Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Musings

I associate Easter with my childhood and the one time of year that my father tried to assert his Christianity. I can recall attending an assortment of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday church services with him; Palm Sunday was especially beautiful, with everyone holding their bright green fronds and Easter Sunday was always like a fashion show, with everyone in their spring finery, including now-anachronistic enormous bonnets. I remember the year that the priest (Episcopal) gave what I thought was a particularly annoying sermon, I forget about what, but he invited anyone who disagreed with him to stand up, which I tried to do, but my father held me down in my seat. That was the year I was ten and I’d been given a hot-pink spring coat with big, fabric-covered buttons (I loved that coat). I was in my 20s before I attended an Easter service again, by which time I’d learned to behave and keep my protests to myself.

As was always the case in my childhood home with holidays normally steeped in religious significance, we made Easter mostly about food and fun: chocolate bunnies and coloring Easter eggs and making a pretty Easter basket. My Yiddisha Mama always baked a nice glazed ham studded with cloves, draped with pineapple slices, dotted with Maraschino cherries. The first year I was taken to the Easter Parade on Manhattan’s famed Fifth Avenue, I felt totally ripped off: no marching bands, no flags and uniforms, no nothing, except dressed-up people, especially women with even more outrageous hats than the church ladies wore. Someone should have warned me.

When I was older, I better understood the concepts of redemption and resurrection so integral to Easter, and as a Spiritualist I don’t entirely pooh-pooh the idea that Christ may have genuinely risen from the dead, but the whole idea was (and is) too tied up with Christian miracles for my taste. I was even older when I learned about the pre-Christian history of Easter as a pagan spring fertility celebration (ergo the eggs) and something to do with a Greek goddess and her pet rabbit that laid eggs. I like this idea better.

This year, I am focusing on secular thoughts (both personal and political) of renewal/rebirth/a New Beginning. I’m looking forward to the warmth and blooms and happy possibilities of spring. Wishing you peace, joy and whatever renewal you may need at this lovely time of year. And to paraphrase the song White Christmas, may all your bunnies be white.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Diabetes and Fat Acceptance: An Update

Yesterday I saw my doctor for the first time since last September and was surprised to learn that I’ve lost nearly 60 lbs. and my efforts to control the Type 2 diabetes I was diagnosed with last fall have been successful.

You might wonder how it could be a surprise to me that I’ve lost so much weight, but if you spent the vast majority of your days in nightgowns and loungers (nee muumuus), you’d know how easy it is to lose touch with your body. I knew I’d lost some weight, I just didn’t realize how much. The other reason for the surprise is that I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was just making a concerted effort to eat less sugar and fat and fewer starchy carbohydrates, and instead eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, because I was frightened about developing diabetes-related health crises, like blindness, amputation, heart attacks and strokes. I knew I’d lose weight in this process, but since weight loss wasn’t the goal, I didn’t give it much thought.

For quite some time, I haven’t believed in dieting, because (as is the case with 98% of all people who diet to lose substantial amounts of weight) all my past efforts were counter-productive; I always re-gained more weight than I’d lost. But until I was told I had diabetes, I had never tried to change my eating habits for important health reasons, instead of the vanity and self-loathing that motivated my weight loss diets. I’m thrilled that I’m doing well with the diabetes management and I’m pleased to report that, for the most part, it hasn’t been too painful. I haven’t gone hungry or been obsessive about how much I eat, I’ve just focused on the nature and quality of what I eat – and I’ve allowed myself frequent treats.

I take oral medication and now subscribe to two major diabetes publications, test my blood sugar at least once a day, and frequently review the many good diabetes-related Web sites I’ve bookmarked. I’ve put a lot of effort into learning how to cook differently and have discovered that I actually like some of the foods I used to shun because I thought they were obnoxiously healthy. It’s been an interesting period.

But I’m still very much a fat person and will continue to be a fat person even if I lose another 50+ lbs. – and I’m still outraged by the vicious anti-fat sentiments that are part and parcel of today’s Health Fascism. As was the case when cigarettes were Boogeyman #1, many people are breathtakingly self-righteous about their healthy habits and downright hateful about fat people. There are a lot of folks out there who really believe that the obese are shredding the fabric of society, that our size and relationship with food are costing them in substantial economic ways. This is ridiculous and I’ll only consider taking this idea seriously when both government and the sick health care industry eliminate fraud, mismanagement and the profit motive from health care systems.

