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Write what is true: notes from a (sometimes?) proud fat girl

I just finished reading Lindy West’s book lindy. Since my mother says I was born with no thermostat and no volume control, you can see why this book would appeal to me. But mostly it appeals because she is so funny and smart and she writes a whole chapter on what is lousy about living in a world where men who desire fat women often feel such shame that they end up treating fat women like a dirty secret. Having gone out with the guy who clearly liked me but kept mentioning how hot everyone thought his ex-wife was, it was nice to hear someone else had dealt with the same thing.

The passage that she wrote that moved me in particular was this one: “Maybe you are thin. You hiked that trail and you are fit and beautiful and wanted and I am so proud of you, I am so in awe of your wiry brightness; and I’m miles behind you, my breathing ragged. But you didn’t carry this up the mountain. You only carried yourself. How hard would you breathe if you had to carry me? You couldn’t. But I can.” If you know me, you know that I go through cycles: I claim who I am, every pound of it, with pride sometimes, and with frustration at others. I sometimes say it has failed me and other times find it miraculous. I think many of us do. It’s just that the world around me confirms half of that narrative. It denies that I am more active and eat healthier than some of my thin friends; it lets me know that I should embrace privation to be less gross to other people. It pretends care about my health. But it doesn’t. It cares about my size. And as I’ve written about before, I feel caught between loving myself as I am and desiring to be my healthiest self, when that’s actually a totally false dichotomy.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about the fact that before Shrill, there was Samantha Irby’s essay collection Meaty, which was also smart and funny and poignant and made me feel a little less self-loathing and a little more solidarity. I think I discovered her two years ago. (Yeah; you’ll notice I said self-loathing. My efforts to be proud of who I am have major hurdles, hurdles which are affirmed by the fact that any time someone disagrees with me on twitter, i’m wrong because I’m fat.)

In 1999, it was Camryn Manheim’s Wake Up, I’m Fat! She wore a swimsuit on the cover. Oh my gosh: fat people didn’t have to hide themselves for other people’s comfort!

And the very first time I heard someone say that my body is not someone else’s business was two sentences long, back in 1993. Bob Greene, a Chicago Tribune columnist, took two weeks of vacation. He filled his columns with things his readers had written in that they thought were beautiful in the world, to counter all the negativity. So my favorite Tribune columnist, Mike Royko, took his revenge by filling two weeks’ of his own columns with reader submissions on things that really pissed them off. They were so funny; I still remember them. “People who get to the front on the line at McDonald’s and don’t know what to order. The menu hasn’t changed in 50 years; HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW?!” I still laugh about that one.

But that column captured the first message that if other people held my body in contempt, that was on them. A woman wrote in and said, “People who complain about fat people wearing shorts. If you don’t like my butt, look at your own!”

I got booster shots every so often, but I still think about that when I feel stares of contempt because I’ve exposed too much of myself for some onlooker’s comfort.

I write all of this to say: write things that are true. Write things that are brave. They may be about being fat. They may be about race. They may be about parenting. But someone like 17-year-old me might read that one brave sentence, and it may help them navigate the next 23 years of their lives.

Please:

Write stuff that lifts up other folks.

And if you can, be funny when you do it.

Thanks.

 

“Where to Invade Next:” a commentary on the role of law enforcement from Portugal

where-to-invade-next-posterMy father asked me this morning what Michael Moore is doing (the guy from “Roger and Me,” the documentary about the auto industry’s decline and its impact on his hometown of Flint). Turns out he has a new film available on amazon.com. My father suggested we watch it and my mother thought this was a great idea. What a pair of commies.

The film is called “Where To Invade Next.” The premise is that instead of the US invading all these struggling countries, spending billions and damaging their own soldiers as well as civilians abroad. Instead, they should send him to Europe to conquer their great ideas.

He visits Italy and learns about the positive impact of 8 weeks’ vacation, talking with Italian millionaires who are uninterested in taking away vacation time to be richer.

He visits France where the schools treat lunch as another class where children learn what healthy and flavorful eating can be.

