Posts in Category: musings

A Fat Rant

yarnladies

There’s a woman like this on every floor I’ve worked on in my current office: the woman who makes it her business to engage me in conversations about how I should be eating. There I am, innocently putting something in the microwave, and here she comes, ready to let me know how to do better. She has ideas! And tips! She has observations and explanations! She has ANSWERS!

If only she realized how demotivating her little talks are, and how pointless, because I don’t diet.

I. Don’t. Diet.

I used to diet endlessly. My weight loss odyssey started when I was seven years old and my mother put me on a strict 600-calories-per-day program that involved twice-daily shots of a hormone in my thigh. Now, please keep in mind that I wasn’t even a fat child. But Mom put me on diets all the time as I was growing up, until I was fifteen and moved out. By that time, all the dieting and a year on the Pill had made me nice and plump.

I did have a good run at Weight Watchers throughout my twenties, but it only served to get me thin before each pregnancy, during which I’d get fat again and have to do it all over again. After I turned thirty, I very rarely dieted. The last time was in 2007, not counting a desperate run at losing weight before a daughter’s wedding (took off 22, gained it all back on the plane home, I think).

I’m just not doing it anymore.

This left me as the Floor’s Official Fat Person. Yes, that’s me, the current female record holder. And the Floor Fatty always attracts the attention of the Floor Food Warden. She’s there, concerned and watching, having lots of opinions and offering advice. I guess she thinks she’s helping.

Food Wardens

When I worked on the second floor, a kind and nurturing woman was always watching what I ate for me. She had so many questions, a gentle daily interview about collard greens, or cheese grits, or egg salad, whatever exotic fat person dish I was eating that day. I suppose she wondered just how it was that I ended up this way, and wanted specifics so she could guard against joining me in the plus size section of life.

She was succeeded as Food Warden by a sharp and tiny woman who loved to bark at me about my yogurt choices (“You have to eat Greek yogurt!”). She would trumpet “That’s full of sodium! Don’t eat that!” whenever I opened a can (even when it was fruit and I don’t think canned fruit has much sodium in it but whatever). And another refrain was, “You need to go to yoga!” (yoga makes me seasick).

I actually adored this person. To be fair, she bossed everyone around about everything, so I forgave her. She’s retired and we all miss her. But not in the break room!

My Newest Food Friend

Currently, I work on Floor Three, where the Food Warden is quite elegant and fit, around my age, and has a charming accent. She maintains a somewhat birdlike interest in what I’m heating up, preparatory to stuffing it in my fat face, I guess. And she expresses gentle surprise and dismay that I am not obviously gorging myself to maintain my voluptuous frame.

At breakfast time, I eat the tiny bagels, the small yogurts, the clementines, satsumas and cara caras, just like everyone else. At lunch, I usually have leftovers, just a regular size portion of whatever was left over from a dinner. Stir fried chicken and rice, or spaghetti, or tortilla soup, or whatever my guy and I ate the week before. These foods are not spectacularly caloric. They are just dinners.

I haven’t found a special fatten-me-up-version of anything, at least, not so far. But she’s peering at whatever I pull from the microwave while she’s dressing her spinach salad, shaking out her tablespoon of bleu cheese crumbles, talking about how she only eats a third of a croissant at a time. Great. Awesome. Thanks.

I know already, okay?

Trust me, NO ONE knows more about how to eat, what to eat, how much to eat than a fat person. We know EVERYTHING. We’ve done it ALL. Including yoga, which she has also mentioned. Which makes me seasick, as I have mentioned. By the time we hit our fifties, most fat people have tried everything, and succeeded, as well, but it’s only temporary. By the time we’re done with whatever plan we’ve been working, we’ve done additional damage to our metabolisms, meaning we can eat even less. And though some people are able to start rigorous exercise plans mid-life, some of us have no interest in that. We’d rather just be fat.

I wish I didn’t care.

I really do. I wish I could just harden up and ignore it. And I do ignore it but I don’t seem to harden. I can’t tell you how wearying it is to have your food choices scrutinized by other people. It’s especially annoying because I realize that most of these people are motivated by concern and kindness. I’m sure my current food warden thinks I am a nice person, and she thinks nice people should be thin, like her. She is only trying to help, but of course she isn’t. She’s just making me tired.

And if you’re reading this and you get the idea to send me some helpful ideas, or statistics about obesity and heart disease, or any of that, please don’t. That will only make me more tired.

