I wrote my previous post as a humor piece with the sharp end of a stick aimed at Disney. These two third graders however, explained the unsettling aspects of Disneyland/World better than I did. Please click on the link above and read their letter to the chairman of Walt Disney Parks. It’s lucid and heartfelt, pointed yet respectful. Maybe if my generation had been as wise at nine as they are, I wouldn’t have a problem with the idea of taking my grandkids to Disneyland today.
It’s been a little while since I posted. I have a few pieces in the pipeline so I hope to post more during the summer. But there’s been a lot going on around here, the best of which was finishing the first draft of my first novella, “Ties That Bind”. I ‘ll talk about that experience on my other blog, BusyWritingLife.
The other stuff is mainly around family, some good, some bad which are the subjects I’ll be sharing this summer. And speaking of which;
Yeah, Disney, about that…..
We’ve been thinking about doing a family vacation this summer. There are young’ens in our clan so, naturally, when I threw out the vacation idea, Disneyland was mentioned by their parents as a possibility. I grew up in the counter-culture days and tend to think of myself as a social reform type so at the Disney suggestion the only response that came to my mind was, as one of the other family members says, “hashtag, I can’t”. But I was pointedly reminded by one daughter that as I was bringing her up, I pushed Disney like a Oxycontin dealer.
I admit it’s true. I enjoyed a lot of Disney movies, both as a child and as an adult. When I became a mother, the memories of feelings I had as a child for Snow White and Cinderella overcame my supposed highly developed social sense. My emotional need was to share those memories with my kids. I wanted them to give them what I thought I’d gotten out of the films. It was a knee-jerk response to parenthood. And, truth be told, I continued to get with the Disney program. As a matter of fact, The Little Mermaid was a special bonding experience for me and that same daughter. Her favorite song was Part of That World and mine was Under the Sea. Some things never change…
…And some things do. So, I changed my mind. Sue me. (Oh that’s right, daughter can because she’s an attorney now. Take that Arial!) It was right around the Aladdin years that I noticed a change in my attitude toward Disney films. I was starting to become bothered by the things like historical contexts and language. Why is a princess using an expression like, “at your service?” And why a princess? Why always a princess?! By the time Pocahontas was released I was suspicious of all the basic Disney themes. (Actually during one point in that movie, in a theater, my sister and I both stood and shouted, ‘Oh c’mon!”) I started questioning what it was I actually did get from those old “classics” in terms of gender roles, class distinctions and cultural perspective. I realized that as an evolved, modern, African-American woman, I needed a new cartoon vision that matched my mood. (Haha.) That’s when I started boring my kids with “responsible” TV shows like Captain Planet. We stopped going to Disney movies and instead I brought home videos like Ferngully, The Last Rainforest”. The only Disney distributed movie I let into the house was The Brave Little Toaster. It scared the shit out of them and began the “reading era” of their childhood. As a result, when they criticize me about that time, as they still do, it’s in very literate terms.
Did I do the right thing by casting a jaundice eye on Disney and sharing my misgivings with my kids or was I the throw back hippie hypocrite they feel I was? I’m not sure but I’m still going to take a pass on dunking the grandkids in the Disney kool-aid as our summertime fun. Maybe I’ll suggest a hiking trip in the mountains instead. Now, please excuse me. We have a birthday party this afternoon and I have to go wrap an Elsa’s Frozen Palace play set.
The title of this post is the verbatim text I received from a loved one when I suggested to her that overall health is more important than being thin. What was I thinking? This person is young, female and lives in Manhattan. Every woman she comes into contact with is either skinny and/or obsessed with her weight.
Besides, we all know our culture in general likes it thin. No matter where we look, big or small, still or streaming, paper or digital, the images underscore that truth. The message is always the same; desirable women are thin. The only overweight woman we see are talking about their weight in shame or are being shamed for their weight, like the TV commercial for a diabetes med that is rife with larger women. Apparently, those fatties bought their disease for the price of a candy bar. Every once in a while there will be a portrayal in the media of a heavier woman who valiantly overcomes her weight to live a happy life. But the point is always that being over 120 pounds is unhappy and more than likely unhealthy. Have you noticed that on the rare occasion that a heavier female is highlighted on a TV show as happy with herself, at some point down the line she loses weight?.(Hello Jennifer Hudson, Oprah Winfrey, Rosanne, I’m looking at you.)
