Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How it took being happy to realize how miserable I was

There is no perfect metaphor for how I feel on the days when anxiety has a vicious hold on me. I've searched for it. I've used all manner of natural disaster metaphors, none of which truly fit for me. Last night I tried to explain how it felt by writing how my body felt like it was being stretched out and folded over again and again. In my mind, I wanted to express how it felt like I was being packed tightly into some confined space. That isn't exactly correct either. To be fair to my metaphor creating abilities, anxiety is kind of new for me. Okay, that's a straight up lie. Allowing myself to express feelings of anxiety is new to me. I have always dealt with anxiety by drizzling it in chocolate sauce and shoving it down my throat. I tried to suffocate my anxiety with food. Hello, obesity.

For most of my life, I have ignored anything that I felt would make it difficult to, you know, survive emotionally. I am much more likely to let myself cry at a Cheerios commercial than I am because I am having an emotional breakdown. Crying is not a problem. Feeling is the problem. There was a point in my life where I decided every bad thing I experienced was due to my obesity. Because I alone caused my obesity, I decided I could not express feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger because it was my obesity that caused it, therefore, I had no reason to express those feelings. Instead, I could just shut up and lose the weight.

Until the last few years, I had never felt comfortable as a human being. I've written in the past about my desire to take up as least amount of space as possible, as if somehow, I could make up for my obesity by not ruffling feathers, by sitting quietly passive. Maybe no one would pay attention to all of my body if I could sit still. I took up so much physical space and hated it that I wanted to take up the least amount of emotional space as possible. Now, the first sentence of this paragraph makes it seem like I'm not that way anymore. Man, I am lying all over the place, here. I still prefer to not take up space. I am way more likely to sit quietly in my emotions than I am to express them out of fear of taking up too much space in someone else's existence. Some of this has to do with feeling worthy of taking up that space, some of it is fear that I will take up too much of that space, and eventually my obese body will break that space. As any fat person can tell you, putting too much weight on something will break it. I have broken more chairs than any other person I know.

In November of 2016 I saw a doctor who didn't automatically assume everything wrong with me was due to my obesity. At least, he didn't express that as the immediate thing. He ordered every possible test. He wanted to cover anything that could be playing into my constant exhaustion, my constant hunger, the nagging pain in my shoulder, all of it. I also decided, after years of avoiding such things to go talk to a therapist. After talking to this woman for a while, she stopped me and asked how often I let myself feeling and express any of the things I was telling her. I said, "Never. I never slow down. I never let myself take a day to feel things. There's too much to do." She asked if there were ever days where getting out of bed felt impossible, and I said yes, but I got out of bed any way. I have 130 teenagers depending on me. I don't get to be selfish.

The word selfish caught her attention. I imagine it was more the way the word sounded coming out of my mouth, like such a dirty word. What transpired was a pretty lengthy discussion about what the differences were between self-care and selfishness, and how all relaxation felt selfish to me because there was always more I could be doing to help my students, help my wife, my friends, my family, homeless people, etc. I'll relax when I'm dead. I am not sure those exact words slipped through my lips, but I have thought them many times.

So what does this all amount to? Well, in some ways I am doing better than ever before. There are nights where I sleep more than four hours. My shoulder pain is gone. Weight is slowly, but surely, coming off. I have awesome people around me, many of whom wish I would take up more space. Then, in some ways, I am way worse than ever before, because allowing myself to be anxious, to live with feelings instead of smothering them in delicious, deadly chocolate sauce is hard. Admitting that I am struggling emotionally is hard. It is weird that it took getting to the happiest, most comfortable place I have ever been to admit how fucking miserable I can be.

