making time

When I was a kid, I read all the time. At school, at home, in line, at restaurants, at church, in the shower, by the glow of Christmas lights at night…

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When I was a kid, I read all the time. At school, at home, in line, at restaurants, at church, in the shower, by the glow of Christmas lights at night… Even at the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I was still a pretty voracious reader. It makes me sad to acknowledge that that just isn’t the case anymore. It’s not that my interest has dwindled at all.  It’s just that I never “feel like” reading.

What does that even mean?  What does it mean to feel like reading? To be excited about a story or subject and eager to discover more? I still feel that way, but somehow that doesn’t translate to picking up the book.  Part of it, I think, is fear of burn out.  I have very limited energy these days, and the thought of completing a huge tome (like, say, The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson sitting on our coffee table) is really intimidating.  I’m afraid that I will get totally exhausted partway through and never finish.

That would be a reasonable theory, except that I also have tons of short stories and graphic novels lying around, waiting to be opened.  But I don’t open them, either.

The real reason, I think, is that reading has become like a chore for me.  Something I put on my to-do list and feel disappointed in myself for not crossing off the list.  I feel tremendous pressure to be the kind of reader I used to be and I just am not.  I go through spells when I’m really motivated about reading and finish four or five texts and then I go dormant, so to speak, for quite awhile.  Telling myself I’m going to read for 20 minutes a day and then forcing that to happen sucks all of the joy out of the act and makes it so I’m just checking my watch every thirty seconds and not absorbing a single word.

Maybe what’s needed, then, isn’t a schedule or a rewards system (hey, it got me to run a 10k) but just gentle acceptance that this is the kind of reader I am now. Maybe instead of checking out stacks of books from the library when I know I’m not feeling motivated, put their titles on a list of texts I might like to read sometime and let them stay on the shelf.

That revelation (“This is My Normal”) applies to a lot of areas of my life, but this was the one on my mind today. As a reader, I can’t do what I used to do. But I can still do something, and I can be proud of myself for it.

return to the woods

As I caught my breath in the stall and tried to make myself as presentable as possible, it occurred to me that most people would not have made that choice.

A few weeks ago I made myself throw up.  I was dizzyingly nauseated and in pain, likely from a stomach bug.  I didn’t want to sit with that feeling for hours.  Who would? As I caught my breath in the stall and tried to make myself as presentable as possible, it occurred to me that most people would not have made that choice.  Inducing vomiting is disgusting to most, and a punchline for some. For me, it’s a piece of my past that–forgive the pun–comes up now and then.

I’m pretty open about my eating disordered past.  It’s not a secret that I struggled with purging type anorexia for years before entering into a serious recovery effort at 27.  I had a serious relapse at 31, but since then have been squeaky clean as far as the ED police are concerned.

Unfortunately, that’s not the whole truth.  I have the same thoughts and fears that I had before; I just don’t act on them. The disorder tells me that that’s because I lack willpower now, that I’m just a lazy slug who’ll just get fatter and fatter and… Whatever the reasons, I explain my state as dry anorexia.  I’m not “recovered” (sober), but I don’t engage in the behaviors anymore.  Sometimes, that’s much more difficult than it probably looks.

I was recently prescribed a medication that causes weight gain in 2000% of patients.  Meaning that if you just engage in a conversation with a patient on this drug you will gain five pounds.  Accordingly, I’ve gained about 20 pounds since starting. This has sent the disordered part of my brain (and a goodly portion of the “normal” part) into a panic. I think every day about the behaviors I used to engage in to lose or maintain weight. Things I know to be extremely dangerous, I fantasize about doing repeatedly.

I can’t do these things.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I love my job. I’m also in a fantastic relationship with a wonderful guy whom I love riotously. When you’re “in” this disorder (or any other in the category), you can’t have those things.  You can’t  even spare a thought for anything else.  Up in the morning, hop on the scale, take a piss, get back on the scale, agonize over breakfast, skip it, run to work, distract yourself from buzzing hunger til lunch, eat half a yogurt, vom it up, wish you had a scale, oh God you’re definitely bigger than this morning… It doesn’t leave room for you, let alone anyone else.

