Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Friends — THIS.

I recently finished Kate Harding‘s and Marianne Kirby‘s phenomenal book, Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body. Not a lot of the information in this book was new to me, but their spunky writing and comprehensive take on the body and the myriad issues that arise in our relationships to our bodies was useful.

Perhaps most useful was a reference to a scholarly article that I will henceforth be sending to my team of doctors (particularly my GP), as well as taking with me to future doctor appointments. It’s not news to those of us living in larger bodies, but it’s certainly not what the mainstream messages of our culture promulgate. Here’s the abstract:

The prevalence of obesity and its associated health problems have increased sharply in the past 2 decades. New revisions to Medicare policy will allow funding for obesity treatments of proven efficacy. The authors review studies of the long-term outcomes of calorie-restricting diets to assess whether dieting is an effective treatment for obesity. These studies show that one third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets, and these studies likely underestimate the extent to which dieting is counterproductive because of several methodological problems, all of which bias the studies toward showing successful weight loss maintenance. In addition, the studies do not provide consistent evidence that dieting results in significant health improvements, regardless of weight change. In sum, there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.

Here’s the article in full text

One of the authors of this paper, Traci Mann, runs a groundbreaking lab at the University of Minnesota (Traci’s lab site is here). She wrote a fantastic book that I listened to on a drive not TOO long ago, Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again.

In short, this woman (Traci Mann) does amazing work that merits more attention. Please check her out … and spread her science far and wide, my friends. So many of our sisters (and brothers) need to hear what Traci’s research has found.

 

I belong at a community college

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I've ended up where I needed to be -- Douglas Adams

Whenever I pause to think about how fortunate I am to work at a community college, and then probably feel a little bit guilty that I’ve found a place that so thoroughly makes me feel the good feels that come when you do something you genuinely love … I have to remind myself that sometimes we fall into the right place, and other times, we decide to make the place we are the right place. There’s something powerful that happens when you decide to love where you are for all that it does provide you, even if it’s not where you thought you would be.

I feel that way. I never expected to have a full-time job at a community college, teaching section after section of American Government … but you know what? It’s the PERFECT place for me. I love my job. I love my students. I love my work. I love my coworkers. I feel insanely lucky that I get paid to do things that genuinely fill me up.

Today was one of those days. I had the chance to write a letter in support of a student who I admire tremendously. The students I meet in the community college setting are a diverse mix of dual-enrollment high school students, freshmen who have come straight from high school, and adults who are coming back to school after a few years — or even decades, and everything in between — out in the workforce.

This cauldron of diverse experiences means our conversations in class are richer, with more viewpoints represented, people who can share their lived truths in ways that resonate strongly with important themes in the study of government.

So when one of these students hits a bump along the path, I feel so fortunate to be one of the people there to help them move past it. I’ve written impassioned letters on behalf of many students in the past, and I feel a sense of satisfaction after each one, but there is a special kind of wonderful that happens when you can help someone who you know hasn’t had a lot of help in his or her life.

When I interviewed for my job at my current institution, the committee did not ask me the right question to elicit the answer I wanted to give, so I just demanded they let me give it anyway. It is the story of my single most rewarding moment as a teacher, one that still damn near moves me to tears, roughly 12 years later. I was teaching remedial college writing at a community college in Texas; after taking my class, my students were asked to write a persuasive five-paragraph essay, which a team of us would read (anonymously) to assess whether they were ready for college-level writing courses.

I had a student that semester who made significant improvement in her writing. At the beginning of the semester, I remember so clearly her coming to me after class one day and saying, “I don’t understand. I was a straight-A student in high school. How am I behind in college?” (This was the moment I decided No Child Left Behind was BS.) Once she figured out what we were looking for in an essay, she found a formula that worked for her to present her points clearly, forcefully, and proficiently. She used that same formula on her exit test, and both she and I were confident in her success.

And then … a heartbreaking call. The director of our writing program called to say that her essay and another student’s essay were nearly identical, and because the assessment team couldn’t be sure who was the original author, both students would fail. Adrenaline pumping, I asked him if I could provide him with examples of my student’s writing, as I was confident she had followed her formula on this exit essay. Within minutes, I emailed him a scan of her most recent essay.