I am a little shocked by how meekly I endure this stuff, to be honest. Why don’t I shut it down? I hate confrontation, but I could do it with coldness, by answering, “Wow, cool,” in a flat and dismissive voice. But I wouldn’t dream of it. I am a woman, and women are culturally inculcated to accept a long-running commentary on our looks. That commentary can be positive or negative, but it is constant from birth to death. We don’t question it. We participate in it, we endure it, we wouldn’t know how to feel about ourselves without it. But wouldn’t it be nice to try?

Some Nice Thin People

You know who never pisses me off? My office neighbors. We only comment on each other’s food when something smells really good, and the delicious aroma wafts into a neighboring workspace. “Oh my god what IS that?” They each wear a size two. They are TEENY. One of them is a naturally thin person who has actually tried to gain weight over the years. Yes, such unicorns exist. I hear her eating snacks all the damn time. The other is a naturally thin cyclist who eats like a horse to fuel her commute.

And you know what? Neither of them has ever given me a scrap of advice about my food, weight or health. But they have happily shared their snacks. And if there are donuts in the break room? The cyclist lets me know with happiness and glee, because we both love donuts.

I am so grateful for these women. They are younger than my concerned Food Wardens, and they give me hope that there’s been a generational shift away from that kind of monitoring.

Let’s hope, folks. Let’s just hope.

 

Relief

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When I was a newly single mother of three, for some reason I decided to take my kids to Disneyland. By myself. Because I’m nuts. But I did it, and boy was I relieved when it was over.

The last, easy day

Now, the relief didn’t settle in until the last day we were there, when we got up in the morning and took the shuttle to the Happiest Place on Earth in order to shop. I was breaking out the charge card and making my kids’ dreams come true. I’d told them  that they could each have one thing, whatever they wanted, I didn’t care what it was or what it cost, but we’d have to get it on the last day. They would each have to remember where the thing was.

Though I’m a little fuzzy on the wheres, I actually remember what each of them got! My oldest got a Milne-style big Pooh, and my middle girl got some kind of anniversary Mickey in a satin jacket, and my youngest got the imperious pug from Pocahontas–the one with the ruff. He was larger than life-size.

We boarded the shuttle back to the hotel, and I felt myself relaxing. I hadn’t given much thought to how vigilant I’d had to be, but I had wrangled the kids through Disneyland for 3+ days. No one had been snatched or lost or damaged in any way. They were all decently fed, moderately rested, not sunburned, and not asthmatic. Best of all, they each had an enormous animal to clutch on the way home, in order to impress to our fellow flyers with the fact that we had just been to Disneyland.

I had done it.

When moms relax

I felt moderately triumphant as we rode the shuttle to the hotel. Tension I’d been unaware of carrying started to unlock itself from my shoulders and neck.  Once we’d retrieved our bags and boarded the shuttle to the airport, I could actually feel the stress rolling out of my body. I’d been a hyper-aware mother hawk for days on end. It was almost over. We reached John Wayne International, and then our gate. By then, I felt  intoxicated by my relief. Once we buckled up for the flight home, I was a jelly-like blob of relaxed motherhood. I didn’t need a cocktail. I was drunk on relief.

I’ve thought about that over the last month or so.

Today’s relief

Since November of 2016, I’ve been at a high level of vigilance and a near constant state of outrage. It’s hard to function like that. The last year-plus has been so politically chaotic. It’s easy to forget the earliest days, when Bannon was running the show and each appointment was more catastrophic than the last. Like a scab, he eventually dried up and fell off, leaving us with less orchestrated trolling and more sheer chaos. Chaos that has become entertaining. At some point, I actually started laughing about how hideous this all is, because I laugh about everything.

It’s still hideous.

I told my T about a month ago that something had changed. I wasn’t sure if I’d simply exhausted my capacity for outrage, and gone numb, or if there had been some shift in the atmosphere.  I think it started, now that I consider it, with Roy Moore’s defeat. I wondered if I’d just normalized. This is how it’s going to be, I’d tell myself. There are rats in the basement and termites in the foundation, but we might be able to call in an exterminator at some point, if everything wasn’t ruined in the meantime.

I posted this on Facebook this morning:

A friend asked me, this morning, how I would write what’s going on in the head-spinning world of American politics. In my story, the appearance of Giuliani signals an exit strategy; that his wife has had enough, and is going to leave him unless he steps down and takes her back to Manhattan. So he brought in a trusted lawyer friend, and a more skilled lawyer to guard him legally, to help him navigate his way back to private life. But that’s what I would write if this were fiction. We are living in times so much stranger than fiction.