As a serious, sincere advocate of fat acceptance, I was initially concerned that my fat politics would be undermined by my efforts to control my diabetes (and, frankly, vice versa). It’s turned out there’s no conflict whatsoever. I’ve been doing what I need to do to improve my health and preserve my independence without concern for how these efforts do or don’t alter my appearance. I am who and what I am, which now includes having diabetes and needing to deal with it. I still defend my right (and the right of others) to be whatever size I am and to challenge social mores that demonize fat people. It’s good to confront real health problems (like diabetes) with pro-active vigor. It’s also good to live and let live. I wish the health fascists would shut the fuck up and butt out of my life and the lives of all fat people. And I wish for all those who are coping with diabetes the success and comfort I’ve achieved in managing this disease.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Good For You, Barack

If you haven’t yet had a chance to hear or read the complete speech Barack Obama made today about race, it’s role in America, and his relationship with the controversial Rev. Wright, I encourage you to do so now (click on “now” for a link to the transcript). His ideas are splendid and his language is excellent. Hillary’s no slouch in the eloquence department, but you can’t deny that Obama has a special gift. I found the things he said in this speech about racial problems and divisions, and his own perspective on race (born of his mixed-race parentage) to be insightful and, I felt, sincere – and I can attest to the truth of these observations from my own mixed-race experience. What I liked best is that he repudiated Rev. Wright’s remarks in no uncertain terms, but he just as vehemently refused to disown him as a friend and counselor, and he explained why with considerable forthrightness and grace.

I’m for Hillary – but her campaign sucks. Obama, on the other hand, is redefining presidential campaigning and civic involvement with techniques and tactics that we’ll see again, next time around; as others have already observed, the 1960 campaign, conducted in the glare of television for the first time, greatly changed the process. The 2008 campaign, with Obama’s successful development of active grassroots support and a superior use of the Internet, will no doubt be replicated in the future. I’m still not on the Obama bandwagon, but I want to give credit where it’s due. At a time in American politics when political correctness has motivated people to disavow associates with a speediness reminiscent of the 1950s McCarthy era, Obama’s courage and personal independence are admirable (and refreshing), and his straightforward talk about race is sorely needed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Love of the Irish

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day has long been one of my favorite holidays. I love Irish music & lore, Kelly green, soda bread, corned beef & cabbage and Irish people – in part because much of the love and friendship I’ve received over the years have come from Irish folks.

It started with a couple named John and Mary Murphy (what else?). They owned the 3-family house in the Bronx my parents and I lived in when I was a little girl. Mr. Murphy lived primarily in the unfinished basement, part of which he turned into a scrupulously neat and clean bed-sitter. When he wasn’t hiding out down there listening to the radio and reading the Daily News, he was outside polishing the brass door-plates and hand-rails that made the stoop shine.

Mrs. Murphy’s realm was their six-room apartment on the top floor. She gave special meaning to the term pack-rat and chose to live in peaceful cooperation with substantial layers of dust (which, in recent years, I’ve learned to do myself). She frequently did her laundry in a kitchen washtub of perennially opaque-gray water. She would hang it, dripping, from the clothesline outside her window. It would splatter on our first floor kitchen window. We called it “Mrs. Murphy’s Rain.” It was sometimes freezing in the little building, and if my mother went upstairs to complain about the lack of steam-heat, Mrs. Murphy would cheerfully say in her rich brogue, “the bylor’s broken” and hand my mother a sweater and a nice cup of tea.

Mr. Murphy was quiet and stern, but we knew he liked us. He spoke up for my parents more than once when people in the neighborhood had something unkind to say about the interracial family in his house, and he regularly chased away kids who were hassling me. Mrs. Murphy was warm and loving and often let me bang away for hours on the old upright piano in her parlor. I adored them both.

It was also during this formative period that my mother introduced me to some of the works of Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw. I came to connect a love of and facility with language with Irishness – and have continued to do so throughout my life. Oscar Wilde is one of my heroes and I’ve read everything the brilliant Maeve Binchy has written.

Over the years, numerous Irish folks have enriched my life. In high school, my soul mate was a smart, skinny kid named Bruce, who lived with his nere-do-well father, saintly mother and six brothers and sisters in an old clapboard house in Brooklyn. In the early 70s I had a co-worker named Theresa who became a good friend, as did her son, Eddie, who eventually served as my public relations mentor and is a dear friend and colleague to this day. In the 80s I met the lovely Anne, a fine writer/producer with amazing humor and warmth who exemplifies the closeness of the word friend. In the 90s I connected with another grand soul, Erin, a talented talk-radio host and once my supportive sponsor in a 12-Step program; and, also in that decade, there was Tom, a great love-of-my-life who remained a close friend for 12 years until his death.

Much of what I’ve learned about love, language, grief, humor and fortitude I’ve learned from the Irish, so I cheerfully celebrate them today. And here’s wishing you a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day, whether you’re Irish or not.

“May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be ever at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

Crone Power! (Happy Birthday to Me!)