A few days later, I was on campus, grading essays from other students, and that director came in with the plagiarized essay and the email I’d sent. The structure of the paragraphs (transition words, etc.) were identical. There was absolutely no question that she was its author. The other student eventually confessed to having found my student’s essay on the computer in the testing room, changing a few words, and submitting it as his or hers. Exoneration! Vindication!

But my sense of triumph turned into something far deeper when my student called me on my cell phone. She said, “I have NEVER had ANYONE fight for me like that. You are the first person who has ever believed in me. Thank you.”

………

I was stunned silent.

Can you imagine reaching the age of 18 (or greater) and having NEVER have someone fight for you? To feel like nobody has ever believed in you before? It breaks my heart. At the same time, being the person who could do that for her? It is a humbling experience, without a doubt.

These are the stakes we work with at a community college. Some of our students come through our door having been told their entire lives that they aren’t smart enough for school. They don’t know whether they will succeed. Some don’t even try, because if they try and fail, that seems like it would be worse than not trying at all.

But if we can inspire trust, and maybe even a spark of hope, and genuinely BELIEVE in the promise of our students? They can do magical things, and we then get to behold their magic. It’s like that old Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.” If we believe in our students, and if we can somehow reach them enough to help them believe in themselves, they will be successful. It might not be the vision of success we had, but they will find their own success, their own path.

I’ve worked at public 4-year universities; I  spent a year teaching at a private, liberal arts college. But despite what I might’ve told you a decade ago, I wouldn’t “trade up” from my job at the community college for anything — prestige, money, or a lower teaching load. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best job in academia, and I’m grateful, daily, to have earned it. To spend time with my students is to spend time being humbled by their work ethic, grit, and hope.

Just Add Magic Lessons

I’m a huge fangirl of Liz Gilbert. You probably know her best from her book Eat Pray Love, which was later made into a movie with Julia Roberts playing the Liz Gilbert role. Liz has an incredible gift for seeing through the complexity of an issue to get to its root — and she does so with tremendous empathy, grace, and humor.

Her podcast, Magic Lessons, continues the work she began exploring in her utterly fantastic bookBig Magic (if you haven’t read this book, you simply must: Amazon.)

The first season of Magic Lessons was remarkable, but her second season (now a year old) appears to raise the stakes quite a bit higher. Last week, I finally listened to the first episode; I have to tell you, there were many moments during the one-hour conversation that necessitated a rewind and re-listen. It’s titled, “You have a screaming, not a calling.” How many of us can relate to this — that something inside of us is screaming to be heard. It’s not just a calling… that’s far too week. It’s a screaming.

This is powerful stuff, y’all.

Such as:

  • This reflection: We often feel like pursuing the work we love is selfish. However, if you think about the people who truly inspire you with their work, you’ll find that they could be accused of that selfishness, too … except, look at what they’ve done for you. When we meet someone whose work has moved us, or inspired us, the first thing we say is an emphatic THANK YOU! Yet, you know, they didn’t do that work for YOU. They did it for themselves. Liz Gilbert gives the example of meeting Toni Morrison, about whom Liz says: “She was doing the work that illuminated her to life, and by doing so, she becomes a torch to the world that lights me. … The ones who follow the most selfish path are the ones who get thanked the most. … It’s a community service!” How powerful is that?!  (find this conversation around the 21 min mark)
  • This homework: Write a list of 10 creative people who followed their dreams and light you up. Then, choose one person and write them a thank-you note, in your own voice, and explain why their work has been so meaningful to you. And send it. Keep a copy of it, and when the voice in your head tells you that you’re a failure, you can remind yourself: People who are doing the work in this world that they’re supposed to do are in service to the world, and you know that, because the work of this person (or persons) has served you. (find this conversation around the 24 min mark)
  • This lesson: The work you do in your life before you find the work that truly illuminates you? It’s not wasted. “Nothing we ever study or care about is wasted, or doesn’t get used.” This helped me reflect on the many things I’ve done in my life that don’t seem to apply directly to my life today… the journalism, the library science degree, the work in web development/writing, the Kaplan Test Prep teaching/tutoring. Those things don’t directly apply to my current life, but that work gets integrated into my life daily. It all gets used, and it’s never wasted. (find this conversation around the 49 min mark)

Liz Gilbert is deep, soulful, must-listen podcasting at its finest. I find I have to pause several times and marinate in what she’s said, then restart when I feel ready. So an hour-long conversation can become a MUCH longer listening experience!