I realize now that I’m not numb.  I’m calm. I feel a shift and a flicker of hope. I don’t exactly know what will happen next, to be honest. But something has changed, and the relief I feel is palpable. I’m not quite a blob–I’m still worried as hell–but there is some shift, something afoot.We’ll wait and see if I’m right.

 

Where are my clothes of the future?

It seems like I’ve been waiting for the clothes of the future for a long time. All my life, actually. And I’m getting impatient.

Caftans

My idea of the clothes of the future was no doubt colored by my early watching of Star Trek. No, not the crew uniforms–those were absurd to me, even at age nine–but when the ship made a stop at the planet Vulcan when a tortured Spock went into season needed to go upstream and spawn or whatever? (Amok Time). I remembered those Vulcans were wearing the clothes of the future. However, having googled the clothes, they are not at all as I remember them–the clothes I’m thinking of came in the later movies.

So flowing. So easy. Long. Unisex. Caftanesque. Tastefully trimmed, carefully draped.

Wouldn’t we all, if given a chance, adopt these particular clothes of the future?

It turns out, probably not.

Friends weigh in

So imagine my surprise when I was out to lunch with three friends and I brought up this whole idea of futuristic clothing and what it would look like, and I got widely differing responses.

One friend said he thought the clothing of the future would be technical and responsive. If the weather changed, or you gained or lost weight, the clothing would simply adjust. This friend has lost weight this year and had to keep going “shopping” in his stored clothes to find things that fit him on the way down. So of course he liked the idea of something that would simply adjust itself to a slimmer frame.

Another friend loved the idea of reactive clothing, but he thought it would also be style-reactive. Which kind of blew my mind. I mean, here I am, imagining these lovely subdued flowy things, like Madame Gres with slightly less fabric, and and he’s imagining a world where we would easily sprout peacock feathers if we wanted to! And of COURSE people would want to. Not everyone wants to blend in with the walls. Garments would flame with embellishment and color as desired. Like we were all living in the Capitol.

All this gleeful frippery, these mods and makeups, not. I am not of the Capitol. I am a fan of the black and the charcoal and the neutral and the plain, enlivened by a shot of aubergine or teal now and then. On the day to day, I could wear black, grey and camel all the time and hardly miss colors at all. Which means I have a sort of a grimly dystopian idea of clothing of the future.

Ripley

I remember being super impressed with Ripley’s Nostromo jumpsuit in Aliens.

At the time, it struck me as functional, customizable, unisex, practical. I was all over it. Now I’m wondering what all that lacing is for. Would we specifically want the fabric over our tummies to be tightened down, a la Scarlett O’Hara getting laced up before the ball? Would Spandex not work in outer space or something? And as functional as it seems, we always end up back at the primary question with jumpsuits–how do you go to the bathroom quickly? These are important questions, but man, did it ever seem “real” to me when that movie came out.

Plain and simple

I also liked the clothing in The Giver, believe it or not.

Isn’t that depressing? it’s like, the Amish wardrobe of the future. All homespun and indigo.

I could so go for this!

Another woman weighs in

The other woman at our lunch gathering had similar ideas to my original caftan ideas. Long, graceful, easy, and with hidden pockets. Weatherproof. Soil-proof. One and done, but she envisioned these garments as metallic. Metallic seems like a stretch for me. But I could do metallic if I needed to. If it were necessary. Especially if it looked like THIS.

I would so love that! That is a beautiful handling of color and metallic and style. But is it futuristic? Also, I wonder what would happen if I began sweeping around Portland dressed like this. People would probably think I was trying to start a religious cult.

Fashion Babel

If you had the opportunity to design a clothing sensibility for the future, what would it look like? Would it be implanted peacock feathers or unisex jumpsuits? I guess the mistake we make is that somehow, in the future, clothing will gather up under one unified umbrella and fashion will flow from a single source. I think the opposite will probably happen. We will all get to wear what we want.

It’s going to be fashion Babel.

 

 

 

The reality of introversion.

Introverts seem to be having a moment lately.

We are posting memes about introversion, where showing us talking to a cat at a party will help the world to better understand how weird we are. Since so many writers are introverts, and introverts love the internet, we are writing listicles about introverts for Buzzfeed, and going into depth about our special introverted ways on Medium, and generally  feeling misunderstood and special.