Did you see the TLC show, Fat and Back, in January? It was about the painfully skinny British correspondent Katie Hopkins who gained and then lost over forty pounds to prove that “fat” people lack discipline. Granted she admitted to gaining a deeper insight into weight issues after the experience yet at the end of the day, she came away still feeling superior for being underweight. The program was fascinating in an uncomfortable way to me. (Click on the above for more info on Katie and the show. Let me know what you think.)
I worry about how young woman in this country fare in all this. They have to negotiate the landmine ridden landscape of body image. C’mon, those of us females brought up in this culture live the body dysmorphic disorder story: we are bombarded with the message that thin is best from childhood and when we get to the angst filled adolescence ages, our self-esteem is inextricably tied to how we think we stack up to the physical ideal. Coming to sexual maturity when you already have a distorted body image is a recipe for long-term agony. And it’s not just a psychological problem. How can we tell a teenage girl it’s her imagination that boys aren’t asking her out and other girls are being mean to her because she’s packing extra pounds, when we know it’s not her imagination? By the time young women reach their twenties there are two groups; one group obsesses over being overweight and feels miserable and the other, of which my loved one is a member, obsesses over staying skinny and feels relived yet constantly fearful. Both groups spend an inordinate amount of valuable time thinking about how much they weigh and that’s sad. Vinita Nair of CBS This Morning did an excellent piece last month on the ideal body image as it is manifested in models and how that affects what young women see in themselves. Nair states that there is a “push to regulate appearance and size in magazines” but juxtaposes that with stats on eating disorders. She also asks the question, “what size is realistic?” Good question. Realistic for who, where and at what stage in their lives?
I’m not thin and I’m not a kid anymore. I’m also not naïve. I know that its human nature to make assumptions based on how a person presents physically. So I know that we older women don’t get to leave the problem behind once we reach a certain age. For a long time I wondered why I wasn’t getting any hits on the old folks dating sites. It finally dawned on me that even the few older men who want older women want beautiful and skinny older women. Also, I talked in my last post about losing my primary care doctor. She admonished me at every visit about my weight and sternly ticked off the health problems my extra poundage would cause. I always felt that I was being finger-wagged by a skinny woman. My new doctor didn’t mention my weight once at my first appointment. Instead of fat shaming me, she talked to me about the medical issues I already have, like high blood pressure, and how my weight factors into addressing them.She is not as thin as the other doctor but she isn’t overweight either. Interestingly, she is African-American and I wonder how much cultural factors play into ideal weight perception.
In this society the prevalent standard of beauty is of a Caucasian. The blond, blue-eyed, thin women were the cream of the crop for a long time.
Blond and blue-eyed is not naturally achievable in some ethnic groups
and neither is being rail thin.
After all this thinking about it, I’ve decided to leave my skinny-and-loving-it girl alone because she’s just calling it the way most people in this country see it. And, full disclosure, I’m on a diet right now. I’m using one of the many fitness apps designed to remind me of what my ideal body should look like . I tell everyone I’m doing it for my health.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the National Museum of African-American History and Culture that included the exhibit “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals At Talladega College. It was held at the National Museum of American History because the NMAAHC building isn’t finished yet. It’s slated for completion in 2016.
One of the many benefits to me of moving to the Washington DC area has been the excitement of watching the museum’s development. As I passed on my way to the event that Saturday, Maya Angelou’s powerful poem Still I Rise came into my head. The image of that beautiful building rising out of the ground at the corner of the National Mall seems like the embodiment of the words to me.
When I was a little girl, the biggest public symbol of African-American life that I saw regularly was a giant fiberglass washer woman dressed like Aunt Jemima which stood on top of the roof of the local laundromat. She was mechanical. and moved up and down in a never-ending task of washing fiberglass clothes in a big tub. I asked my mother more than once why “they” put that big, ole lady up there like that. Even at that young age I knew it wasn’t a flattering image of black womanhood. My mother’s answer came with a sigh and was always the same, “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know.”
So for me, watching the NMAAHC building go up has been cathartic. It has exorcised some of the many shame demons who taunted me in childhood. I’m thrilled to witness the progression of an emblem of the contribution of African-American culture to the country, as it expands upward toward the sky. As Ms. Angelou so pointedly yet eloquently put it:
Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
This morning my doctor’s secretary told me she doesn’t take my new insurance because it’s an”ObamaCare” plan. Really?
