Friday, May 14, 2010

When Love Comes Tumbling Down

If I bent like you said was best
Would that change a thing?
If I spent myself ‘til nothing’s left
Would you still leave me here?

You’re so sorry ‘bout it all
Now that it’s over,
Should I thank you for that dear?
You’re so sorry ‘bout it all
And I hope you’ll always be

--Matt Nathanson, “Bent”

I love it when Fred Clark steps in and says everything I’ve been trying to say.  I love the irony that I read it while I was listening to Matt Nathanson’s “Bent.”

Over the course of nine months in 2004 I lost 110 pounds.  I’d always been the fat kid.  I was always aware of it, too.  I hated myself for it.  I assumed I’d never be happy and never be loved.  So when I finally decided that, yes it was time to lose weight I did so with a single-minded determination.  I would be thin.  I would be happy.

I got one of those things right.  For a while.  The problem was, though, that I spent that entire nine months denying myself all the foods that I wanted to eat and working out obsessively.  I ramped up my metabolism while fantasizing about all the fatty, delicious foods I wasn’t eating any more.  Then one day I decided I’d lost enough weight.  And I started eating all the foods I’d been missing and stopped working out.

Worse, I still saw myself as the fat kid.  So as I started putting weight back on I hit this cycle of denial and shame.  Eventually I hit the point where I stopped seeing the fat kid who had disappeared and started trying to pretend I wasn’t seeing the fat kid that had made an 80% or so return.

Then, one day, I said, “Fuck it.  I’ve got to do something about this.”

That was the second week of September 2009.  In the eight months since I’ve dropped 65 pounds.  Compared to my pace last time around this seems pretty lackadaisical.[1]  The fact is, though, that I’ll take the way I’m doing it this time around over the way I did it last time around without any questions.  See, I’m not single-minded in my pursuit of weight loss.  I don’t obsess over it 24/7.  I eat ice cream or ribs if I want to.  I drink beer.  And not light beer.

And this time I don’t fantasize about food.  I don’t look forward to when I can finally stop doing this work.  I got back to the weight I was when I left for WIU this week, which is a key benchmark for me.  But the far more important benchmark came about two weeks ago, when I realized that I can stop thinking of myself as fat again.

Realistically speaking I’m not exactly skinny.  I’m not thin.  It’s still pretty obvious that I’ve got a ways to go.  And once I get there I’m going to have to be vigilant to stay there.  But I’ve realized it’s okay to say I’m not fat.  I can theoretically hit my goal in about three or four months, but if it takes six or eight that’s just fine by me.  I’ll get there.  It’s not a life-and-death struggle to hit a specific weight by the end of summer.

It’s a good place to be, really.  I’m a far different person than I was in 2004.

In truth, I want to go back to the fall of 2004 and smack that version of me around a bit.  I want to tell him to chill the fuck out, slow the fuck down, and stop being so damn obsessive.  Unfortunately, though, that’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.  And I’m only slowly starting to realize that it applies to so much of the rest of my life.

I want to be at the end when I start.  Or, at least, I want to know what the end looks like.

This explains my utterly pathetic love life.  I spent two years tying myself in knots trying to create an impossible outcome with Her.  Since then I’ve decided not to even attempt second dates after deciding right away that things wouldn’t work.[2]  Worse, though, I decided upon meeting someone who was awesome that it would never, ever go anywhere and didn’t even really try.

Arguing that it won’t work so you might as well not even try is synonymous with cowardice.  It’s just a more neatly packaged justification.

It’s exhausting, I’ve realized, to have to constantly obsess over the minor details.  It’s a burden that I put down with relief.  But putting that burden down ended up costing me quite a bit.

So this brings us back around to today’s posts on Slacktivist and the way Fred managed to make the exact point I was trying to make in my On Writing post without even trying.

Evangelical Christianity seeks to be the central focus in the life of the believer.  It sucks all the joy out of life unless that joy is properly directed towards approved things.  And even proper, approved joy is short-lived, since the world can only be held at bay for so long and the believer knows it.

I remember being in high school at some youth group function.  I was sitting with some of the leaders and one of them was saying that he liked Marcy Playground, but then qualified it by saying that he knew he really shouldn’t, but it wasn’t so bad.  I owned the self-titled Marcy Playground album at the time.  For reasons I totally don’t understand I ripped it, so it’s on my computer and mp3 player right now.

It’s strange to contemplate, though.  Something as silly as a random album from the ‘90s was enough to cause real anguish for my youth leader.  Music shouldn’t cause anguish.[3]

This, though, is why I have problems with church scenes in my writing.  It is not, for me, simply a matter of creating some canned dialogue.  It’s not a matter of sidestepping the issue and saying, “Ah, well, I’ll just be an unreliable narrator.”

It’s a matter of compassion, of sympathy.  It’s a matter of pity.  I am watching these characters go through struggles and turning to a deaf, mute, and uncaring god for help.  I am watching their lives fall apart.  And I’m trying to play out those earnest conversations I had so many times about how it’s all just a lesson and god is really in control.

In order to see the pain of the slowly dawning realization of misplaced faith, though, I need to be able to show honest faith, I need to be able to show faith in the face of doubt.  And I need to show the laying down of that burden as a moment of relief mixed with fear, regret, and sadness.

I can’t do that while winking at my audience.  As narrator I need to be pitilessly neutral in order to invite the compassion of the audience.

Anything less diminishes the story I hope to be able to tell.


[1]It’s funny, too.  That sounds like a huge number to most people.  I’m like, “Eh, I’ve done better…”

[2]To be fair, there’s only one of those 1st dates that never went anywhere that I actually regret not going anywhere.  And that one, well, I gone done fucked it up, anyway.

[3]Well, unless Miley Cyrus is involved…


Fiat Lex said...

On footnote #3 there, I want to throw some of your own wise words back at you. Music should only cause anguish in order to bring it to the point of catharsis. Sure, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" has become the 'hail Mary' of American Idol, but it's among the best songs of the 20th century because it does that very thing. It's good for a free ride to the next week of voting on the strength of the song alone.

When love is not enough, when compassion and need fail to build the bridge that needs to grow between two people, when everything is cold and broken, still. Hallelujah. There was a heart there to be broken, and its breaking demonstrates its strength. There was love, before it flared out and died and left the would-be lovers alone together in its ashes. It may fail and burn out with a roar, or turn to ice and fall silent a thousand times--but it only has to succeed once. Sometimes indifference prevails, sometimes hate triumphs. But love can win. Hallelujah.

Props to Fred, for certain, for setting the bar high once again.

Also congratulations to you on some hard-won wisdom. And more good readin'. :D

Rhino of Steel said...

The fat kid self image is damn near impossible to get rid of so kudos for finally dropping it. I'm struggling with that now, myself. It hit me a couple of weeks ago when I went to buy new shorts since the ones from last year are too large. Turns out I'm down to a 30 waist and even a number of those were large when two years ago I was struggling into size 42 pants. After being the fat kid for 23 straight years though it is hard to stop seeing oneself that way. All the excess skin reminding me of it and making me look like a flying squirrel certainly isn't helping either...

Pity is one of the harder things to evoke properly. Can't lay it on too thick or the audience will resent the attempt and likely turn against the character or even find it funny (see: damn near every Greek tragedy). Meanwhile, too light a touch and it will be brushed aside. Finding the right tone is difficult.