This whole realization started when I was re-watching my all-time favorite television show: Sports Night. In the second season of the show, one of the main characters, Dan Rydell (Josh Charles) slowly crumbles to the point where he sees a therapist. One night after the show, he tells his co-anchor, Casey McCall (Peter Krause), that there may be long stretches of time when he doesn't say anything funny, or anything at all. He isn't exactly sure what is happening, but he knows he needs to turn it all off. I have watched both seasons of this show no less than 75 times. For some reason, this time it hit me in a different way, in a knowing way. It was exactly the kind of thing I have wanted to say many times in my life, but instead of trusting the people around me to be okay with it, I would just stay home, away from the people who might expect things of how I behave. I'm slowly learning to trust the people. It is not easy. I fail more often than I succeed, but I have some pretty understanding people in my life, and I am getting better at not caring so much about those who are not so understanding.

I don't have any grand point here. I have not reached any life-altering conclusion. This is just a thing that has been inside me for a while and needed out. So now it is out. Maybe you can relate, or maybe you can't, but maybe it helps you understand something in a new way, the way reading blogs helps me understand things. Or maybe,  you are just curious which Cheerios commercial I cry at (hint: All of them).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

These are my confessions

1. I hate being the center of attention in person. I hate when conversations turn to me. Ask me anything you want online or as an aside in a group of people, but if I get asked a question in a big group of people I shut down, even if it is a subject I like. This runs counter-intuitive to a person who loves the stage and spends his entire day standing in front of people getting asked questions, but it is true. I am embarrassed by any and all attention given to me in public spaces.

2. I've never seen Singin' in the Rain. It is the only movie that frequently pops up in the top 50 movies of all time lists that I have never seen. 

3. I repeat this saying to myself every day, and I ignore it every day: If I prioritize everything, I prioritize nothing.

4. I have four reoccurring dreams that I can remember with vivid insight. One of them involves me riding a dinosaur. 

5. I am not a morning person or a night person. I adapt to whatever my situation calls for. I was just at home staying up to until 3 and sleeping into 10 or 11 when I worked at a movie theater as I am at going to bed between 9:30 and 10 and getting up at 5:30 now.

6. I am great at promoting self-care to my students, but there are few things I struggle with more in my own life. I am learning, but every time I take care of myself, I have to deal with four or five days of intense guilt. Just this weekend I allowed myself about 5 hours of video game time, and I have been feeling guilty for it all day today. This goes back to confession number 3. Everything has to be a priority, therefore nothing can be neglected for any reason at all. 

7. The longer I teach English, the less I subscribe to the concept of a "right way of speaking/writing." I was pretty much a Prescriptive Grammarian before I took to this profession. I have changed many things about myself over the last 5 or so years, but I think my thoughts on language have changed the most. The only reason I ever correct a student's grammar is to help them figure out how to speak/write in more traditional settings. I have absolutely loved studying the usage of language with my AP students this year. I think I have learned more than they have as we have gone down the rabbit hole of the purposes of language.

8. I lie to people all the time. I have never stopped craving soda and fast food. I just want to put people at ease and make it seem easier. It's hard. 

9. I apologize like 50 times a day. It is instinctive, but I have no idea where it comes from. 

10. In high school, this group of people who terrorized me in middle school suddenly wanted to be my friend, and I drove myself mad wondering when it was all going to turn on me. I got super depressed about it, but had no idea how to talk about it what it was doing to me, so I wrote about it. It ended up this super depressing confession about how much I hated myself. I had no idea what to do with it but I wanted to share it with someone. I was too chicken to just show it to a friend, so I stuck it in my backpack and found a way to have a friend dig in my backpack and discover it. She took it our teacher who took it to the office. Someone talked to my parents about it, but my teacher wanted to talk to me about it. Mr. Rathbun probably saved my life, not in a suicidal way, but just in a way that I could function as a human being. He helped me find a sense of calm in my  mind that raged like a storm. He is probably the reason I became a teacher. I am not sure I ever properly thanked him for that. it is crazy what it means to have an adult who isn't related to you  and that you respect, tell you he believes in you. I have never forgotten that conversation. I try to be that teacher to my students. I think I succeed more than I fail. 

