Big, Fat Lie

A while back, I wrote a post looking back at my bariatric surgery a year ago, and thinking about how my life has changed. That post got some attention, mostly by other health and lifestyle blogs. The conclusion I came to in that post was that, although there have been some lifestyle changes since the surgery, the weight loss was worth it.

Image of me in May 2019 weighing about 245 and image of me in January 2021 weight 145.
What a difference 100 pounds makes! Not surprisingly, I don’t have any full-body pictures of me from before.

I feel like that message might have been misleading. Yes, the weight loss has meant that a lot of things have gotten easier for me (exercise is easier, finding clothes is easier, social interactions are easier), but it’s important to be clear: this wouldn’t have happened without surgery.

Everyone will tell you that the way to control your weight is through diet and exercise. What they don’t tell you is that this advice only works if you have a “normal” metabolism that predictably burns calories as they are consumed. With the metabolism of a young, fit, healthy person, if you have a temporary imbalance of intake vs. output, you will have an equally predictable weight gain or loss, which is easily remedied by paying a bit of attention to your diet or exercise regimen.

If we’re both digging holes and I have a backhoe and all you’ve got is a spoon, it’s not your fault that I’m making better progress than you.

Lise Quintana

But there are a million things that affect metabolism, including long-term dieting, aging, certain chronic illnesses, lifestyle, and heredity. And once your metabolism starts to change, there is a cascading set of changes that reinforce it, like the production of the hormone that controls hunger and the hormone that control satiety.

It’s absolutely possible to use diet and exercise to get from morbidly obese to a “normal” BMI, those things won’t change your metabolism, and won’t change your hormones, which is why almost everyone who loses weight through diet and exercise fails to maintain that loss.

When I talk about surgery changing my life, I don’t just mean my behaviors and experiences. My body chemistry has changed. My metabolism is back to that of a fit, healthy person, the hormone that causes me to feel hunger has been curtailed, and the hormone that tells me when I’m full has ramped up. These are fundamental changes that mean that I stand a much better chance of maintaining a lower weight than I would have if I just dieted and exercised.

I say all this because I don’t want people reading about my weight loss to feel bad about themselves because they’re not achieving the same result. If we’re both digging holes and I have a backhoe and all you’ve got is a spoon, it’s not your fault that I’m making better progress than you, and it doesn’t make you weak, or a failure, or lazy.

The fact that I lost weight doesn’t mean I’m a better person than I was before. What I really want is for people to feel good about themselves – worthwhile and lovable and comfortable – regardless of their weight, shape, or lifestyle.

Removing the Frog’s Nervous System

My life recently has been defined by three things: losing about 100 pounds, losing everything I owned in a fire, and discovering that I’m on the autism spectrum.

  • Thinking about any aspect of my life, I bump up against those three things. Perhaps only two of those things at a time, but they’re always there.
  • How I react to my friends’ rallying around me after the fire: Do they love me because I’m quirky, or because I’m more attractive now that I’m no longer fat?
  • How I replace clothing since I can’t go into a store and try things on: Sure, I’m a “medium,” but what size is that in vintage clothing? At Banana Republic? At Target? And where do I find clothes that suit my very particular taste?
  • How I interact with strangers, who are the lion’s share of my interactions since the fire: Are they being kind, courteous, solicitous because they find me attractive, or because of the huge effort I put into seeming normal?

Since the fire, I’ve been thinking about my life pre-weight loss, pre-diagnosis, pre-fire. I know I’m not the only person in the world who feels that 2020 has drawn a line across my life, which was one thing before, and a very different thing after. What part of that earlier me is still there? How could things have been different?

Without the fire, I don’t think I would ever have had a reason to examine my life in the detail I have in the past three and a half months (as of this writing, it’s been 105 days since we lost our house). On the other hand, I have always been self-reflective, second guessing my every thought word and deed almost before they are completed.