I think we’d probably better get over ourselves.

The reality of Introversion

My coworker heard a quick phone call between me and my daughter today. In it, I figured out how many people are coming over for Easter, so my daughter can appropriately size the Family Mac-n-Cheese® she’s bringing to dinner. My coworker sounded so sweetly excited when she called over the wall. “Karen! You’re having a big gathering! Are you excited?”

“No.” I said to her. “I’m never excited.”

I never want to go to anything. Ever. It all sounds terrible. Book group? Oh god no. Hosting my family for the holidays? Too many people. Dinner at a restaurant? Jesus Christ, you have to be kidding. A cruise to Bermuda? Just kill me now.

Handling myself

What do you do when your knee jerk reaction is to hide from all social contact? You do what I do. Which is, I dread everything, but I go to everything. Because I know I’m going to have a wonderful time. We are going to have the best discussion about the book I loved (or hated, sometimes the best discussions are about books I hate), and the food is going to be amazing and the company is going to be sparkling and Bermuda is going to be everything I ever dreamed of and more; pink sand, turquoise water, sunshine and mild ocean air. But my baseline expectation remains that I will hate ALL of it, even though experience should lead me to believe the exact opposite.

And so, I always go.

When I was younger, I would listen to my inner misanthrope. She was a grump. She insisted I keep clear of all merrymaking. She convinced me that no one wanted me there anyway, not really, so I’d just spare everyone the horror of my attendance. I stayed home a lot. Then I sat around and wondered why everyone was having a better life than I was.

I didn’t make the connection until I was in my thirties, at which point I learned to get up and go places, where I would have fun because I’m actually great at parties. As long as I can leave whenever I want to. I must be able to do the Irish Good-Bye in order to have fun. As long as I can bounce without a word at leave-taking, I tend to stay and have fun.

Another strategy

There are other strategies for dealing with the self-imposed isolation of introversion. One is to marry an extrovert. I have had relationships with extroverts, and survived them. I understand that some people find this marriage-of-opposites to be helpful because the extrovert (some guy) is always dragging the introvert (me) out and about. The rallying cry is always the same. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” This mindless insistence on activity paired with my mulish social withdrawal doesn’t sound fun at all to me. It reminds me of a cheerful child wearing a huge lead boot.

I am the lead boot.

I’m happiest with another introvert, like the man I’m with now. He might even be more introverted than I am. We always make plans, but we often have things we need to do first. Like, pay a bill online. Or take an antacid. Or move the laundry around. Or let the dogs out. If we are lucky, we can aggregate enough small, easily postpone-able activities to avoid the going-out plan altogether, in favor of just staying home and watching something on Netflix.

It’s perfect!

I wonder, sometimes, how we avoid spending our entire lives slumped on the couch, making fun of Flip or Flop VEGAS. But we don’t. We get out, and go to parties and plays and dinners with friends and a lot of movies. We go talk with people and smile, even if it kills us. We plan getaways and live (for the most part) like normal people. And then we come home and decompress, quietly recharging until we have to go out and do it again.

Because we’re introverts, don’t you know. And we’re special.

 

 

The special creepy valentines hotdogs post!

SO MANY valentines reference hotdogs that I hardly know where to start. I have left off the examples that have people carrying around hotdogs, leaving those in the strange meat valentine category. These are hotdogs without people. Just hotdog after hotdog. Self-slicing hotdogs. Amorous hotdogs. Married hotdogs. And there are the lonely hotdogs, and the pairs of hotdogs, and the hotdogs seeking buns. Hmm. There seem to be so many plays on the word “relish,” which has fallen out of favor these days except as a condiment, and on the word “frank,” which is likewise not used much anymore.

Why are there so many of these? I have no idea.

creepy valentines…guns.

Today, I bring you everyone’s symbol of love and romance…GUNS.

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At least this little skunk is killing himself for love, and not the object of his skunkish affections. But this next one is worse. It appears to have instructions for how to do away with yourself (and a happy ending, thank goodness).

I really have to wonder about the level of frustration in the lives of designers of vintage valentines. I’m getting a little weirded out.

creepy valentines with strange meat themes

I don’t know how these tie in with the idea of romance, either. Cannibalism and butchery shouldn’t be part of the romance plan, should it? Were all the designers of vintage valentines secretly serial killers?