11. I am never mad when people don't like me, but I always wish I could know why they don't like me. I wouldn't try to change their minds or anything, I am just genuinely curious what it is about me that they do not like. This especially applies when people unfriend me on FB. I always want to know what post did me in. 

12. I try to not "like" anything ironically anymore. I am trying to eliminate the concept of "guilty pleasures." I am also trying to cut down on the time I spend talking about things I don't like. It's hard because I have spent so much time doing it, but I don't want anyone to feel stupid for liking the stuff they like, even if I don't understand its appeal. I think I am failing on this more than I am succeeding, but hey, I am trying. 

13. I have never disliked anything just to be a contrarian, contrary to popular belief. Nor do I think my tastes are better than anyone else's, but I know the way I talk about things makes it appear that way. That's not my issue though. I can't help it. 

14. When people ask me for book recommendations I feel immense pressure to get it right, and I really want to create a submission form for the person asking to fill out so I have better idea of what to aim for. (This applies for movie recommendations as well, though I have like 5 movies I recommend to everyone who asks.) 

15. I abhor conversations comparing books to their adaptations. Please keep me out of them. Also, there are plenty of movies that are "better" than the book, so please stop coming at me with that Book is Better noise. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The language of my fatness

One of the key points of teaching in first few weeks of AP Language is the the meaning of words, specifically the connotative meaning. At the AP conference I attended this summer, our master teacher spent an entire four hour session on how to teach how connotative meanings shape an audience, the tone of a piece, and also our own understanding of how it reads. We received a handout to distribute to our students full of word lists with similar meanings. At the top of the list were synonyms for fat. Our master teacher used us as his students to model the activity, and we spent a solid half hour conversing about how we use different words for fat for different things.

As a toddler I was chubby. Chubby is, of course, an acceptable word for fat toddlers. Even typing the phrase "fat toddlers" feels weird. Chubby toddlers are cute. Being chubby is fine. I do not have much recollection of my chubby days, but I have seen enough photos to know that I was a chubby Yoda-looking baby and toddler. I find myself using this word all of the time when talking about babies or toddlers.

At some point between kid and teen, I became husky. Husky is such a strange one. Even when I was referred to as husky by most of the people who bought my clothes, especially my grandmother, I thought it was a weird word to use to refer to a human being. What exactly does it mean to be husky? Well, the dictionary defines it as a word to mean brawny or muscular, but it also means heavy. As an eleven year old, I was certainly not brawny or muscular, but I was heavy. To make it clear, I was not exactly fat as a young teen. I was bigger than most of the people I knew, and I was certainly called "fat ass" enough to give me the impression that I was fat, but when I look back at photos, I was, by all accounts, a bit over weight. I was hefty? Husky? Chubby? I am not sure what the word was, but this was around the age when kids had all kinds of words for what I was.

Eventually I grew to being obese. I am not sure exactly when because that word, obese, is so clinical, and it has an actual definition in terms of Body Mass Index. It is an ugly word that pretty much everyone I know tries to avoid using. We soften it with the word fat, but even that is to be avoided. We dance around these words. They make people uncomfortable. I see it all of the time when I try to be open about who I am. People are uncomfortable when I call myself fat, as if by using the word "fat" I am saying I a horribly ugly, awful person who should probably be stuffed into a basement somewhere only to be seen under severe circumstances. Granted, most of this is because of social concepts that position thinness as attractive and fatness as gross. We see successful thin people on the covers of magazines, in television, etc. I do not need to go deep into this because you all know.

We want to avoid these words- fat and obese- always, but especially in department stores. No one wants a banner hung over clothes that reads "FAT CLOTHES HERE" or "OBESE PEOPLE YOUR CLOTHES ARE HERE." I mean, who is going to shop in that store? It is silly to think about because it is not like my obesity is a secret. Everyone who has vision can see I am obese. I'm not dropping any truth bombs here, but it would be improper to label clothes as such, so males get BIG AND TALL and females get PLUS SIZES. I have purchased my clothes from big and tall sections since high school. It is no less embarrassing to have a banner that acknowledges I am in the big and tall section than it would be to be shopping in the fat section because they are essentially the same thing. We all know it. The connotative meaning of big and tall is fat people. Yes, tall people, and broad shouldered, muscular people probably buy clothes in the section, but that section of the department store is for fat people.