He visits Finnland and learns that by giving less homework, letting children spend less time in school and more time playing, and teaching music and the arts and not teaching to the test, Finnland’s educational performance has sprung from tied with the US (around 29) in the 1970s to being the best education system in the world.

He visits Slovenia where no one carries college debt (including the US students).

He visits Norway where prisons are built around rehabilitation rather than revenge. The parent of a victim of the Oslo shooter spoke about his commitment to the murderer getting a fair trial, because that is how Norway is better than hatred or terrorism.

He visits Tunisia to learn about the strength of the women’s rights movement (including reproductive health rights currently being stripped from women in the US).

He visits Iceland where women have reached something close to equality and also ran the only bank that didn’t collapse when the Icelandic economy collapsed (due to male-run high risk financial ventures) and who helped put the economy back together.

Overall the theme was that workers’ and students’ rights are assured when workers and students fight for them, and countries that watch out for each other instead of only themselves.

But the most moving story is that of Portugal, which stopped prosecuting drug use and began treating it as a condition requiring medical care. Drug use has actually declined over the past fifteen years when they abandoned their own war on drugs. Moore interviewed police officers in Oslo and asked them what message they would like to share with police in the United States. “Remembering that your topmost job is to preserve human dignity,” they said. They said that was part of what they were trained in as cadets.

 

As I think about the officers involved in racism, violence and sexual brutality in my hometown, I couldn’t help but choke back tears as they looked into the camera and made that plea to our officers. I wonder what our country might look like if preserving human dignity were the top priority of law enforcement. I can barely imagine it, but I am grateful to those working to make it a reality here as well as in Portugal.

Breathing underwater

I dabble in running. I’ve run a half marathon, but it really is only dabbling. The only reason I do it is because early morning is when my friend’s and my schedules align, and running is how she can rationalize leaving her bed that early, and she seems to have a vague but not annoying commitment to me living beyond the age of 45.

But the other day I was talking to one of my favorite OPC partners who was trying to convince me that going to the gym was fun. “If you need to lie to yourself about enjoying it to convince yourself, that’s fine with me,” I joked back.

“NO, Sandhya!” she said emphatically, her beautiful eyes wide with the enthusiasm of a convert. “I make my [teen] kids go with me every night at 10. That’s MY time. They make fun of me that I spend two minutes on each machine then lie down on the massage chair, but that’s the time NO ONE else can bother me.” This particular partner works so hard that she makes me look lazy, and I said, “yeah…I pay way too much for a gym that has an outdoor pool because if I can sneak away during lunchtime, that’s one hour under the sun with no noise or interruptions. No one can find you under water.”swim-1 (more…)

“I thirst.” A Good Friday message for today

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

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I don’t know what it is to be thirsty. I don’t know what it is like to only have muddy contaminated water to drink. I don’t know what it is like to be willing to drink anything because I am so parched.

But not far from here I have seen lakes’ edges hundreds of yards from lifeguard chairs. Our land is thirsty. As thirsty as Jesus.

And if you will forgive me being political, our governor made mock of the life of those lakes, letting nestle bottle that scarce water and ship it to other states.

This world made mock of Jesus’ life as well as his death. On the cross perhaps
Jesus was referencing Psalm 69: Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

I imagine none of us hears this fifth word from the cross without thinking of the people of Flint. Elected officials make mock of their suffering and for the people of Flint’s thirst, the government gave them poison to drink.

And they are not alone; dozens of cities around them drinks water even more polluted.

Thousands of abandoned uranium mines on tribal land with no governmental requirements to clean up the mines means water poisoning has been a reality for indigenous people for decades.

Last Tuesday, dozens of low income people, homeless and formerly homeless people went to the city council to plead that money for low income housing not be reallocated to middle income housing. After hours of testimony they were scolded by council for not caring enough about How badly the housing crisis was affecting middle income people.

The people I work with are thirsty for dignity, for shelter, for basic human rights. The government makes mock of their suffering and for their thirst gives them vinegar.