My intention is to do a future post devoted to hotdog valentines, which figure prominently in the vintage valentine lexicon of love. But I’ve included the ones with people and hotdogs here, because, well, meat. However, we have steaks, baloney, wurst and hotdogs, and…veal. But let’s start with a lovingly rendered slice of marbled beef, because I know that says romance to so many.

 Kinda grooving on the baloney slicer, I won’t lie. I’m sure the true bonds of love are formed with sausage links when, for instance, you cook breakfast for someone. Okay, maybe not. However I do love this one. Especially that little dog. The rubber gloves, the cleaver, the deranged grin, the oddly clean apron–Boy, I bet that guy gets a lot of dates.

 

A VEAL THEMED VALENTINE?? That one just makes me sad.

 

creepy valentines—cannibals

Some romantic vintage Valentines with overt references to acts of cannibalism. YOU’RE WELCOME.

  I’m aware that the next Valentine is racially offensive. Believe me, I found three more that were so much worse.

Seriously, what was the point of these? Why were they entertaining? CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN PLEASE!

Hoping your Valentine’s Day includes no cauldrons.

 

 

Invisible Committees and the Judgment of Others

In my book Love and Mayhem at the Francie June Memorial Trailer Park, I have a character named Rhondalee LaCour who is absolutely insufferable. She’s a frustrated busybody who gossips and spies. She rains down storms of accusation and judgment on her husband. She pulls her granddaughter around by the arm, and possibly by the hair when no one is looking. She’s TERRIBLE. I can’t even describe how fun she was to write.

Now, not everyone can enjoy Rhondalee as much as her creator does, I understand that. But everyone who reads her identifies with one part of Rhondalee. And that is…

The Invisible Committee

The Invisible Committee is a board that sits in judgment of Rhondalee’s actions, appearance, words, ambitions and marriage. Its existence is established during a very early scene in the book, while Rhondalee is vaccuming the courtyard of the trailer park’s clubhouse (it is covered with indoor/outdoor carpeting). “She ran the Kirby with ferocity, sucking up every trace of dust while laying our her thoughts to an Invisible Committee she’d mentally convened to hear her evidence and render a judgment as to her fitness as a wife and Tender’s failure as a husband.” The Committee hears her complaints, but stays silent as it becomes clear that Tender LaCour is indisputably in love with another woman.

I’ve been asked over and over who Rhondalee is based on, and the answer is, no one and everyone. She is a creation of my twisted sense of humor, written to satisfy the unadulterated glee I take in women behaving badly. But as distasteful as she is to so many readers, everyone seems to identify with her Invisible Committee. And why is that? Do we all believe there is some committee in the sky, watching and judging and issuing pronouncements on our lives?

After listening to my friends talk about it, I’ve decided that we do. It’s just located in different places.

God is Watching Us

Please understand, I was raised without the concept of Heaven and Hell. I was pretty creeped out when I found out about the idea at age eight. I remember sitting in a basement rec room, wood-panelling and all, with some Catholic friends explaining the lake of fire, and the Devil, and sin in great detail. I kept saying, “You really believe this stuff?” and shaking my head. You can’t imagine how absurd it sounded. The Devil was a Halloween costume, nothing more. And sin? The whole idea of sin? I went to church and Sunday school each week, I learned my Bible verses and sang my hymns, but I had never even HEARD of sin. But to my Catholic friends, this was all part of an invisible world, inhabited by unseen beings that included an utterly unfamiliar God; one who sat up in Heaven on a throne, watching and judging and somehow controlling the world with his judgment.

I am aware that a lot of people–a LOT–believe this way. I never could.

The Universe

There is a modern, spiritual-not-religious alternative to the big man in the sky, which is the Universe. People need to listen to the Universe and these same people believe that the Universe speaks to them. The Universe is always trying to tell these people something, mostly around how important they are and how needful their endeavors are, be that a line of handmade stained-glass earrings or a CD of drumming and chanting or the like. The Universe isn’t as judge-y as some of our invisible committees, but it’s still out there–vast, concerned, instructive.

The Universe is infinite. I have a limited ability to comprehend infinity, but I know it’s BIG. I have a hard time believing that the cosmos is personally invested in my self-publishing endeavors. I remember watching The Tree of Life, a brilliant, baffling film that features the endless stream of prayer and supplication that pours from humanity into this cosmic infinity; all the guilt and hope and supplication and anguish we send up as a species, alternating with gorgeous shots of nebulae and stardust.

