Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Be kind to yourself."

Back in July, when I started trying to change my life and lose weight, I posted about it on Facebook, and my friend Ilona said, "Just remember to be kind to yourself." At the time, I appreciated the support, but not the message. Hadn't I spent a lifetime being kind to myself by pouring milkshakes and donuts and Cheetos into my mouth? Wasn't being kind to myself more the problem than it was part of the solution? I'd been so kind to myself every time I passed the display of Little Debbie Snack Cakes in Kroger that I weighed 295 pounds. Maybe what I actually needed was to stop being kind to myself, right?

I didn't get it, but we'll get back to that.

Another friend, Anna, said, "During times when I have wanted to lose weight/get healthier, I've found it better to say I have fat instead of I'm fat." This, to me, sounded like the worst sort of semantics game, a way of prettying up my problem, like saying that I have glasses rather than that I'm legally blind. Not only did I not see the difference, but it felt like a way of sugarcoating things, saying that I was a little heavy rather than that I was morbidly obese.

I didn't get that at the time, either, but I've learned over the past four months that words are important.

I had a realization this week of how much things have changed since I started this, and it got me thinking about how much of this journey is changing myself. I was checking my Fitbit stats and my weight because I wanted to see how many more pounds I have to lose before I stop being morbidly obese, and I realized that being overweight is now my goal. How weird does that sound if you say it out loud?

"I really look forward to being overweight someday."

"I can't wait to be overweight!"

I even tweeted it, because the idea struck me as being somewhat absurd. It's like I've entered a weird Bizarro World where words no longer mean the same thing. Overweight is something that I now aspire to. It's not the end goal, but it's a milestone, and I've spent most of the week, when I think about this, trying to wrap my mind around that. After a lifetime of being a big fat person, referring to myself as "hugenormous" and "Joelba the Hutt", I've now somehow become a person who wants to be overweight, who is working toward being overweight, who is going to be so excited when I actually am overweight that I will begin booking a trip to Venice.

And that's when I realized that I have spent my entire life not being kind to myself, because I have spent my entire life calling myself fat. Even now, in writing this entry, I keep having to go back and correct my words, because keep typing things like, "The first time I realized I was fat," and then thinking, "Except that I didn't realize I was fat. I decided that I was. There's a difference." My whole life, I've been using the word "fat" both to label and to injure myself, and if I'm going to make the kind of permanent change that will keep me at a healthy weight and in a healthy mindset, then I need to stop doing that. I have to stop it, or at some point down the road this whole adventure is going to fail. I'm going to settle back into my old ways, because I will decide that it's totally ok to bake and eat a cake for myself over the weekend because hey, I'm fat, and that's what fat people do.

I can't do that anymore, and I can't be that anymore.

The first time I decided that I was fat was in the seventh grade, in 1987. I was 11 going on 12 when the school year started, and that was the year when we started getting a lot of puberty-related education in science classes. I don't remember all of the curriculum, but it was the usual things they tell you in non-"abstinence education only" states, which Alaska was at the time: you'll begin to grow hair in weird places, girls will start to develop breasts, and boys' voices will deepen and they will become more muscular. So I rolled into seventh grade, waiting for these muscles to appear (because no one told me that you had to actually exercise to get them; I believed they would just show up on their own with the rest of the physical signs of sexual maturity), and that was the first year that we had a gym class that I had to shower in afterward. That meant it was also the first time that I was around a bunch of guys my age with their shirts off a lot, and I realized something: many of the other kids had muscles (ropy little kid muscles, but they still looked like muscles), and I had a little round belly.

I didn't have any muscles, so I must be fat.

I decided.

For reference purposes, here's a photo of seventh grade me. I'm on the right:

grade seven

I don't look fat in that photo. I'm not sure what I weighed, but I bet the waist of my jeans is under twenty inches, rather than my current forty-plus. In my head, though, I was fat.

Let's fast forward about ten years. Here I am in 1998, on the left:

old photo

I thought I was fat when that picture was taken, too. I had a thirty-two inch waist at the time. I went to bars and guys thought I was cute, and we went home from bars together. And still, I thought I was fat. I was excessively enamored of guys who had abs, because I've never had any.

I'd kill for that thirty-two inch waist, now.

I'm grinding myself down on the treadmill and the Greenway and the beach and wherever else I can get some steps in so that I can be that "fat" again.