I read a book where two characters were discussing two separate, but intertwined things, and one character expressed the desire to separate them. The other character said that separating them would be like removing the nervous system from a frog intact, and without killing the frog. It can’t be done, and it would be painful and disturbing to try.

I’m driven mad by how unscientific an experiment my life is. I can’t isolate any one of the above events and observe the public reaction from that thing in isolation, and if I were to hand everyone I interacted with a questionnaire that said things like “Which of the following factors was most influential in your interaction?” people would tell me they had the plague as an excuse to never interact with me. Sadly, I’m not smooth enough to figure out how to subtly ask stuff like this without the other person knowing that’s what I’m getting at.

We are each an amalgam. Not just emotionally – composed of every experience we’ve had, sensation we’ve felt, emotion we’ve endured – but physically. Every human being is an amalgam of human bits and a unique group of bacteria and various symbionts that live in our blood and guts, making each person a literal aggregate. So, it looks like going forward, I can’t separate any of the large defining events of 2020 in my experience.

I came into 2020 as an optimistic, fat little tadpole. I go out as a lean, muscular, and quite whole frog.

But Is It Worth It?

Last night, my husband and I were driving along, and he started to tell me something about the weather. What he actually said was “Today broke all kinds of records—” but I cut him off. I just lost my house to global climate change. I don’t need to be reminded that it’s real, that it’s bad, that it’s getting worse.

Right after the fire, everyone asked me whether we were afraid of rebuilding, and I glibly told them “I’m not worried about fire. There’s nothing left to burn.” At the time, I believed that. My brain needed something hopeful, something optimistic to hang onto. I don’t know if I believe that now.

Politics is getting ugly. The Republican party in California has admitted to putting up fake “ballot drop off” boxes, an attempt at election fraud. The man who sits in the White House is on television calling for racist militias to ensure that he doesn’t have to leave the White House, regardless of the election’s outcome. And that man has not just abandoned environmental regulation, he’s rewarded companies for exploiting what few resources the planet has left (including human beings). The planet is dying.

It will take years to rebuild our house, and in order to get the money to rebuild it, I have to list every single thing that was in the house that burned down. As I list, I can’t help but feel judged. I have too much of too many things. Why did I need sixty assorted candles? Or fifteen decks of tarot cards? Or a dozen music boxes? How could I conscience having all those things when so many people have so little? I will likely not replace those things, but why did I have them in the first place?

I suspect part of my despair is the fact that we’re renting a house is Saratoga, a wealthy Silicon Valley suburb. And when I say “wealthy,” I mean that the house we’re staying in is worth about $3.5 million, and is far from being the largest or nicest house in the neighborhood. As with most suburbs, there are two kinds of real estate: buildings where one buys things, and buildings where one stores and displays the things one has bought. The grounds of every house are manicured, managed, sculpted into a look that is “natural,” with very necessary quotation marks. I haven’t seen a dead animal, a fallen tree, an inconvenient rock formation anywhere. The people are lovely, but it’s like tv. It doesn’t feel real to me.

I’m starting to doubt the wisdom of rebuilding. I’m starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable, not just about rebuilding, but about life. I’m finding it difficult to find a way forward. I’m looking for reasons for, if not optimism, then at least some mental ease.

Thanks For Your Concern

“I just want you to be healthy.”

“You look so uncomfortable.”

“You’d feel so much better.”

I’ve heard it, usually coupled with some kind of advice that I’ve heard a thousand billion times before. Advice like “get more exercise,” “eat more vegetables,” and “drink more water.” I’ve done those things, and was probably still doing them. And I’ve lost weight. And then gained it back. And then lost it again.

And people say those things as though I might not have thought these things myself – as though I hate myself with such intensity that I’m committing suicide by cheese (although if I were going to off myself, that would be my choice).

But they’re not saying it because they’re actually concerned. They’re saying it to signal disapproval without sounding actually mean. “I just want you to be healthy” is code for “I feel disgust watching you eat.” “You look so uncomfortable” is code for “I feel uncomfortable when I look at you.” “You’d feel so much better” is code for “I’d feel so much better.”