That’s the universe. I don’t think it cares whether or not I leave my e-books on Kindle Unlimited or not. But some believe the Universe is ALL OVER IT.

Neighbors

You don’t have to go into the Cosmos or up to Heaven to find invisible judgment. There are much more localized sources. In the olden days, in the fifties and sixties, the question was, “What would the neighbors think?” This concern seemed to spring up after the uproar of what Great Depression and WWII, when so many expectations were set aside in the name of survival. Women donned coveralls and made decisions and worked in factories and men were–gone. At war. Scarce.

When the men came home, America embraced conventionality like a religion. We invented the nuclear family–a great failed social experiment, in my opinion–and created suburbia. With suburbia came that old saw of a line, “What would the neighbors think?” Those neighbors didn’t have names or faces or any kind of distinct identity to add value to their judgment. But streets full of those invisible neighbors observed everything. Everyone was SURE of it.

I’ve read some beautiful, difficult books that deal with the judgment and oppression of early Suburbia.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – The suburbs can be lethal.

The Weedkiller’s Daughter by Harriet Simpson Arnow – This novel is a perhaps overwrought and cliche-ridden, but it’s trying to convey something about the smothering sterility of suburban life. I like the author more when she’s writing about Appalachia, but I still feel this one is worth a read because it took on the burbs fairly early, and from the viewpoint of alienation from Nature.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham – This heartbreaking book is about several women through the generations, but the runaway suburban mother just grabbed me by the throat.

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody – A depressing look at WASPy alienation.

Three of these novels have been made into excellent movies. Then, there’s TV, specifically Mad Men. Who could forget the moment when Betty Draper went outside with the shotgun and started picking off ducks? Betty was such a casualty of suburbia. I waited through the entirety of the shown for her awakening, which never, ever came.

Post-Burbs

“What would the neighbors think?” was already more of a punchline than a true concern when I entered my teens. If you watch the movies of the era, there’s a general mockery of the idea. Some Bohemian young woman is always turning to her mother, to say, “Oh MOTHER, I KNOW, WHAT WOULD THE NEIGHBORS THINK?!?!?” Because this young woman with her center part and her miniskirt is liberated, and her dotty, repressed mother still cares, which makes her quaint at best and ridiculous at worst.

I always wondered who those neighbors were. I’m fairly certain that none of our many neighbors gave a damn what my family did when I was a kid, and if they did, we moved so often that we didn’t provide much interest for long. People my age would like to think that the women’s movement, the Watergate era and general consciousness-raising resulted in dismissal of conventional standards. And in some ways, things have changed. Though my novel The Iris Files is set in suburbia, nothing’s been the same out here since the 70s, and that’s a good thing, especially for Iris.

But our need to assume judgment never really went away. Because, now we have…

Social Media

Welcome to our current  social media parade, in which we are obsessed with how our lives come across to others: how they appear visually on Instagram, how eventful they seem when we check in on Facebook, how well our thoughts read on Twitter feeds. Why, some people even have BLOGS.

And for the first time, we have actual feedback, by way of likes or comments or replies. But we don’t know most of those people. They are not our neighbors, our coworkers. They are for the most part, invisible in our daily lives. All over the world, people are curating and preaching to and performing life for the eyes and ears of unseen, unknown strangers. The larger the following, the larger the performance.

It’s obvious to me that we crave the judgment of invisible others. If not God, then the Universe. If not the Universe, then the neighbors. If not neighbors, then the Internet.

But why?

Rhondalee is a middle-aged woman who manages a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. She has had her dreams crushed. Her life is tiny. It only matters to Rhondalee if her marriage falters, or her daughter never goes back onstage, or her community newsletter column goes unread. But when the Invisible Committee is watching, Rhondalee feels important. Her anger is forceful, her rage impactful. Her struggles matter.

I think so many people come up with the equivalent of an Invisible Committee because the alternative is humbling. The alternative to invisible judgment is your own invisibility. No one is watching you. No one has much of an opinion about how you live or who you love or where you shop or what you wear or drive or eat or consume for entertainment. No one outside your immediate family cares whether or not you have children. No one worries about when you’re going to finish your novel or make a success of your career or travel to New Zealand, or whatever metric you’ve set up to judge yourself against. No one is watching, no one is judging, and you are free to live your life just as large or as small as you choose to.

To some people, I imagine this feels terribly small and lonely. It’s just them, dancing for their dinners, trying to convince each other that their actions and opinions are terribly important to someone, somewhere. But to me? It is a calm, liberated place to be.