Our people, the people we are accountable to as Christians, and our savior have all felt the Beginning of psalm 69:  Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?

Jesus had few words left as he died on the cross. He used his words sparingly and chose them carefully in the midst of his suffering. Those words conveyed his plight and the plight of the poor and Black and brown and indigenous people.

Jesus lived in a world where the government did not care for the thirst of those in need.

And he lived in a world where his own family feared to respond to his thirst.

We live in the same world where the government does not care for the thirst of those in need and where our own family fears to respond to our thirst.

In this moment, Jesus reminds us in the midst of his own thirst about the end of psalm 69: I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

May we be comforted in our thirst that God hears our need and invites us to liberate one another. And may Jesus on the cross remind us to respond to our family’s thirst.

Milk for my tea – what does economic privilege look like?

My intern and I both like milk in our tea.

Neither of us has a ton of extra cash, but every couple of weeks one of us goes to the discount grocery and buys a pint of milk so we get the little special treat of tea with milk as we work together. We pack our own lunches and take the free shuttle to and from work whenever we can, but we have tea…and sometimes even cookies to go with them.

I’m in the midst of doing my taxes. My income puts me at about 2/3 of the average median income for the city I live in, or 65% of AMI. That means I struggle most months to pay all my bills, even with all the side hustles I have going on. Even so, I owe about the same amount in taxes that a person earning SSI earns in a year. Obviously in one way this troubles me because my side work is mostly contract work, which means my taxes don’t get deducted each month and then I owe more money than I realized I had earned each April…somewhere around $9,000. But what’s more shocking, obviously, is that some of the people I work with are trying to find a way to live in the most expensive corner of the country on $9,000 a year.

I bring up milk in my tea because I interned for a summer at an HIV/STD clinic in Kolkata run by an organization then called Calcutta Samaritans (now called Emmanuel Ministries). Throughout most (although not all) of India, the tea you get on the side of the road is milk, water, tea and sugar all boiled together. It’s thick and sweet and almost condensed. My mother had to tell herself it was some exotic drink in no way related to tea in order to get it down on most visits.

But at Calcutta Samaritans, we always got “lal cha,” or red tea. It was sweet and often had lime squeezed into it. I thought of it as a signature drink of sorts, that set them apart.

Then I found out that the staff, some of whom were there out of commitment to the mission and some of whom had been brought up in the organization through the pavement children’s programs and mentored into staff positions from their childhoods on the streets, sometimes went without pay for a couple of months at a time. All the money was going into the addiction program, the red light district program, the health clinic and street children’s outreach, and staff salaries would sometimes suffer rather than cut programming.

And they saved money by not buying milk for tea.

Times are hard for all of us. The reason people are gravitating towards terrifying, xenophobic leaders is that they see no hope of their lives getting better.

But I have milk for my tea. I remember that and am grateful. And it reminds me of my obligations to those trying to live on what I owe in taxes and to those who can’t afford milk for tea, or tea at all.

 

 

Nonviolence, privilege and grief. Thoughts on South Carolina and a child I love.

Art by Demar Douglas, found on pinterest

Art by Demar Douglas, found on pinterest

This morning I sat down to write a letter to a beloved recent teen in my life, a newly minted thirteen-year-old. We go to protests a lot, and museums where we learn about farm workers and the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

This beloved recent teen has been to hell and back, and the amount of resilience that is demanded of her is, to my mind, stupid. By which I really mean unjust. By which I mean I wish I could protect her and it makes me furious that I can’t. And by furious, I mean helpless.

I debated whether to mention the shooting in South Carolina. I debated it because she may not be watching the news these days and I don’t know that it is helpful for her to know about more suffering in the world. Mostly because I don’t want her to have more to be sad about or to be scared of or to hate the world for.