This has been rattling around in my brain since Wednesday when I took the above photo in a store on Oregon State's campus. I had never run across Extended Sizes before. I have seen extenders for seat belts or the top button of a dress shirt, but never clothes. I am not fat, I am just an extended person. My weight extends me as a human being. My extended body could win a close race in a photo finish, as my belly just extends out a bit. What a bizarre word choice for a section of clothing, especially when we already have an agreed upon label for fat male clothing sections. The more people try to dance around the word fat because of all of the hefty negative connotations, the more squeamish I become over the words we choose to use.

I am fat. It occupies 80% of my daily life. I worry about which chairs will hold me. I wonder if my belly fat is showing at least 100 times a day. I will continue to wear a sweatshirt in the classroom even if I am hot to avoid the possibility of exposing any flesh when removing it over my head. I am hyper-aware of what food I eat in public spaces. There are a thousand other daily thoughts on the subject of my obesity. I am also smart. I am thoughtful. I am funny (okay, this is probably debatable). I am passionate. There are people out there who think I am handsome (it is pretty cool to have someone think that). Being fat does not have to have such a negative connotation. Fat people do cool shit all of the time. While I have not completely accepted my fatness, I have decided that it doesn't have to mean I am useless. I will no longer be paralyzed by it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Grad School Moment

I decided to go to grad school for purely selfish reasons. I am not typically one to do anything selfishly, and a Master's degree will certainly benefit my wife and our future kids in terms of a pay raise in my job, and perhaps the opportunity to pivot in terms of career, but I made the decision to go to grad school simply because I wanted to be in rooms of like-minded people. I wanted to read books and discuss them at length with smart, passionate people. I wanted to write papers about literature and have smart people read them and tell me if I have any clue. I craved this.

However, I think I often talk more about how much work it is because, well, it is A LOT of work. And, frankly, I am always slightly embarrassed about how much I love it. I do not think people really care about what I am getting out of my 6th reading of the Scarlet letter or my first reading of any of Henry James' works. It is easier to focus on what others can relate to: being busy. To be honest, there are times when I am not sure how worth it is. The last few weeks I had been feeling this. I have been sick, and feeling off my game. I have not had a chance to take many classes featuring novels/authors I have great interest in, and in my third semester, I feel run-down. Going three semesters of being a full-time student and a full-time teacher has taken its toll on me. Combine that with the usual Imposter Syndrome, and I have been feeling the grad school blues.

And then tonight happened. I am taking a class focused on the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, and we are currently reading Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, a book I find agonizing to read. I am bored out of my mind every time I pick it up. Seated next to me in this class is a guy I have gotten to know a little bit because we have two classes together this semester, so we see each other four days a week, and we were talking about the book, and I admitted I was not liking it at all. He confessed he loved it and started flipping through it showing me all of this underlines, markings and marginalia, and I could tell he was excited about it. It was totally cool. Then, it turned out it was his turn to present today. He passed around his handout, and began his presentation, and I was floored by how cool it was. He had this cool-as-hell angle into the book, gave an insightful presentation, connected it to the presentation from Monday, and then he dropped these just complex, interesting discussion questions on the class. Suddenly, this book I hated so much, this book that literally lured me to sleep, came alive in my hands. I saw what he saw, and I was able to feel a part of the class in a way I have felt detached the last two weeks.

The professor and my other peers also helped me see things in the book I had not seen before. They helped shape the book. I still do not like it, but it was a reminder that liking a thing is not necessary, as long as you can find a way into the book in some way.