Preventing a relapse, then, is as much for me as it is for the life that I’ve created both on my own and with my fiancé. I have so much to lose now, unlike in the past. It seems perverse and cruel that these thoughts could be triggered at a time when things are looking so amazing.

In 2010, I started attending EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous) meetings.  They were tremendously helpful, and I’m grateful to this day for the support and camaraderie I found there.  Tonight, I’m sitting at my laptop preparing to enter an online EDA meeting because I can’t tell if there are in-person meetings in my city.  I’m not nervous, per se. I want this meeting to go well and be helpful. I want this to be a resource for me again.  If I’m anxious about anything, it’s the idea that EDA here (or online) might not be the life jacket that it was back home.

I guess we’ll see.

captain’s orders

Some made their ascent screamingly fast; others partied and rested along the way, hanging from the face in makeshift hammocks. All achieved the same goal, even though they bickered among themselves over whose method was purer, more efficient or more skillful.

I drew a single tarot card to help me sort out my thoughts today. Strength came up, reversed.  In this position, the Strength card indicates insecurity and vulnerability.  It means that something has happened to make you doubt yourself.  And that’s definitely true.  I’ve started following all of these wonderful people on Twitter, people who are working in jobs that I would love to have someday.  They’re all so intelligent and witty and knowledgeable.  I feel like I could never catch up to them, especially since I am starting so late.  I’m hardly a fresh-faced college grad springing through the industry doors with stardust in my eyes and self-confidence in my heart.  The mountain of grammar and usage rules that I don’t know is as steep and sheer as the seemingly unassailable face of El Capitan in Yosemite.

Full disclosure: one of my fiancé’s favorite documentaries is Valley Uprising, about the various groups of mountain climbers who have made Yosemite National Park their home over the years.  I’ve seen it several times, hence the climbing references. What is of particular relevance to me, though, is the fact that while El Cap has been ascended many times, each climber has had his or her own method (and madness).

cap
El Capitan

Some made their ascent screamingly fast; others partied and rested along the way, hanging from the face in makeshift hammocks.  All achieved the same goal, even though they bickered among themselves over whose method was purer, more efficient or more skillful.  And no one has ever conquered the beast. All these years later, climbers still view it with awe and respect, as something that can never fully be understood.

My own career path has been raucous and sloppy, veering from track to track over the 15 years I’ve been loose in the world.  I’ve made a point of following things I love and, when love went sour, of rocketing out on the path of least resistance.  My paths, however, have always meandered back toward one thing: language. Since I was a kid, I have loved language and literature, sharing new words and new (to me) books with anyone who would listen.  I have a BA in English and an MAT in teaching secondary English, but I found that teaching high school was not the calling I’d been listening for.

Now, I work at a community college.  I tutor students in English, help students in all disciplines revise papers and essays and support ESOL students both with their assignments and in conversation groups.  My job, in essence, centers around the refinement of language, on making expression more understandable.  I love it.  I love that feeling when we hit on a construction that preserves voice AND makes good sense.  Our eyes light up and, usually, I go for the high-five.  That passion for coherence has made me wonder if a related career might not be the answer I’ve been searching for. I know that copy-editing, for example, is dramatically different from editing student work (having done a short stint in magazine publishing I’ve a shred of an idea of how editorial works) and that lexicography is not just skipping through the halls singing about some neologism that’s gaining momentum.

I know that, but I’ve always admired a firm grasp on grammar and usage and envied a deep, broad vocabulary. But there has also been, on what felt like a cellular level, a certainty that I wasn’t smart enough or dedicated enough to be one of those people I looked up to.  Not to be arrogant, but I am pretty smart. It’s true, though, that until my thirties began I was far from dedicated.  I couldn’t stay focused on any subject for long, resulting in a wide but shallow scope of knowledge. Still, maybe that’s just my way. The documentary (which I realize has its problems) describes, from the very beginning, the wildly different approaches of various climbers, from studied, transcendentalist attempts and crazy, drug-fueled scrambles to the seemingly suicidal efforts of later free soloists. All of those climbers (well, aside from those who died trying) made it to the apex. They are all still called “climbers.” So maybe now, knowing all that I know, I can make my own meandering, curious ascent into…whatever’s up there waiting for me.