But none of these barbs disguised as concern or advice help, because that’s not how it works. If it were as easy as “eat less move more,” everyone in a wheelchair or hospital bed would be obese, and everyone who ate vegetables and exercised would be skinny. But I’ve been obese my entire adult life (with occasional flashes of thin), and I know as well as you do that it’s so much more complicated than that.

Environment is a factor. Hormones are a factor. Psychology is a factor. Genetics play a part. If your family is heavy, you’ll be heavy. My mother’s family is from Scotland, and that side of my family is typically short and sturdily built. We totally look like the kind of people who can throw telephone poles and carry a sheep under each arm. My father’s side of the family are Mexican, and are generally taller and thinner. I started out with a 50/50 shot. Guess which I got (cue sad trumpet).

Long before I even considered surgery, I ate a healthy diet and got plenty of exercise, and seethed whenever someone expressed “concern” about my size. So I just stopped listening. I cordially invited those people who felt the need to comment to shut the fuck up.

If you were really concerned about me, you would tell me you love my dress. You’d tell me you read that story I got published. You’d tell me you think I’m smart. If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t want me to feel like crap about myself by not-even-subtly telling me that you feel bad looking at me. That’s your problem, not mine.

 

 

That Dream Where I’m Not Crazy

It’s been happening everywhere – people’s bodies found at home, at their offices, at restaurants, their brains and hair and blood spattered over every surface, as though they had just burst. The worst part is that the group claiming responsibility is, on the one hand, so disorganized that they have members who don’t even realize that they’re part of a terror cell. How do you feel if you’re a high school kid whose mom has asked her to carry a package to band practice, and that package contains cash, fake documents, or bomb components? Sure, that kid has heard all the rhetoric, but she’s too young to fully appreciate that blowing people up rarely helps anything.

I stumble on something that resembles a Tupperware party. The hostess has brought in a large aquarium with sand strewn with big, fake-looking plastic clams and treasure chests. The aquarium is full of actual sea water, and the guests are pulling things out of the water and opening them to see what prize they’ve won. It’s a decorative hair comb! It’s a jaunty hat! There are men and women there, and everyone’s in that giddy mood that accompanies the prospect of getting something for nothing.

My friends and I come in to see the host’s face temporarily fall, then a mask of smug derision fall into place. “You’re too late. They’re with us now.” We go around the table, confiscating people’s prizes. Some of the people fight us, because even though the prize cost them nothing and has only been in their possession for five minutes, they will feel cheated if it’s taken away. We show them the truth: the hair combs and hats and other baubles are all made of C4 with tiny detonators. It’s not much, but certainly enough to blow someone’s head off. The faces are suddenly pale and much less enthusiastic, swiveling in the hostess’s direction, looking for denial. Her smile hardened and glittered.

We threw the aquarium and its contents into the ocean (conveniently a few feet away), and we grabbed the hostess and threw her in too. She didn’t even try to swim, and I noticed as she sank that her body looked already drowned—bloated and wrinkled and pale.

But now her people are after me. I head into a coffee place to hide, but they’re there. They bought the place not long ago, and are using it as a source of information. People never think of servers as spies, and have unguarded conversations over latte. A woman approaches me, and I know that she’s trying to kill me. So I act like I’m high. I want her to think that I’m incapacitated and will be an easy mark. She’s young, she might buy it. I ask her to direct me to the bathroom, and she takes me in the back down a long hall. I start opening doors off the hall, telling her that they should put in 3-way doors – the kind that can have up to 3 different rooms on the other side of them, depending on how you turn the handle and open it. She looks smug and relaxed, so while she’s fumbling in her pocket for something, I disappear into one of the doorways that leads to an outdoor area. She thought it led into a broom cupboard, but the 3-way door thing is true, and I know how it works. I’m outside before she can follow me, and use my superior knowledge of forbidden physics to step over the patrons’ heads to the outside.