Then, after class I was walking to my car, and I saw that guy and another classmate in conversation, so I stopped and we killed an hour talking literature, professors, and most importantly, their experiences in education as minority students. I learned a ton, tonight. I grew to understand my privilege in brand new ways, and I got to know two of my peers a lot better. I am not a social person by nature. In fact, I am pretty awful at meeting people and making friends, and being a regular social human person. There is no guarantee this night will have started some great friendships, but talking to these people about the beauty of Percival Everett's Erasure, the sheer brilliance of a recently retired professor, and the lack of diversity in the course selection at Sac State brightened my spirits on a night where I definitely needed the light.

Seriously, do the shit you love. Even when you are not loving it, something will happen that will remind you why you loved it in the first place.

Oh also, last week I learned I might get to write a thesis and not take the exit exam. Things are looking up for sure!

Friday, February 24, 2017

What am I doing here?

Okay, so here's the thing. I reboot this blog every year or so, and without fail, I fail. I write for two months, get discouraged at the lack of page views and comments, and revert back to Tweet Storms where the same four or five people will favorite tweets of mine, and I will feel good about myself because I expect less gratification on Twitter. I read blogs still. I am currently loving the crap out of this one, https://www.prettylittleloudmouth.com/ and this one, http://www.jacasseur.com/diary

But what do I have to add to the world? Do I think my thoughts are so important that I should type them into this page, then share this page on Facebook and Twitter and wait for people to read, and then feel like they are missing out when they do not come engage with my brilliance!? Honestly, I have no idea what I have to add to the world. Besides, I am not sure I want to add my thoughts to the WORLD, just my World. So what am I doing here?

Am I a health and fitness blog? I mean, no. No one is going to read fitness tips from a Morbidly obese dude, even if I am 22.5 pounds less morbidly obese than I was 423 days ago.

I could do the grad school blogger thing. Ugh. Would anyone read something so esoteric? My musings on the ridiculous over-studying of Freud's sexist Penis-Envy theories in Sac State's Literature Grad School program?

I tried to be a creative writing blog at one point, that didn't seem to be very interesting either. I can't be a book blog either because I read books four years after they get released.

See, I am not cool. I like to write, and I like to think, and I like to engage intelligent people, but I am not particularly cool or unique. I am also not good at any other aspect of blogging, outside of the words. I have no idea how to make my blog *look* cool.

I have my words. I have my brain. Maybe, just maybe those two things are enough to engage people no matter the topics I tackle. Or, you know, maybe not.

Perhaps the real reason for me to reboot this blog is simply because I like writing, and if other people want to read it, cool, if not, also cool.

So here's the deal. I am going to write on this thing. I am going to share it on Facebook and Twitter, and I am going to hope other people will read it.

I am going to write about my battle for my life from the jaws of obesity. I will write about education. I will write about movies and music, and my pop culture obsessions. I will try to tackle issues of the world from my perspective. I hope that sounds appealing, but if not, I have a new place to go so the people who get my Tweets by phone will not have to deal with 20 notifications from me within a 5 minute period.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Fear Monster myth

I always think of fear as this massive overwhelming monster with rows of razor sharp teeth gnashing together sending sparks flying in every direction. I think it has chainsaws for hands, horns that shoot fire, and a voice that could shake me to my very core, causing my insides to rupture. That's not the truth though is it? Fear is a mosquito. Small, annoying, a nagging itch in the back of my mind. It can be the monster, but on a daily basis, it is just an unswattable annoyance. A little thing that is always just a split second faster than the confidence I send to squash it. That is fear.

Fear is not the absence of confidence, it is just faster, slipperier. Instead of using my confidence to propel myself forward, I send it after fear, and I just never quite catch it. As I chase the fear, I give it more power. Every time I miss it, it grows. That is the weird thing about fear, I give it power. it does not come from a student who is giving me a hard time, and it does not come from the woman in my grad school class who clearly has her shit together, making me feel inadequate. She is not aiming to make me feel that way. I am making me feel that. I fear that I am not on her level, therefore I must not be on the level I am supposed to be to succeed. I do that, not her. In my life time, fear has gotten the better of me more often than not. 