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this podcast, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if and when you dive into her work.

My letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) regarding Betsy DeVos

When Betsy DeVos was initially nominated to serve as Secretary of Education, I sent my Tennessee senators multiple postcards begging them not to confirm her. Lamar Alexander was one of her strongest supporters (in or out of Tennessee), and his letters in response to my pleas consistently emphasized how qualified she is, how much she cares about students, and how wonderful she would be as Secretary of Education. As the news of DeVos’s decisions has piled up in my news feed, I finally reached a breaking point last week and penned a letter to him. What I had to say wouldn’t come close to fitting on a postcard. I’m finally sending it off today, and I thought I’d share with you all, too:

June 29, 2017

Senator Alexander,

Although I have grave concerns about the healthcare bill recently proposed by Senate Republicans, today I’m writing today to detail the many terrible decisions the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has made since assuming office—with, it’s worth pointing out, your vocal, enthusiastic, unqualified support. It seems like I hear almost daily about another decision she has made to weaken our education system, and I want to know specifically whether she still has your support.

Below are just a few reasons that I’m horrified, angered, and deeply concerned about Secretary DeVos’s tenure, albeit brief, at the Department of Education:

  • After taking a brave stance to protect transgender children in schools by allowing them to use the bathroom of their identified gender, she caved to pressure from President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and backtracked, putting lives of our MOST vulnerable students in jeopardy. This happened after she said, in February, “I will not be deterred in my mission of helping kids in this country.” Except, it appears, when political pressure from her allies is too fierce. So much for having a strong spine, eh?
  • Her misstatements regarding Historically Black Colleges & Universities on February 27 was, at best, tone-deaf with respect to the reason our country created HBCUs to begin with. She said about HBCUs, “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and great quality…Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.” It’s not as though students who “chose” to go to HBCUs were doing so because they had viable other options to attend college.
  • Her support of dismantling the public-service loan forgiveness program would directly impact my life in a massive and detrimental way. You see, Senator Alexander, I am one of the people who has dedicated her life to public service. I went to school and achieved a PhD while supporting myself through adjunct teaching (another matter altogether that I could go on for pages about). On average, I made about $1500 per semester-long class. Student loans were the only way I could afford to continue my education to attain my PhD. It took me nine years to finish my degree, all of which I was adjunct teaching, at times as many as TEN CLASSES PER SEMESTER. Think about that, sir. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones; I’ve obtained a full-time, tenure-track teaching job at Chattanooga State Community College, making me eligible for the public service loan forgiveness program after I complete my required years of service. My days are now dedicated to helping our most at-risk students achieve an associate’s degree and a better future for themselves. I know that you understand and value the importance of education for economic improvement. Shouldn’t those who get down in the trenches to enable that economic improvement be rewarded, too? (For context, I left a full-time job in 2005 at which I was making more money (not adjusted—in real dollars) than I now make 12 years later teaching with a PhD and 10+ years of teaching experience.)
  • The proposed reductions to the Education Department’s budget are devastating. I don’t think I need to elaborate further on this.
  • The recent announcement that the Education department will scale back on civil rights investigations is horrifying. At a time when violence against at-risk youth continues to plague public schools, we need leadership that will take every available action to protect students. Period.
  • Another recent announcement from Ms. DeVos’s department plans to roll back protections for students against actions taken by for-profit colleges. This, again, is horrifying. Eight states and the District of Columbia have sued her department to keep the rules in place. Shouldn’t we be protecting our students against the sorts of fraud and broken promises that we saw with our president’s “Trump University” scheme, settled for millions of dollars prior to his taking office? Imagine if those sorts of for-profit “colleges” could fleece unsuspecting Americans without any punishment or recourse?

Senator Alexander, I know you have a genuine passion for education and its promise. Ms. DeVos is taking us backwards, not innovating in ways that improve student excellence and meet the promise of education in this country. We simply must do better.

Will you take a stronger oversight role on the Education department? Will you work to correct these errors? Please speak out, sir. We need your strong leadership here. If Secretary DeVos is indeed someone you know well, respect, and support, my hope is that your wisdom, insight, and direction may help stem the tide of these terribly dangerous moves on her part.

