bite, no matter how simply or sensibly it's prepared. And I've reconnected with the deep pleasures of working/playing in and with my body to learn new skills or to revel in the joy of movement for its own sake. Yes, I spent two and a half hours on Saturday afternoon working strenuously to improve my ability to perform what are basically glorified push-ups -- and walked out in a state of endorphin-produced bliss as glorious as anything I've felt in years. My posture was impressive, too. I don't want to underestimate the challenge of getting into shape after years of being mostly sedentary. It's been hard and humbling, but it has also been enormously satisfying and in a lot of moments just plain fun.

Perhaps what I am getting at is a model of bodily discipline or practice similar to what Foucault describes in The Use of Pleasure as "the arts of existence": "those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria" (10-11). I like the emphasis here on both intentionality and artfulness as aspects of self-making. Or perhaps I'm thinking of the vulnerable, imperfect, necessary body Adrienne Rich tenderly claims in her "Contradictions: Tracking Poems (18)":
The best world is the body's world
filled with creatures     filled with dread
misshapen so     yet the best we have
our raft among the abstract worlds
and how I longed to live on this earth
walking her boundaries     never counting the cost
The best world is the body's world: Amen. This ain't no binge, friends. It's a way of life. Peace out.

(Photo Credit: Anon, Self-Portrait After Plank Workshop [2], 7/30/11)