I had gone in for my regular BP check so I could get my prescription refilled. (My doctor requires that I do so every three months before she’ll call in the script.) The insurance I bought through the government exchange took effect on 1/1. I arrived at my doctor’s office a few minutes early so I could give them my new insurance information. It was then that the secretary looked at my card, turned to a co-worker & said, “Is it the QHP we don’t take?” The co-worker nodded & the young woman said she was sorry. I told her I’d checked the insurance carrier website and had seen my doctor listed as a provider. She said, “They must have some misinformation. We just had a big meeting about these plans. She doesn’t take any of the “ObamaCare plans….or Medicaid.” Incredulous, I walked out of the office of the doctor I’ve had since moving to Virginia over two years ago.
I don’t have insurance through an employer. I’m employed but like many folks these day, I have a job that doesn’t come with benefits. I was 50 years old when my husband died and just before he passed I asked him if he thought I’d need to go to work. (I’d been caring for him pretty much full-time for the previous two years.) He said I might need to in order to get insurance. He had no way of knowing then that the economy would crash soon after, that thousands would be laid off and that it would become nearly impossible for someone over 50 to get a job. I, like other people my age, finally got two part-time jobs, neither of which offer benefits but that together just barely cover the cost of my individual health insurance. I’m grateful to be working and consider myself lucky because my daughter, a lawyer with crushing student loan debt, has a full-time “consultant” position which doesn’t offer benefits either. And all of her co-workers are in the same boat. At least I’m not young, trying to raise a family while facing years of loan payments.
Walking back from my doctor’s office I was thinking about our national narrative, the myth, in its most basic form, that this is a country that is good to you and for you if you work hard. I work hard, my daughter works hard and so do all our friends. My husband worked hard and thought he had prepared enough to provide for me. But let’s be honest, the truth is the narrative has really always only applied to some people. For one thing, this economy favors business owners, small and large. The right of small business owners not to pay for employees insurance is championed more than the right of employees to have insurance. Additionally, there’s been a paradigm shift in this country that we have to acknowledge. There used to be a middle class that worked for the large businesses. The most recent recession pared off many of the workers in the middle class for a variety of economic reasons I won’t go into here but all of which involve corporate bottom lines. So big business is healthier, and the economy is improving but who paid for it?
Mario Cuomo’s funeral was today. I remember as an idealistic young woman being absolutely mesmerized by his 1984 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address. He spoke so eloquently about the U.S. as a country that is like a family that take’s care of its members. He said:
“…we can make it with the whole family intact, and we have more than once….wagon train after wagon train…the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way…”
Sure, he was a smart politician who understood that the American Dream, land of the free, ‘anyone can succeed on their own merit’ was a myth but he believed in a real middle class. In that speech he also said:
“…if we do not forget that this entire nation has profited by these progressive principles; that they helped lift up generations to the middle class and higher; that they gave us a chance to work, to go to college, to raise a family, to own a house, to be secure in our old age and, before that, to reach heights that our own parents would not have dared dream of.”
We have always been sold, by politicians and advertisers, a vision of an America that doesn’t exist. But today we are a nation of haves, have-nots and a lot of people struggling with student loan debt, poor employment choices insecure employment situations, ridiculously expensive health insurance premiums and leaders who tell us anything but show us no compassion. I wonder if that’s what my ex-doctor’s group talked about in the big meeting.
So, I decided to challenge myself in the time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. I don’t usually go in for personal challenges because they feel so pop culture-ish to me, like I’m channeling Oprah or something. But I got a loud wakeup call at Thanksgiving. I was told my attitude had become a bit negative. Actually, my offspring very pointedly said to me, “Mom, you’re so negative!
At that point I wanted to line them up for a group slap. But instead, I took a walk among the falling leaves in my favorite nature preserve and thought about it. Damn it, they were right! I had become a glass half empty person! I’m not sure when it happened, I would suspect gradually over the period of the last couple of years. I know I’ve had periods of darkness before, usually brought on by depression, sometimes situational but my kids meant that I’d developed a general negative disposition that wasn’t part of my character before. I thought about why it happened and I couldn’t help but notice that it seems to happen to a lot of women my age, especially women like me who don’t have partners. The kids are gone, there are no career goals left to reach and let’s face it, this culture emphasizes youth so every time I look in the mirror I’m reminded that I’m no longer the cultural ideal or the desired demographic. I think all that weighted me down and I think it weighs on my friends too. I realized that when talking with them it was about our health issues, who had died and who the most annoying people in our lives were at any given moment. And when I was out talking to strangers; clerks in stores, people in lines, etc. my remarks, although sometimes very witty, many times referred to things I wasn’t happy about. That’s why I decided to challenge myself by taking the six weeks until the end of 2014 to make an effort to stay as positive as possible.