Sincerely,

(Dr.) Liz Norell

 

My new favorite people

As part of my summer job, I’ve been writing profiles of people who come to stay at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly for our weekly newsletter, Mountain Voices. Today, I got to meet two people who charmed me beyond words. Here’s what I wrote about them. Just google Walter Sedelow and Sally Sedelow. They are freaking AMAZING. (And, as you can see in the photo below, adorable to boot.)

Meet Your Neighbors: The Eclectic Academics Next Door

“Before we married,” Sally Sedelow says, “we had one rule: We would never be restricted intellectually or geographically.” To say that Sally and her husband, Walter, have achieved that rule for living is an exercise in gross understatement. Sitting on their screened-in porch to have an afternoon chat with the Sedelows is likely to result in time disappearing as you become absorbed in conversation; these two have led fascinating, important, curious lives that are still every bit as fascinating, important, and curious today as they were when the couple were first married.

Walter and Sally Sedelow sitting on the porch of their favorite MSSA cottage, with fresh-cut roses given by a neighbor.

The Sedelows first came to the Assembly four years ago when they decided to give the Sewanee Summer Music Festival a try. They had previously been going to a music festival in Boston, but that was a three-day drive from their retirement home in Eden Isle, Arkansas. On their first trip to the Mountain, they lodged at the Edgeworth Inn—while they are not ardent sports fans, they recount that they stayed in Bear Bryant’s favorite room. Through an unexpected issue with lodging their second year, they came to the Assembly office one day to ask if there was a cottage available… right then, for nearly the entirety of the season. (Scott Parrish, general manager, says, “We don’t normally get walk-ins!”) The staff was able to accommodate them within a week or so. After a short stay at the Sewanee Inn, then, the Sedelows settled into summer life at the Assembly.

What was the draw to the Assembly? “The people are so wonderful, so welcoming,” they say. In 2016, they extended their stay to seven weeks; this summer, they are here for the entire season.

As seasoned veterans of the New York Chautauqua, they appreciate the variety and manageable nature in the MSSA platform; about New York, they say, “it can almost undo you” trying to balance how much is on the program. Along with the platform lectures and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival musical offerings, the Sedelows are now also taking advantage of the Sewanee Seminar and hope to attend some of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference readings, too. They find the collection of intellectual, musical, and cultural offerings here on the Mountain to be just the right mix.

Perhaps the most charming part of conversations with this dynamic duo is the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience they have collected. It’s not an exaggeration to say that each of them was critically involved in pioneering technologies we take for granted today. Sally—whose academic background is in English—was part of a group of people who made key advances in early attempts at natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Walter, meanwhile, has an academic background in history, but has worked in academic departments of computer science, library and information science, medical studies, and more. After he left the Air Force following the conclusion of the Korean War (he worked in areas related to electronic warfare), he worked with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara regarding what computing technology would mean in 20-30 years to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security more broadly. Walter and Sally were there from the beginning, orbiting within an era of academia where your intellectual interests could lead you to teach courses well outside the field you studied in graduate school. They took advantage, and then some.

Yet despite the impressive resumes and accomplishments of this power couple, they remain among the most down-to-Earth, unassuming, delightful people you’ll meet at the Assembly… or anywhere, frankly. They have a thirst for knowledge impossible to measure. “We love learning,” they say, “and that’s one of the pleasures of being here.” Sally, for example, decided to learn the cello in her mid-80s. And why not?

Scattered in the living room of their rented cottage, Peace & Plenty (#81), are books on topics ranging from black holes and the periodic table to genetics and physics. You know… just a little pleasure reading for their summer months. Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder, rather sheepishly, what you’re doing with your summer.

If you have the chance to share a meal or an afternoon porch conversation with the Sedelows, don’t pass it up. They are a rare treat.

I love blogging

Before a college friend hooked me into Facebook, my blog was one of my most cherished outlets of expression was my blog. But then Facebook entered, and I found that keeping up with my friends and updating them on my life sort of scratched the same itch. I’ve tried many times to reignite the regular blogging, and I continue to struggle with finding a regular writing schedule… but I love it, and I really appreciate the positive feedback I get.