In 2004, when I was a hall director, this was my building:


That's a twenty-two story residential tower, and there was a lounge called the Penthouse on the top floor. Sometimes I took the stairs to it, from the lobby. It may have taken me twenty minutes or so, but I climbed twenty-two stories worth of stairs if the mood struck me, and doing so didn't kill me. Not surprisingly, I thought I was fat then, too. My entire adult life I have considered myself a fat person, and I realize now that it's an identity that I assigned to myself whether it happens to be true or not.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because words have gotten away from me, and no longer seem to mean what I thought they meant. "Fat", whether I have it or am it, is an amorphous concept that I can't seem to hold onto, and it's not the only word I'm having trouble with. People keep telling me I look so thin, but I'm not thin. I'm thinner, but people only think I'm thin because they know me. Strangers aren't looking at me and thinking, "Wow, that guy is so thin." They're looking at me and hoping (if they think anything about me at all, which is probably actually kind of unlikely) that I don't sit next to them on the plane because even though I fit in my own seat and can buckle the seat belt without the extender, some of me is still going to spill over into their space. I still weigh over 200 pounds. I'm not thin.

But I'm trying really, really hard not to say that I'm fat.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

California Sunset

closed amenities

I knew, all along, that this day would come. The sun has set:

California sunset

on my time off. The shops have closed:

closed shop

the volleyball courts are empty:

empty courts

and I got on a plane and flew home.

The weird thing, though, is that I don't miss California. I'm not saying I didn't like it, because I did. I had some good food (one salad was so delicious that I got almost to the bottom of the bowl before I realized that there were green onions in it), and I got to walk a lot on a nice, paved path on the beach. Walking along the ocean in the morning was so soothing that I didn't use my iPod at all, instead just listening to the waves, and in the evening I got to listen to the waves and to the drone of traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway on the other side. It was like walking in a cocoon of white noise, and the temperature was beautiful as long as I walked at dawn or dusk.

I'm under no illusions that I saw the real California, though. One of my friends said that I should get a job out there, so I could live by the beach all the time, but I work in higher education. If I got a job out there, it wouldn't pay enough to live in this version of California:

spitting fountains

but it was nice to visit. I think that every time I visit California.

And then I always come home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bobby's Funeral

On Sunday I went to a funeral for a stranger.

This was not in my travel plans for the trip to California, but I was here and the funeral was here, so I went ahead and attended the service with about a thousand other people, lined up all along the pier that I've been walking to and from in the mornings and the evenings.

I didn't know Bobby, the man who died, but I was able to gather (and by "gather" I mean, of course, that I eavesdropped on all of the conversations around me) that he was in his mid to late 40's. The numbers that I heard most often were 43 and 47, so I assume that one of them is correct. I know that he died from cancer, although nobody knew or nobody said what kind. I know that he was cremated, and that the reason so many mourners were gathered at the pier is that his ashes were going to be scattered into the ocean on the north side. Someone said that Bobby would find it ironic that the north side was his final resting place, but no one said why. As a stranger, I didn't think it was my place to ask.

The reason so many people were gathered, even strangers, to see Bobby's ashes scattered is that Bobby was also a surfer, and that meant that he had a surf memorial. I'd never seen one, and probably never will again, but here's how it worked.

The mourners/attendees were split into two groups: those on the beach and those on the pier. Those on the pier were all in regular clothing, and many carried flowers or leis. I was surprised to see so few of them in black, but this appears to have been a pretty informal affair, which I can only assume Bobby would have wanted. Those on the beach, including some of Bobby's family, gathered beneath the pier for a prayer and a few words, and then, all of them in wetsuits and carrying their surfboards, they took to the water and began to swim out into the sea:

surf funeral (1)

The man in the front appeared to be a pastor, although someone near me said that he was a church youth group leader and not ordained. Again, I did not feel that I was in a position to ask a lot of questions.

After the leader decided they were far enough out, which was a little tricky because the lifeguard truck announced just before they took to the water that due to the high waves no one should be out further than 200 yards, the surfers began to circle their boards and hold hands:

surf funeral (2)

This is a lot more difficult than it sounds like it should be. I was thinking, "How hard can it be to float into a circle and grab each other?" but due to the waves the circle kept breaking as it tried to form, and sometimes people slipped off of their boards when they didn't mean to, and had to maneuver back into place.