I’m out of her reach for now, but they’re still looking for me.

Gratitude is Bullshit

There is a disturbing trend among liberals to talk about gratitude. Everyone’s encouraged to have gratitude for the abundance in their lives. Everyone’s supposed to be grateful for all their blessings. On the surface, it’s a lovely sentiment. People should be mindful of the fact that they live privileged lives, and use that awareness to inform their interactions with people who are less privileged.

But it never goes that deep. It stops at “be grateful because you have it good.” The new Gratitude encourages insularity – think hard about what you have so that you aren’t thinking about people who don’t have anything. Gratitude is selfish. Being grateful for what you have invites the desire for more – more stuff (more friends, money, recognition) equals more gratitude, right?

This year has been full of horror: while the world was outraged at 12 people killed in attacks on Paris, thousands have died in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram. Pakistan is a mess. Syria’s civilian population is fleeing, and many in the United States have insisted they’re not welcome. Here in the United States, Donald Trump has been steadily rising in the polls on a platform of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Black Americans are being gunned down in the street under laughably thin pretexts, with no consequences to the shooters, despite the fact that those gunned down are unarmed.

Why aren’t you angry? Why aren’t you beside yourself with rage? Because you’re grateful. You’re looking at your pile of Christmas presents and thinking “I’m so grateful.” Maybe you volunteered at a shelter or a soup kitchen as part of your holiday celebrations. Were you angry then?

I’m not saying that you should spend all your time with your teeth gritted and the veins standing out in your neck. I’m not even saying that you shouldn’t be grateful for the good things in your life. I’m just saying that it should never stop there. Feel good about what’s good. But feel bad about what’s bad. Feel bad enough to want to spend 2016 working to change it.

Hailing

I had to drive from Bonny Doon to San Francisco. I’ve taken to driving up the coast road, Highway 1, because it’s prettier, and the loveliness of seeing the ocean on the one hand and the fields and woods on the other makes the drive seem shorter.

As I left the house, I paused to send my husband and my mother a Glympse, a way of tracking my progress so that they would know how long I would be.

I was just coming through Half Moon Bay, halfway between Bonny Doon and San Francisco, when I realized that my phone had stopped sending a GPS signal. I turned it back on, and was on the outskirts of town where one of those temporary highway signs sitting next to the road declared in foot-high letters “All Hail Mother Russia.”

A minute later, the Pirate called and without saying “hello,” launched directly into telling me that the Lantos Tunnel on Highway 1 was closed, and that I needed to turn back and go another way.

“How did you know?” I asked him.

“There was a sign on 280 saying that it was closed.”

“Huh. Why wasn’t there a sign on Highway 1? Oh. Wait. There was a sign. Except it didn’t say that Highway 1 was closed. It said ‘All Hail Mother Russia.'”

I turned around and went back through Half Moon Bay, thinking that unhelpful “Mother Russia” was more like a boozy stepmother who flatters herself that people think she’s 20 years younger than she is. Who wears too much makeup and too-tight dresses, who drinks too much and flirts with her daughter’s boyfriends and her son’s friends, and who wouldn’t remember to tell you useful things, like the fact that the tunnel is closed.

Hyper, Non-Linear, and Plain

I’ve been experimenting in hypertext, and I’m reveling in what it can do, as well as discovering its limits.

I’ve been using Twine to create a hypertext story. It’s part choose-your-own-adventure and part an exercise in figuring out what constitutes a pixel in text (a pixel is the smallest controllable part of a picture on a computer). What’s the smallest meaningful part of a story? It’s not the individual word, because words only take on meaning in relation to one another. I can say the word “bark,” but with no other context, you don’t know whether it’s a noun or a verb. Even as a noun, it could refer to a sound made by an animal, or the covering of a tree, or a type of boat.