Last night, we were at a small dinner party with friends I see lamentably rarely, and one of them mentioned my blog and how much he enjoys reading it. (His terrific blog, by the way, is here: https://uncomelyandbroken.wordpress.com/.) This jogged my memory about my long-abandoned blog of yore, which I thought I’d share with you in case you are bored one day and want to peruse the archival experiences. There are nearly 1,000 published posts on this one, though, so just know you’re not going to get through it all … and if you do, my goodness, I weep for you!

Beware the sock gap! (a reference to Coupling, a wonderful British TV show): http://avoidthesockgap.blogspot.com

Celebrating my 14,610th day on Earth

Today, I turned 40 years old. Forty. Wowzers.

Common life experience: When I was a teenager and my dad turned 40, I felt like that was basically half-a-foot in death’s doorway. At the very least, it marked a passage into being “old.” And now, that “old” person is … me! What?!

As I so often say, my mother isn’t old enough to have a 40-year-old daughter! Seriously! (She happens to agree!)

When I was a kid, teenager, and even in my 20s, I would lament how young I looked. People didn’t take me seriously, I felt, because I’ve always looked younger than I am. I distinctly remember my (most favorite) Aunt Dalis saying, “Sweetie, just wait ’til you’re older. You’ll be grateful then.”

And to be honest, I’m not sure that moment has yet come. Because if you want to know the truth, blog readers, I don’t care a bit that I’m 40 now. I mean, sure, it does sound different than “I’m in my 30s.” Just as 30 came and went without more than a shrug from me, though, I’ve felt underwhelmed by the sensation of having moved into my fourth decade today.

What I have felt is serenity, though. In those 14,610 days I’ve lived thus far, I’ve had some truly amazing experiences. Allow me to share some of my most favorite moments.

The day I graduated high school — May 1995 — I was milling around outside MHHS preparing for the ceremony, and the man who directed the gifted & talented program (he took it over from its initial director) came up to me, beaming. “It’s so great to see our G&T alums going on to such great colleges!” And I got to say, triumphantly, “Actually, I wasn’t good enough for your program. I never did get off the wait list.” Smug smile, eight years in the making.

In college, I felt overwhelmed by the mass of humanity swirling around me in DC. I was a small-town girl and missed home. I felt out of place. I was prepared to transfer back to a school nearer to home, and then March arrived and I went down to the Tidal Basin with a Descartes reading for my Honors Symposium class and read it on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. As I walked around and marveled at the cherry blossoms in full, explosive bloom, I knew I could never give up the opportunity to live and study in the rich environment of our nation’s capital city. I could so easily flash forward to a day when C-SPAN was covering an event at GW, and there I’d be, watching from hundreds of miles away. I resolved that day to stay. I’ve never regretted that decision.

I remember the moment — the very day! — that I knew I was born to teach. It was (oddly enough) my birthday in 2000. I was at a one-day seminar organized and produced by the marketing firm where I was working. I had put together a skit with my colleague and good friend Tim. We performed the skit, with Tim performing so exaggeratedly that I damn near broke character several times. I then gave a hurried 15-minute talk to the assembled dozens about what I’d learned from my college internship (which just happened to be the very topic of the seminar). I felt a rush of adrenaline and satisfaction as I talked. And I knew. I just knew. I was going to teach, and I was going to love it.

In high school, my senior yearbook quote was one from Joseph Campbell that spoke to me in mysterious ways, even as a teen: “Follow your bliss, and doors will open where there were no doors before.” I couldn’t have possibly known that that quote would come to define my life, at least up ’til now. I have consistently followed the breadcrumbs left for me by my passions and the universe, and I have always landed into whatever job, academic program, or personal enrichment opportunity that was exactly right for me in that moment. At times, I have marveled at how effortlessly my life’s major inflection points have appeared … but I have come to understand that my 17-year-old self was wiser in her bones than I could’ve possibly realized at the time.

Certainly my life has had its challenges — most of them having to do with Campbell’s poetic walls never turning into the doors I so desperately wanted them to become — and I mourn the loss of too many friends and family members who have fallen out of my circle or who have passed on too soon. But what I have taken from those challenges and losses is a deep-seeded appreciation for the now, the today, the moment unfolding Right Now. I am grateful to have learned those lessons. I am grateful that I’ve been able to turn loss into appreciation for all that I do have. That, too, is a gift, and I know those who were taken from us too soon would be proud to know they have served me so well, even if it meant having to say goodbye too soon.