It took about twenty minutes for them to get the whole circle together, with Bobby's family and some close friends in the center:

surf funeral (3)

surf funeral (4)

surf funeral (5)

Once they did, someone in the center of the circle said a few words, they bowed their heads, and then the people on the pier began throwing flowers, leis, and flower petals into the water. The circle pulled in on itself as the people in the center began to scatter Bobby's ashes, and then people started to wish him well:

surf funeral (6)

That was the part that surprised me. The people in the water were cheering, laughing, and clapping as they tried to stay on their boards and threw their own flowers (most of which they had carried in their teeth or tucked into the backs of their wetsuits), and the people on the pier were clapping and yelling back at them.

"So long, Bobby!"

"Bye, Bobby!"

"Safe journey, Bobby!"

I've never been to a funeral where everyone seemed so happy before. It was kind of like Bobby was leaving for a trip, and all of these people showed up at the pier to see him off. I didn't see anyone crying, and for a few minutes it seemed like everyone shared in positive feelings. I felt included in a moment of togetherness and, oddly, hope.

I didn't know Bobby, but I really enjoyed his funeral.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Chat with Myself on the Beach

Yesterday morning I had a brief chat with myself on the beach, spurred by this statue that I saw:

naked surfer statue (1)

As is usually the case when I'm not in a hurry and come across a piece of art, I began to walk around it, snapping pictures, while I tried to decide what the best angle and lighting would be.

Oh, that's interesting. Let me get a little closer.

naked surfer statue (2)

He doesn't have any shorts on. Is he naked?

No, he's not naked. You've seen like 500 surfers in the past three days. They wear wetsuits. He's wearing a wetsuit.

Oh, yeah, that makes sense.

naked surfer statue (3)

That's a nipple. Why does his wetsuit have nipples?

Are you sure? Oh, wait, yeah, that's totally a nipple.

Maybe it's like in that Batman movie? The one where the Batsuit had nipples?

Jesus, that movie was awful.

Yeah. Hey, wait...

naked surfer statue (4)

I can see his junk.

Yeah, that's not a wetsuit. He's naked.


Better get a photo.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The OC

After leaving Kansas City a few of us went home and a few of us flew onward, into the golden west. We have a second conference this week in California, and rather than fly back to Tennessee and then fly out again we flew straight here, and are paying for our own hotel rooms for the couple of nights in between. It's like a little mini vacation, and boy, has it been vacation-ish so far. Even though I've woken up at 4 AM local time for the second day in a row I feel totally relaxed, and I'm impatiently waiting for the sun to come up so that I can go walk again. Yesterday I walked over 20,000 steps, a personal best for me. That's 10 miles of walking in one day, and rather than laying around and moaning in pain like I did in March when I walked a similar distance I'm watching the sky out of my hotel room window for the first sign that I can walk some more.


Because of the beach.


Oh, God, the beach.

beach at sunset (3)

I don't even really like beaches that much. You get sand in your shoes and there's glass and trash and dirty needles and sometimes feet washing up on them all the time and there's no way in hell I'm getting in that slimy salty shark-infested water, especially if it means I have to take my shirt off in public or zip into a form-fitting wetsuit. Nope. Not a fan of the beach.

Except that here, I suddenly like it.

I walked down to the beach on our first night here, just as the sun was setting.

beach at sunset (1)

Our hotel has a bridge that crosses the Pacific Coast Highway, and then there's a paved walking path all along the beach down to a pier:

beach at sunset (2)

The first night it all seemed nice, but I hadn't really formed any impressions beyond that. There are a lot of people, but they're mostly polite (no one bumped into me or picked my pocket; I guess my standards for "polite" are pretty low), and there's a constant breeze off of the water. I thought it was kind of hilarious that I was walking around in a t-shirt thinking about how great the weather here is while the locals were bundling up in jackets, hats, and gloves and the hotel was putting warmers out on the patio, but I guess it's relative to what you're used to.

Yesterday morning is when I started to really like it here. I woke up, got my walking clothes on, and waited for daylight. And waited. And waited some more.

Stupid time zones.

When it was finally light, I headed toward our bridge, where the hotel's "Beach Amenities" stand was setting up. It was closed the night before, but yesterday morning it was open to hand out towels, chairs, umbrellas, and whatever other amenities are behind the desk that I couldn't see. The kid working it looks straight out of "Orange County Central Casting": tall, tan, lanky, deep-voiced, with long, naturally-streaked blond hair. He looked exactly like the kind of person you'd expect to see working a beach stand, and I wondered if the hotel assigned him there on purpose, but didn't want to ask. Instead, I wanted to get to the beach.

beach runner

People were walking, running, jogging, rollerblading, and biking all along the path and, in some cases, in the sand. I passed a sunrise prayer service and a morning yoga session, and down by the pier there was some kind of awful training session going on where people were sprinting up and down the steps while a trainer yelled at them to do it faster. It seemed kind of awful, so I hung out on the pier for a while to watch the surfers instead.