I’ve been reminded recently that it is hard to talk about any issue in a way that speaks to everyone’s lived experience, and when talking about anything related to race, it is that much harder, because we do have the same amount of skin in the game, but the way the game goes does not affect us the same way. (That is, even White people who HATE racism benefit from it, and Black people don’t, and the rest of us have a very complex terrain to navigate.) A great illustration of how privilege and oppression shape our responses to racial issues is that popular Facebook meme about police brutality and Black Lives Matter that reads “Black people are saying ‘STOP KILLING US!’ and White people’s response is ‘But…'”
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More recently, though, (more…)

On D’Angelo, Warriors fans, race and culture

The intersection of pop culture and race is some complicated stuff.image

There came point at the D’Angelo concert last night and when the joy went out of the show for me. That’s saying something, because I spent a whole lot more money than I have to be there and have been looking forward to it for months.

It was the moment in the show where D’Angelo sang to the crowd, “Freddie’s dead but we ain’t. Let’s celebrate.” I get where the message came from. I see it as powerful, especially from the man whose last album was the soundtrack to this past season of #BlackLivesMatter and a love letter to Black activists.

The thing is, in the section where I was standing, we were maybe 25% visibly African American and I wanted to say to the guys grinding into my stomach with their butts, “HE’S NOT TALKING TO US! WE DON’T GET TO CELEBRATE THAT!” (And yeah, I get that part of the reason I didn’t want to celebrate was their butts grinding into my stomach. Anyone who saw my Facebook status update after the show knows that.)

Celebration is an act of rebellion. Everyone who has lived on the margins makes use of it. I love that. I love the power of laughter and joy and lovemaking in the face of abuse, oppression and death.

Heck, I just like a good party.

But this wasn’t my party.

It wasn’t my party because I do not live in constant fear of death at the hands of the people who are supposed to serve and protect me. I do not need to celebrate my survival. I don’t need to piggyback on his community’s party when I haven’t borne the same pain.

And yet, here we were, thousands of people, Black and White and Asian, and I understand he wasn’t expecting 2/3 of us to stop dancing, and I don’t know if the people around me knew which Freddie he was talking about to understand this wasn’t their party.

This stuff is blurry, our sharing of art and culture.

This might be on my mind because yesterday at lunch my friend Tami and I went to the Bengali sweet place in Fremont after church. As she stared at the Bollywood video above my head, she said, “all his backup dancers are white.”

I looked up at the screen and commented, “ah. Shah Rukh Khan. Bollywood’s biggest star. India loves its Muslim actors, but not Muslims in general.”

“That sounds familiar,” she responded, and I remembered the article in Saturday’s Chronicle about Warriors fans in San Francisco shouting racial epithets at Cavaliers as they boarded the bus from their hotel. We love our Black athletes and musicians and actors, but not our Black people in general. (And none of this is even addressing the anti-darkness culture of Bollywood that Tami was pointing out.)

A couple of months ago David Zirin spoke at an event at the Oakland Peace Center. Someone asked him why the NFL has nonprofit status. He connected some dots in a way that blew my mind.

In the 1950s, the NFL was considering expanding its teams. The senators from Louisiana said, “give us a team, and we’ll give you a nonprofit tax exemption.” The New Orleans saints were born and earned incredible amounts of money while pouring no tax dollars back into the city they called home and profited from.

What little money New Orleans had for infrastructure did not by and large get placed in places that would benefit the Black community (including shoring up the levees that eventually flooded the ninth ward.)

When the levees flooded, the only space for the flood survivors was the Superdome, which became dangerously uninhabitable within hours. The people that gave the Saints so much were no more cared for by the Saints than by their government. (And no, the name of the team does not escape me.)

I don’t have any conclusions except to say we borrow and exchange culture and art in this country and I love that. And yet there is a difference between borrowing and appropriating, and yet another difference between borrowing and exploiting. And if we miss the first line, it might make it even easier to miss the second one.

i don’t have any answers. I hope the next generation of racial justice warriors will, especially the many who were conceived last night thanks to D’Angelo’s mood setting music. Black Messiah may have been a love letter to Black activists, but I think it worked on the whole crowd. Because some kinds of celebrating ARE universal.