So truly, I would not go back in time and change a thing. I don’t wish I were younger. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I’m proud to be here today, stronger, happier, living more authentically and more fully than I’ve ever done before. It took those challenges and those inflection points for me to become the 40-year-old woman I am today. As it turns out, I kind of like her.

I love you too much to cheer on your weight loss / diet / lifestyle change

Because I am a woman, because I live in 2017, and because I interact with other women, I run across someone on a near-daily basis who is seeking affirmation for her latest weight loss, diet, or diet-pretending-to-be-a-“lifestyle change.” Perhaps a friend posts on Facebook something about how they weren’t even trying that hard this week, yet they somehow lost another 2 pounds!! Or maybe another post on Instagram proudly shares a before-and-after shot after a juice cleanse.

Scores of people will respond with laudatory comments, things like, “What are you doing?!?! Share your secrets!!” or, “Keep it up, girl! You got this!”

But I don’t. Instead, I quickly and consciously retract my itchy fingers and sit on them, lest I drift into Sanctimoniously Unsupportive Friend (SUF) mode.

I'm tired, bossLike John Coffey in The Green Mile, I’m tired. I’m so tired.

I’m tired of living in a world where women feel they are only to be celebrated when they lose a few pounds.

I’m tired of listening to women congratulate other women for subjugating themselves to a culture that is always, forever telling women to be smaller, to take up less space, and to be quieter.

I’m so endlessly friggin’ tired of celebrating what is almost always a choice to slim down made on the recommendation of (or as the result of shaming by) medical professionals … a choice that will nevertheless leave my friends LESS healthy.

I’m tired of the world telling the people I love that they are less worthy when they have an extra pound. Or twenty. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.

Frankly, friends, I don’t care what you weigh. I see your beauty, and I celebrate it.

How many times has each of us tried to lose weight? Do you know how often diets are successful in helping individuals keep off the weight long-term? Less than 5% of the time — if we’re being really, really, REALLY generous. Is that because we all lack willpower? Is it because we don’t want it bad enough? Is it because we’re inherently lazy?

No, no, no!

If losing weight required only motivation and willpower, we’d all be successful the first or second time around and move on about our lives.

Dieting or trying to lose weight for the sake of losing weight means declaring war on your body, turning off your instincts, and forcing yourself to deny the wisdom of the ages. It’s unhealthy, it creates stress, and it rarely works.

So friends, no. I will not celebrate your weight loss. I will not cheer on your latest lifestyle change. I will not join you in making bread, sugar, dairy, or any other kind of food the enemy for the sake of losing weight.

You have more important things to do than lose weightInstead, I will continue to love you for who you are way, way far away from the weight-loss efforts. I will applaud your accomplishments. I will compliment your beauty as a person. I will not applaud genetic privilege, nor will I shame the lack thereof.

Our world is hurting. So many people need our help. The issues that face us as a global community matter far, far too much to waste our time and energy on something that Does Not Matter. Your ability to help others, engage in meaningful action, and love others is not even slightly dependent upon a number on a scale.

Instead, friends, please put away the diet books, motivational Instagram accounts, shakes, cleanses, and orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with “healthy eating”) , and instead embrace your body’s inherent wisdom. A HuffPost article reads:

At its core, food freedom actually has nothing to do with food. Instead, it’s about being in a loving, accepting, and trusting relationship with your body – and with (all parts of) your self.

Think about it. If you truly loved, accepted, and trusted your body, you would listen to her. You’d honor her cravings. You’d allow her to enjoy the act of eating. You wouldn’t cause her pain by eating too little, too much, or foods that don’t make her feel good.

Instead, you’d seek to give her pleasure by choosing foods that make her feel energized, vibrant, and alive.

To sum up, friends, I love you. Right now, just as you are. I don’t need (or want) you to risk your future health by pursuing weight loss, regardless of what “lifestyle change” wrapper you put it in. No number can represent your self-worth.

Listen to your body. It is wise beyond measure.

Find solace where you can

Paul Norell

“Do the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask of you.” 

— Paul Norell (my wise father)

Have you ever known a relationship was over — at least, in its present form — but you just weren’t quite ready to let go? You know it’s no longer healthy, and that you’re being obstinate by not just walking away. You know that staying around is really just inviting more punishment; your sense of self-worth takes a beating, because you’re really saying, “Your need to be emotionally safe is less important than hoping someone else will change.”