Today is my birthday. I’m 56 years old – which officially makes me a Crone. Here in the 21st century, Crone is a derogatory term, as is hag. But in centuries past, these words were used to describe a Wise Woman: post-menopausal, seasoned, tempered (and distempered) by life, marriage and motherhood, and in a position to wax philosophic and even psychic. Some of modern history’s most lauded women – among them Agatha Christie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Edith Wharton, May Sarton, and a number of the turn-of-the-20th-century suffragists – have written with relief and pleasure about their 50s, 60s and beyond, and how much simpler life is without the insecurity of youth and the imperatives of assorted raging hormones. For the most part, I concur.

I’m more patient than I used to be. Although I’m still fairly preoccupied with myself, I’m more mindful and caring of others. I don’t feel a wild sense of urgency about much of anything – which I appreciate, whether it’s for good or ill. I’m still somewhat confused racially and spiritually, but Straightening It All Out no longer feels likely or terribly important. I don’t care as much about what other people think of me. I still mourn departed loved ones, but I’m more accepting of the loss.

I’ve never been what you’d call a happy person, but I’m more contented now than in any other phase of my life. I basically know who and what I am, and I’m okay with it. I’m more appreciative of anything good and more capable of enjoying simple pleasures. I also have more compassion for and insight about men than I did when I was younger – although I currently have no opportunity to apply this wisdom. It’s been awhile since my last Relationship and I wouldn’t mind having a nice man in my life again. But I haven’t forgotten how much work relationships are. My energies are channeled elsewhere – but I’m open to a compelling interruption (Viva Viagra)! I’m less physically attractive than I used to be, but I have a lot more confidence and experience.

I don’t mind growing old or being alone per se, but absent children, extended family or a Significant Other, it’s scary sometimes. One of my dearest friends and my downstairs neighbor for more than 30 years is a 94 year-old-woman who is very much alone. She’s been a dedicated working musician and opera coach for over 70 years, but now her mind is going and her body is betraying her and there’s no one around to take care of her. Friends (and she has many) are her safety net – as they are mine. It’s unsettling when pieces of one’s self-sufficiency begin to peel away. Throughout our lives, we know we’re mortal and we’ll eventually wind down and die, but until fundamental changes impose on day-to-day life, that reality seems distant and not really relevant.

Things change when you’re a Crone. People look at you differently, when they look at you at all; ours is a culture that doesn’t like to look age in the face, and the feeling is mutual. I find young people irritating, that distinctive combination of ignorance and self-assurance and the subconscious comfort that comes from knowing the years still stretch ahead.

But I’m not going to be gloomy today. I’m going to concentrate on feeling good about feeling as good as I do. I’m going to count my blessings. I’m going to do something good for myself (see my doctor) and something nice (sushi for dinner!). I’m going to be grateful for having an unusual, interesting life – and finally forgive myself for not making more of it. I’m going to “own” my Crone-ness and rejoice that I’ve made it this far, this well.

This has been my shot at imparting a little wisdom. If you don’t feel uplifted and enlightened, please cut me some slack. It’s my first day as a Crone.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Please, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

I’m delighted that Hillary Clinton won the Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island primaries this week, and the best-possible outcome (in my view) would be that Hillary win the nomination – fair, square and without a hint of back-room maneuvering. But Barack Obama has hardly become the loser in this ongoing fight. And now that they’re on an equal footing in the race, they each have the ability and the opportunity to make this a process to be proud of – or to go old-school political and connive their way to the nomination. Handled poorly (which is to say, backhanded), winning could result in great losses for America at a critical time.

America deserves better than Dubya Redux with a Presidential win by John McCain, who, although smarter and I think a far more decent man than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is not what this country needs going forward. We need someone who will end the war in Iraq, not justify it; someone who will craft universal health care, not get around it; heal the sickly economy, not just preserve the current safe-haven for the few; find solutions for the mortgage and bankruptcy crises, not let them run their free-market course to total disaster; protect a woman’s right to choose and repair the corrupted separation of Church and State, rather than further this insult to democracy. In short, we need what used to be called A Democrat, before Democrat came to mean “he who sits impotently by while the Republicans run the country into the ground.”

Our election process is already compromised by bad voting equipment and everything from incompetence to outright fraud. Add to that the troubling inequities wrought by the continuation of the Electoral College, and, the completely undemocratic power of the so-called super-delegates, and it’s not hard to understand why so many people have stopped participating in this vital activity of citizenship. But now we have two promising candidates – candidates who’ve promised that this is a whole new ballgame: open, honest, in The People’s Best Interest. Yet we can’t expect Presidential behavior that rises above the fray of self-service if our prospective candidates resort to Any Means Necessary to secure the nomination.

I’m frankly less concerned right now about whether it’s Clinton or Obama who wins the day than I am that their infighting will get so hot and so low that Denver 2008 will make Chicago 1968 look like a summer picnic – and give McCain a virtually unfettered path to the White House. Please, Hillary and Barack, remember that this election is bigger than either of you and you both owe us the united party you promised us. Anything less and we all lose.