Huntington Beach is home to the Surfing Walk of Fame, a collection of sidewalk plaques in the general area of the statue of Duke Kahanamoku:

Duke Kahanamoku

Olympic swimming gold medalist and, according to the plaque at the base of the statue, the father of modern surfing.

The surfers swim out from the shore:

surfing (2)

surfing (6)

and when they get a little ways from shore they wait:

surfing (1)

for the ways to come in. When they do, the surfers surf:

surfing (3)

surfing (4)

surfing (5)

surfing (7)

When I got tired of watching them, I watched the pelicans, which are completely unafraid of people and walk up and down the pier while the people fishing throw them scraps of bait:

pelican (1)

pelican (2)

pelican (3)

Beyond that, I did the kinds of things I always do when I have free time in a strange place. I walked around and looked at things:



liquor store


old truck


had some food (in this case, oatmeal at the hotel):


and I went to a little tent market down by the pier. I bought one of the reusable tote bags in this photo, for taking to the Farmer's Market and carrying books to and from McKay's, and because I wanted a souvenir that wasn't from a souvenir store:

tote bags

I watched some beach volleyball for a while:


or, more technically correct, I watched some guys play beach volleyball for a while, which was like watching "Top Gun" with all of the boring airplane parts cut out. Later, even though I was already at 7 miles for the day, I walked down to the pier again:

beach at sunset (4)

to watch the sunset on the beach:

beach at sunset (5)

and to think about how many steps I can get in before the conference starts.

I'm dressed and ready to go, and I'll be out there as soon as the sun comes up.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kansas City

After I posted about my arrival in Kansas City the other day, my friend Todd, who used to live there, complained that I wasn't blogging enough about his former city. He sort of had a point. When I went to the Hamptons in March or visited North Carolina in late August, I blogged every day I was there about the places I went and the things that I did and the weird and wonderful sights that I saw, but when I got to Kansas City this week I arrived and then went silent.

There's a really good reason for that, though: Until the last night in town I pretty much only went to the places that I'd already been to the first day.

I got my steps in the morning by walking around the War Memorial Park next to the hotel:

war memorial at dawn (1)

war memorial at dawn (2)

watching the sun come up over Kansas City:

kansas city wakes up (1)

western auto building

kansas city wakes up (2)

over Union Station:

Union Station at dawn

and over the giant yellowjacket, now completed:

giant yellowjacket at dawn

All of the rest of the time I went to conference sessions, stayed in the hotel during breaks, and went to meals with my fellow conference attendees:

inside Union Station

because, as I explained last year when I went to a conference in New Orleans, that's what I was sent here to do: Focus on making the most of my conference experience. I think I accomplished that, as I have a bunch of notes, a couple of books to order, and some followup to do with people that I met, but in order to do that I pretty much never left the vicinity of the hotel.

Until last night, when my old friend Lisa arrived to rescue me.

The conference ended yesterday afternoon, in the pouring rain. Lisa, my friend that I used to ride the bus with in 8th and 9th grade before she moved away (that's 24 years ago, for people who are wondering), and her husband, Ryan, came to pick up my friend Meghan and I at the hotel and show us a little bit more of Kansas City before we had to fly out. I'm so glad they did, because we had a fantastic night, and then found out that it was even more generous of them because today is their anniversary, so we pretty much crashed their anniversary dinner.

I had such a good time that I didn't even take photos for most of the night.

We went to a German restaurant for dinner, which was delicious. I had kasespetzel (spetzel with cheese) and a dessert that I don't remember the name of but was basically fried donut holes with a poppy seed filling, and Meghan had German food for the first time ever as our sarcastic waiter mocked her pronunciation and the rest of us laughed. Then we went on a driving tour of Kansas City, in the rain, where we saw giant sculptures of shuttlecocks and a house with a life-sized Pillsbury Dough Boy in their front window, peering out at the road. Then Lisa and Ryan took us to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a huge museum in downtown Kansas City that was both gorgeous and free of charge. We only had a few hours, so we stayed in the modern wing rather than the older European wing, but it was still a great night and an impressive museum:

museum (1)

museum (2)

museum (3)

After they dropped us off, I went upstairs to pack and go to sleep, and that was it for Kansas City.

I'll try to blog more from California, so as not to offend the friends that live here.