I found myself in that place for a very large portion of my former marriage. A week after we returned from our destination wedding (ish), my ex-husband first threw an inanimate object at me with the intention of inflicting physical hurt. I darted out of the way. And so began a 2+-year process of convincing myself that the relationship could not be saved. I stayed. I hoped. I gave second, third, fourth, fifth chances. All the while, I knew that if I left before I was certain that our marriage couldn’t be saved, I’d forever wonder if I gave up too soon. I stayed through thinly veiled death threats and an increasingly good aim. But ultimately, I extricated myself fully certain that it was beyond redeemable. I had to leave. I did. My spirit lifted, my sense of security and self-worth returned, and I moved on stronger and much, much safer.

That was the most extreme case of finding solace where I could; I took tremendous comfort in knowing I had done all I could, exerted tremendous patience and compassion, and genuinely tried to make the relationship work. I have no regrets. I really, truly tried.

Not even a week ago, my parents and I went on a mission to Mission, Kansas, hoping to reconcile a challenging relationship — challenging, because it’s marked by a kind of emotional pain that I’m not sure will ever fade — with my younger brother, about whom I’ve written before (“Grief, all spread out,” Sept. 28, 2016).

Grandma OllieIt all started innocently enough. My mom sent me a text message or email during tax season (relevant because she’s an H&R Block franchisee, so taking the time to communicate during the first 3.5 months of the year is a Big Freaking Deal) suggesting we take my grandma to visit Robert in May. (Aside: Grandma Ollie turns 80 in December, and the fact that she hasn’t seen Robert in at least three years (?) absolutely breaks her heart. She said to me recently, “You know, not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him and miss him.” Did I mention? She. Is. Almost. 80.)

I looked at my May calendar and identified a weekend that looked ideal. I cleared my schedule, packed my bags, and drove to Arkansas.

Between tax season and last week, my mom asked me whether we should give him a head’s up that we were coming. The conversation went something like:

Me: “If we tell him, he may disappear.”

Mom: “If we don’t tell him, he will feel ambushed when we all show up.”

Me: “If we make it a breezy text, like, ‘Oh, we’re coming through KC! Dinner?’ maybe he won’t get spooked. We just won’t tell him Grandma’s coming. No big deal!”

Mom: “I don’t want to drag Grandma all the way to KC and then not see him. That would be worse. Do you think telling him she’s coming would make him more likely to see us?”

Me: “There is no right answer here.”

Mom: “You’re right. There is no right answer.”

Ultimately, because Grandma doesn’t do just great in the car for long periods, my parents and I loaded up the minivan and headed north on Saturday morning. We didn’t tell Grandma we were leaving. I’m not honestly sure my parents and I have ever taken a road trip that was just the three of us. We got hotel rooms in KC. We programmed the GPS to Robert’s last known location. We took deep breaths. And off we went.

Saturday night, we went to his apartment. No RobertMobile, no answer at his door.

We went to his friend’s house. Nobody home.

We went to dinner. It was delicious.

We went back to his apartment. No RobertMobile, no answer at his door.

We slept. We ate breakfast.

We went back to his apartment. Bingo! RobertMobile in the parking lot. We were all giddy with anticipation. We found him! We were going to see him! I was fidgety with excitement. I MISS MY BROTHER. He was just a front door away.

Robert's apartment.

He was inside the whole time; the top floor’s two windows are his apartment.

We walked up to the third floor and knocked. No sound. This wasn’t entirely unexpected, as it was somewhat early (like, 10am, maybe? the middle of the night, basically, if you’re Robert). We knocked again. We took turns knocking. We pounded that damn door. We were obnoxious. A dog downstairs started barking.

He. Did. Not. Answer.

I sat down outside his door. My mom sat on the stairs on the other side of his door. My father paced.

His neighbor from across the hall came by and showed us tremendous hospitality, offering to let us hang out in his living room, regaling us with stories about what a terrific person my brother is. All we could do was nod and fake half-smiles.

We waited some more.

We waited two hours. TWO HOURS, y’all.

He never answered.