Now, I don’t believe in the adage “fake it til you make it” so the challenge for me is genuinely being positive. Don’t get me wrong, gratitude has never been my problem. I’m grateful all day long, but I’m also the kind of person who will say “I’m so grateful I’m not dead because I should be.” Yeah, I’m grateful, but not positive. So I reframed my gratitude. I believed and decided to find things in my life every day that could lead me to say “You know what, life is good. I looked for things I could hang on to and pass on to others as benefits of our time in this life.
I have to tell you that in the weeks since I made the conscious choice circumstances have changed along with my outlook and I’m surprised. (I guess skepticism was part of my negativity.) Some very nice things have happened to me since Thanksgiving. I have to believe that opening myself to positive energy has made a good difference. For one thing, it’s made a difference in the way I treat other people and therefore the way they treat me in return. I was in a package delivery store just before Christmas. I told the obviously stressed clerk to take his time and I joked with him that I wouldn’t watch how my box was being handled. He smiled and I noticed his body visibly relax. Then he wished me happy holidays. I experienced the effect of being positive in that moment and at other times as well, so much so that I’ve decided to continue the challenge into 2015. I guess I’d forgotten again that we always have access to the absolute, big L Love from which all positivity comes. This challenge reminded me and I’m grateful!
The question concerns a woman I’ve known since college. (So it’s been longer than either of us would admit.) We were roommates in a dorm that was problematic for us as it was single gender and not very diverse. We became very close in the two years we lived there together. We shared similar backgrounds and a number of interests, especially literature. We felt safe enough with one another to reveal our ambitions concerning men and careers. We would lay in our twin beds at night describing our fantasies, born from youth and hope, about what our husbands would look like, where we’d live and which jobs on which magazines we’d get. And we both always assumed we’d remain friends. Back then, she was incredibly smart, strong, popular and a very talented writer. I admired her and I always felt enriched by being in her company.
Then bad stuff started happening to her. Really bad stuff. Tragic stuff. She suffered unimaginable losses that caused her to develop mental health issues. Among other problems, she became a hoarder. And her losses continued. Over the period of a few years, she lost a job, a house and her parents. She couldn’t tolerant the pain. I witnessed as her attitude changed so much she seemed to become a completely different person. A hard, not nice person. I understood why and how the transformation happened but she was no longer the person I had known and loved.
I wasn’t sure how to handle what was happening to her. In all honesty, I have put more than a little distance between us. I have discussed before on this blog that feeling compassion toward others is sometimes hard for me. I’ve learned from studying Buddhism and mystical Christianity that in order to be genuinely compassionate, one must put aside the sense of self, beyond empathy and beyond sympathy. That’s the hard part for me because I am seriously self-centered.
Unfortunately, this friend’s behavior was hurtful during a very difficult period in my life. I knew it was part of the change in her personality but truthfully, it broke my heart and I didn’t know if I could forgive her. I understood her but I needed space to re-evaluate the relationship because it was proving to be too difficult for me to get past the hurt she’d caused. My rational mind conveniently told me I didn’t need to feel bad if I decided to let the friendship go because I didn’t know her anymore. I asked myself how I could really be a friend to a stranger. Apparently, there were others who felt the same way because a couple of people who at one time orbited around her chose to leave her sphere.
Now she is seriously ill with cancer. This is not territory for my rational mind; this is the land of my heart. This is the time for me to reflect on the love I gave to this woman who was my friend but even more so on the love I received. I feel that although I don’t know this person anymore I’m required out of compassion to stay and give the appearance of a friend. But in my heart I know that isn’t real compassion. She is the same person with whom, for years, I thought I shared the unbreakable love bond of an authentic friendship. In her world and in her mind we are still connected, if in a way that only makes sense to her. I’m not sure I feel connected to her at all anymore so maybe I’ve changed more than she has. And I have to acknowledge that she still loves me in her own way. Yet the truth is I’ve let resentment of her fear and bitter neediness taint and diminish my love.
.Can I be a friend to this person I no longer know? She’s changed and maybe I’ve changed too. Maybe we need to have a different, changed kind of friendship. Maybe if I re-acquaint myself with her I’ll discover something new about love and compassion that will help us both. I’ll keep you posted.