So if you have an invisible Committee, consider shutting it down. I am not sure what Rhondalee is going to do with hers, to be honest. She’s experiencing something like personal growth in book two. The days of her Invisible Committee might be numbered.

How are you sleeping?

How are you sleeping? my friends and I ask each other with honest concern. We don’t just mean how well are you sleeping, we want to know the exact mechanism by which sleep is attained. Because we are all crazy for sleep right now.

sleeping well

I’ve shocked myself by sleeping steadily for the last three nights. I have a sick little dog, and she’s been waking me up for over a month with various needs and tiny but terrible episodes (she is a tiny but terrible dog, that one). But for the last three nights, she’s slept soundly. So have I.

I have waltzed into work each morning and bragged about it like a total sleep whore. Some people brag about promotions, grandchildren, vacations, sex. I brag about sleep. “I got such amazing sleep last night.” Of course, my friends are actually envious. Sleep is so elusive and alluring.

just one of the gang

Most of us have severely disrupted sleep. Much of the time it’s cats. Snoring is another culprit, our own or that of our bed partners. Then there are the hot flashes. And once we’re awake, going back to sleep is impossible. Our lives are full of midlife worries and woes that keep us up when the dreaded awakening comes at 3 or 4 AM.

One of my friends does a mental shopping trip when she can’t sleep. She imagines going through the aisles of a store, and finding things by alphabet. Like, Apples, Benadryl, Coloring book, and so on. I have tried this but I invariably start to worry about how much it’s all going to cost, just like in real life.

I have a breathing trick I do. You can read about it here: How to Fall Asleep Right Away I forget about this trick sometimes, and then remember it and think, “I might as well give it a try.” The entire time I am breathing and counting, I’m thinking how stupid this trick is, and how it will never work, and why do I even try these dumb internet things anyway, and right about then I fall deeply asleep and there you go.

insomnia and ambien

I went through a time in my life when insomnia had me in its grip. This was ten years ago, and I made the decision to start taking Ambien. Ambien is a miracle, at first. You take it and stay asleep for eight hours. For a single mother in her forties gripped with the stress of work, finances and children, that’s unheard of.

EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP.

The problem is, of course, you can’t vary your schedule. You have to plan movie times and leave concerts early to make sure that you won’t be driving less than eight hours from when you take the miracle drug. You start arranging everything in your life so that you’re in bed with the pill on your tongue by 9:30 PM. And you get suspiciously grumpy when anything stands in your way.

There’s also the fact that you become completely addicted to this little pill. To fend this off, doctors are only allowed to prescribe you 11 pills for each 14 day period. I actually remember standing in the pharmacy tech and whining, “What am I supposed to do on the other three nights? Just not sleep?” in this horrible, crabby, mean way. It took about a month to become a complete Ambien addict, shambling around the drugstore in my yoga pants and UGGs, scowling, waiting for my scrip.

After four or five months of this mess, I decided it was time to go off. Maybe six months. So I took 2/3 of a pill each night for a while, and then I took ½ a pill, and by gosh I made it down to ¼ of a pill and was sleeping fine. I told my doctor I took ¼ a pill and she huffed, “That’s placebo effect. Go without it, you’ll be able to sleep.” And she was right.

outliving one’s usefulness

My sleeping was fine again until 2014, when I became some kind of wild-eyed hot-flashing menopausal cliché of a person. For over a year, I had ten hot flashes a night, bad ones that woke me up. I didn’t think I needed sleep so much as I needed euthanizing. Really. I would lie there and think, “Why do I need to go on? I’m clearly useless and just a drain on the world’s resources. I’ve done my part, I’m in the gene pool. Can’t someone push me over a railing and put me out of my misery?” But no one ever did.

This is a good thing, as all that passed, and I have slept decently since. Unless some little dog needs something. Or I have heartburn. Or the man snores too much. Or the moon is too bright. Or I’m in an unfamiliar bed. Or I forgot to apply my Carmex. Or…you get the picture.

As I said, none of my friends sleep well. I have friends who take Ambien, and friends who take ZQuil, and friends who take Melatonin. I have friends who swear by smoking pot, and others who swear by exercise (what is wrong with those people? the exercisers, I mean). Others drink red wine to go to sleep, which is just courting some kind of hot flash heartburn nightmare, in my book.

How about you? Are you sleeping? How are you sleeping? Tell me, friend. I care.