And like that, the solace came, at least for me. We tried. We legitimately did everything in our power. We drove. We showed up. We knocked. We TRIED. I feel like I can’t say that word enough. There’s nothing more I could’ve done, no missed opportunity, communication method, or intervention strategy I haven’t tried with this young man. He has made it abundantly clear that having a relationship with me, with his family, is not a priority.

The solace isn’t exactly peace, but it is something of a comfort. Although he continues to break my heart daily, my lack of a relationship with my brother has nothing to do with my lack of trying. This one’s on him.

Grandma was so sad when we got back home Sunday night and took her out to dinner, relaying news of our weekend. But she, too, knows we’ve tried. We’ve done what we can. And while none of us is happy about it, we have to let it go.

I slid a note under his door expressing my grief, my disappointment, my hope that someday he will reach out and we can mend this giant hole that has engulfed our once oh-so-close, extremely precious to me relationship. I genuinely hope that day comes, and soon. I miss him.

But here’s one more bit of solace, this one both peaceful and comforting: For the first time in what feels like forever, I had my parents all to myself for a solid 30ish hours. What a precious gift. I just adore them, and nobody can ever take away that time together. Sometimes you have to lose something to realize how lucky you are to have what you do.

Synchronicity & current events

The human brain is a magnificent thing. No matter what you’re currently mulling over in your free time, there’s a good chance that it will pop up in other areas of your life in unexpected ways.

And so yesterday, when I was furiously trying to finish my latest book, A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West, by Luke Harding (a reporter at The Guardian in London), I came across this passage:

A Very Expensive Poison coverThe Kremlin’s aim was to avoid an evidence-led inquiry … and to confuse the public mind. The numerous ‘versions’ of [one man’s] murder … were part of a sophisticated media strategy with its roots in KGB doctrine. … There were multiple explanations. How was one supposed to know which one was actually true?

In fact, the aim is to blur what is true with what is not, to the point that the truth disappears altogether. By noisily asserting something is false, you create a fake counter-reality. In time this constructed sovereign version of events becomes real — at least in the minds of those who are watching. (pp. 386-387)

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that a book about Putin’s efforts to disrupt democratic society in the west would turn up something that was so incredibly relevant yesterday. But then, just a couple of hours later, I was listening to one of my staple podcasts, Slate’s The Gist, and the next episode included an interview with NPR’s On the Media hostess extraordinaire, Brooke Gladstone. She was there to talk about her new book, The Trouble with Reality (which I’ve now ordered). In this episode, she talks about the many ways in which the truth is obscured by the “baubles” the current political climate generates (crowd size, anyone?).

This calls to mind something I’ve found myself sharing with students with alarming frequency in recent years — a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former US senator from New York (who, sadly, died in 2003):

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

It’s almost quaint, isn’t it? How cute. How the world has changed.

I think many of us, especially those who have — at one time or another — been drawn to journalism as a career option / opportunity / vocation, want to believe that there is The Truth out there, waiting to be discovered. But unfortunately, we increasingly live in a world where commonly agreed-upon facts are harder to find. When you have someone as cunning as Putin (or as inept as Trump) deliberately trying to obfuscate the truth, and a segment of the mass public who is willing to defend their support of that person to preserve their own cognitive sanity (which I understand — I really do), then the opportunities for mass misinformation run rampant.

And that’s the world in which we now live, I fear.

It’s the world in which I now teach, sadly.

And it makes reasoned, rational, informed discussion nearly impossible.

To wit: Last night, a former student who is (well, was) a Facebook friend sent me a message. I won’t share it with you, but suffice it to say it was (at best) marginally tethered to the truth, a lengthy rant about how Trump can solve all our economic and political problems with a few “common-sense” solutions not even remotely feasible or (in some cases) legal. I sent this person a quick message asking her to leave me off distribution lists for these sorts of messages. She immediately replied: “I tell you what I will delete you and we never have to worry again.”

The world will get no better when we cannot talk across differences; in fact, it will get worse.

When we inhabit bubbles of our own facts, we lose so, so much — compassion, common ground, any hope of resolving differences, and ultimately the very foundation of our small-D democratic (and small-R republican) form of government.

I don’t know how to end this. I do what I do because I have hope, and as an educator I must believe in the power of knowledge to make the world a better place. I keep fighting the good fight (educating my students) and hope my efforts at understanding, compassion, and kindness grease the wheels for true connection.

Carry on, friends.

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