I was going to list all of the things I have been too afraid to do, but it got lengthy and super depressing, so I deleted it. Many involved asking girls out/to dance. A big one involved staying away from college for five years because I was afraid of failing. School was supposed to be my jam. I was afraid at failing at the one thing I have proven to be good at. It should no surprise that my early twenties were pretty much my worst years. 

2016 was supposed to be dedicated to conquering fears. I was going to confront the elusive weight loss, I was going to seek publishing for my novel, and self publish my novella. I headed into the New Year as Kyle the Conqueror! It did not take long for fear to over take me. What if my novella is not good? What if I self-publish it and the only people to buy are the friends of mine who read it for free a year or two ago? Well, I guess I can push back the self-publishing thing. I mean, I started grad school, so I was going to be super busy anyway. Fear tricked me into blaming the sudden demands on my time. My novel has sat for months, without a single Google search about finding agents or writing queries or anything else. I mean, why would anyone want to read a novel about an obese protagonist anyway? They don't. People was escape. I do not offer escape. The odds that anyone who does not love me would love my novel are so unbelievably microscopic, so why try?

My favorite evasive technique is to assume failure, as to halt attempt. I cannot fail if I do not try. Fear is good at that. Beyond being slippery, it is smart. It manifests in different ways in all of us. Fear for me does not look or sound like the fear you might experience. For me it manifests in my own voice, and it appears rational and straight forward, looking out for my best interests. It is a friendly. It wants to save me the embarrassment. Then it reminds me of the times I embarrassed myself, like the spill I took in ninth grade in Ashland Oregon in front of fifty of my classmates, or the time I did ask a girl out and she thought I was joking. Those not so gentle reminders work their way into my consciousness and fester. They burrow in deep and I see them again and again, so I back off whatever thing I am trying to accomplish. 

April was National Poetry Month, and to celebrate I wrote a poem a day. I decided to continue in May too. The poetry is all over the place thematically. It looks to be from a bunch of different collections. When I read over the poems, I do notice that I write about fear and failure rather frequently. These are not empowering pieces about tackling fear, or overcoming failure, no they are super sad pieces about wanting to just go to sleep and be left alone. In these pieces, I reveal that I worry about failing more than I worry about anything else. Failure as a teacher, as a student, as a husband, as a friend. 

Fear, whether in the form of a monster or a mosquito, looms large because I allow it to. Conquering fears is actually pretty easy when you decide to do it. It is the decision that is tough. That decision puts you back into the world of humanity, and that means into the potential for failure. It is entirely possible that not a single person outside of my small friend circle will have any interest in reading my novella and novel, but the reality is, there is only one way to find out. I have lived a majority of my life as untapped potential. I am not sure where that potential lies because I have been too afraid of failing to open my potential and see how I look in it, and how I move around in it. I have no idea what I am able to accomplish because of something that starts as tiny as a bug and when I give it power, transforms. But, if I can give it power, I can also take away that power. 

That is what I am starting to do. I am chipping away at the power. Got myself back into a semi-regular workout that I know I can keep up through the end of school, and then I can turn it up in two weeks. I am going back through my novella and my novel to make sure they express what I hope they express, and do not be surprised if I start flooding your feed with links on how to find my novella. If I can chip away at this little by little, who knows what I will be capable of in a matter of weeks, maybe even days. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Undivided Attention- Taylor Mali

A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’s
birthday gift to the criminally insane—
is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street.
It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
Chopin-­‐shiny black lacquer squares
and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second‐to­‐last
note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over—
it’s a piano being pushed out of a window
and lowered down onto a flatbed truck!—and
I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.
Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by
long‐necked cranes and flatbed trucks
or come through everything, even air.
Like snow.
See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.
So please.
Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.
Let me teach like the first snow, falling