One can make a case for the pixel of fiction being the independent clause (a group of words that contains a subject and a verb). The number of microfiction posts on Twitter make a compelling case for sentence as pixel. I believe that fiction on that level functions much like poetry. Writers who work under those circumstances need a strong command of language and have to have a clear vision of the work from the outset. I’ve heard longer-form authors say “I was writing and I the character took me by surprise.” Poets and microfiction authors have to exercise tight control over every word. A word out of place weakens the structure.

But hypertext is different from microfiction. Each piece has to further the story, carry meaning, lead the reader to the next piece. Which means that, although a single sentence can be a node or pixel or whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t have to be.

And, like writing with Lithomobilus, to write decent hypertext fiction, you have to work in multiple threads, possibly in multiple storylines simultaneously. As I’ve been working, I’ve been going back and re-writing parts of it so that they make sense with parts that come after. Making sure the verb tenses all work. There’s only one character, which is fine for now.

And all this is in aid of a much larger project that I might want collaboration on: stories based on tarot cards, but stories that work when the tarot cards are laid out in a pattern. This means writing multiple nodes of text for each card – tens of thousands of pieces of text. It’ll take a while.

Now comes the hard part: figuring out how to share.

Disestablishmentarianism

Three weeks or so ago, my right hip went out. It hurts to walk. It hurts to bend over. It’s not so much that the motion itself hurts, although it does. The worst part is that whatever muscle lifts the leg forward is weak. My right leg has about a quarter the range of motion as my left leg. It means that I limp even when I’m not in pain, and that my balance is shot.

But for three weeks, I’ve been putting off going to the doctor. At first, I told myself that I had pulled something running. It’s true, the problem showed itself the day after I had done my first 3-mile run in a couple of weeks. I took hot baths, put compresses on it, took ibuprofen. The hip would feel a little better, then a little worse.

Then I realized that it wasn’t just my hip. It was also my knee. This is the same knee that I had injured tripping over the mountain of crap in my daughter’s room. But did the knee problem cause the hip problem, or the other way around?

I’m telling myself these things in an effort to diagnose myself so that I don’t have to go to the doctor.

And then I realized why I don’t want to see the doctor. The last time I went to a doctor for my knee, he said that I needed an MRI.

“I can’t have an MRI.”
“Why not?”
“Because I have a magnet in my hand, and once it’s ripped out of my hand in the MRI thing, there’s no telling where it might go.”
“Why do you have a magnet in your hand?”
“Because I had someone put it there.” (I didn’t want to give this guy the entire long story of what led me to getting it, and it wasn’t relevant.)
“Can it be removed?”
“No.”

He ended up telling me that he couldn’t find anything wrong. Which was his shorthand for “since you decided you don’t want an MRI, I decided I don’t want to treat you.”

I’m not excited about going through that exercise again. I’m in pain, and I’m worried that I’m going to need something like a knee replacement or a hip replacement because the damage is getting worse and worse, but obviously I’m not so worried that I’m willing to actually go to the doctor.

A lifetime of not being taken seriously and being told that all the problems I’ve ever had have been due to my weight, is it any wonder that I’m not keen on the medical establishment?

Buy Me a River

Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you hear me say “Lange & Söhne Grande Lange 1”?  How about “Keith Lloyd”?  “Flora Danica”?  Or “Kallista Archeo Copper?”

If you are a normal person, you don’t think anything. These things have no meaning to you. And why should they? If you wear a watch, you likely wear something that was either a gift to you, or something you bought for less than a year’s wages, a brand that you’ve heard of – Timex, Swatch – something like that.

You also would have no reason to know that Keith Lloyd makes bespoke suits for men, that Flora Danica is the world’s most expensive china, or that if you want a Kallista Archeo Copper tub, you’ll be shelling out $70k for it.

I had to look these names up. I don’t have any of these things, and I don’t know anyone who does. When writers put details like these into a work, they may think that they’re adhering to “show don’t tell,” but if what you’ve shown me is something I can’t comprehend, you’ve just failed.

I’ve railed about the laziness of using brand names as description before, but in the wake of the news that another Dan Brown potboiler is coming down the colon, I felt it time to mention it again.