I am...a New Yorker

[Previous entry: "Displacing my Emotions"]

Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Drawing a Line in the Sand

An APB for a car with Jersey plates over the MTA radio on the bus.

Fire engines racing to the Chrysler building.

Orange County to a boy who, it turns out, is from Placentia, which is 3 blocks from where I went to college. It's home to an In 'N Out Burger with no drive-thru, among other anomalies.

Back to the meat and veggie diet of last spring and summer. It's much easier to maintain when I have more energy and the weather doesn't discourage going outdoors.

And how!

An excerpt from Stephen King's On Writing.

The math. I've mentioned before that I feel my quality of life is much lower than it was in SF.

I earn $15k more than I did in 1996, almost double my income. However, I pay 34% in taxes, as opposed to 9% then. That means my take home salary is only $5k more than it was in 1996 (about $400 more a month). Meanwhile, my rent is $500 more a month (though it includes food, which ran about $175 a month), and my transportation cost is $28 more per month. That's not even to mention the higher cost of living in NYC and in 2003.

Here I'd been feeling like I was being irresponsible and reckless, when the fact is that I'm living on less, if one factors in real dollars (both the difference between 1996 and 2003 and the difference between pre-dot-com SF and NYC).

Now the question is whether it is better for me to go back to SF or go back to my 1996 income, or perhaps both.

A B+ on my U.S. Foreign Policy midterm. I was really sweating it out, as that was the first grade of any kind in the course. I felt confused about the questions and feared they'd all melded together into one.

That's no stretch, as the three questions were about the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine and NSC68 which formed, respectively, the economic, political and military foundation for U.S. foreign policy since WW2. They worked in tandem, thusly: we'll give you this aid, if you keep the commies out, and let us build a base in your country.

To Cute Boy's going away get together after work. I'll miss him, he's mellow and has a good attitude.

I am...fat. Sometimes I forget that's all some people see. Even intelligent people. Even someone whose job it is to help me. Even my therapist.

I should have known. She brought it up in an early session as an issue I needed to work on. There I was concerned with being jobless, on the verge of eviction, nursing a broken heart, suicidal and having horrible nightmares in which I was violently attacked. Fat was the least of my concerns.

This last probably worried me the most. It took me almost a year after September 11th to understand why it affected me so much. At first, I took it at face value – friends in California cried, too, took time off of work and their bosses and family understood. There I was, 1/2 a mile away and made to feel like I was overreacting.

It was a while longer before I made the connection between that constant state of fear and impending doom, to a similar prolonged vigilance. My childhood through my early 20s. With the exception of September 11 and my childhood, I've been able to deal with just about every curve life's thrown me. But I didn't have a solution for either of those, because it wasn't a matter of how I behaved -- some violent, stupid man could take it all away.

I think it's difficult for people from regular or non-violent dysfunctional families to even comprehend what violence does to you, most especially when it's in your own home, by someone you are supposed to love, who is supposed to take care of you. In Lucky, Alice Sebold talks about the distance between herself and everyone else she knew after she was raped. Afterward, she lived in a different world: one where there is violence, in stark contrast to the world even she herself knew before. I think that awareness is often mistaken for self-pity or negativity, and the truth of it is easy to ignore. Whether it be rape, murder, or war, violence is just a number -- until it happens to you.

Essentially, I'm dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This diagnosis is widely made and recognized in relation to combat veterans, victims of violent crime, even witnesses to catastrophes such as the World Trade Center. I have a friend who is a nurse and, though she's obviously used to blood and guts in the ER, the things she saw on September 11 disturbed her deeply. She will talk in graphic detail about patients, their problems and bodily functions, but when it comes to what she saw that day, she has no words.

This is now a city of walking wounded, of shellshocked civilians hidden among us. I can't begin to imagine the long term effects of that incident and its ongoing implications on most of us, let alone those who saw, fled or lost a loved one in the devastation.

In the midst of that, my own, personal shellshock was reanimated. I didn't go looking for this, I didn't pity myself into it, it happened organically. Now I am trying to find the best way to cope with it. The nightmares have lessened, as have many of the physical symptoms. There are times when I don't have any of the physical problems caused by the abuse and there are times when they are constant. Like the Empire State Building lit in red, white and blue for the better part of 18 months, these physical problems are a constant reminder of horrible events.

I deal as best I can with them, but it's frustrating that my behavior has only a limited effect on their frequency, intensity and duration. It's equivalent to one's work having no relationship to one's salary.

I still bristle at the idea that being affected by horrible events -- whether it's an average beating, one's father holding them at gunpoint, or smelling death hanging over New York City for a week -- is somehow out of place. I don't think that "put on a happy face" is the answer for every situation and, in fact, it's entirely inappropriate to many situations. There is nothing I have hated worse than a well-meaning person telling me to "cheer up" when I'd just lost my job or been beaten. It's inconsiderate, ill-informed and solves nothing. I think you have to steep in the pain for some amount of time, to own it and to truly deal with it. Frankly, those "cheer up" people usually live in a world where nothing bad happens and, when it does, they come to me because they can't cope with the slightest unpleasantry.

I don't mean to harp on any of this. I wonder if in this journal and in therapy, too, if I give a full impression of myself. I tend to use both to explore painful things, to try to understand them better and find more constructive ways to respond to them. While I don't want for gallows humor in therapy, I don't often talk about my joys there. I don't need to find a solution for them, I just fucking enjoy and treasure them, all the more for how hard-won they are at times.

: : :

But I was going to write about being fat, right? That's why no one loves me, my therapist told me yesterday. She said she used to feel like I do (that I should be loved for who I am), but it never happened, that all anyone can see is "a big, fat lump." So, she got thin "for two minutes," got married and got fat again. She said if I were thin, I could "treat men like crap."

I was astonished. I had no idea she was so self-loathing.

I guess I should have suspected something, since she kept telling me that I had low self-esteem, so often presumed because of my size. The assumption completely ignores the fact that most women in this culture hate their bodies. So, is the problem that I have a fat ass, or that I live in a society that hates fat asses? I find it is the latter, as it's the same prejudice-tinged condescension as with any other –ism.

My fatness does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a world in which, no matter how talented, brilliant, or funny I am -- the only thing 99% of the world sees is what I look like. Indeed, when confronted with my power, my intellect, my determination -- insecure people respond with a comment about my appearance, as if to remind me of my place. I have rarely been more unhappy than when I lost the 75 pounds last year and everyone I saw felt entitled to comment on my appearance. I guess they think they're being nice if it's in the form of a compliment, but it is still reducing me to a commodity.

It is also a world in which I see beautiful women with far less attractive men everyday, but never the reverse. While I think appearance is the smallest part of attraction, I question why women are unevenly appreciated. I also notice that I only see a black man with a black woman every so often, but black men with white women constantly. While I do see more white men with black and biracial women in NYC than anywhere else I've ever lived, the ratio to the opposite combination is very telling about what is considered attractive. And don't even get me started on the trophy Asian girlfriend.

One need only walk around 10 minutes in New York, observing not only couples, but also advertising, to ascertain this culture's dominant fetish in terms of women. Unrealistically thin, under 24, long haired, two-dimensional, sexually available, docile, silent. Childlike.

Fang points out that she received the most attention when she was an emaciated 80 pounds, but it was creepy attention. The less you are, she said, the more they like it. This is what disturbs me about the Asian fetish most men have, that it's a matter of control and dominance, both physical and cultural. I don't want to be with someone who feels like less beside me. If someone is intimidated by my size, they won't be able to cope with my intellect or force of personality.

Size is related to power. The more women have power, the smaller Madison Avenue portrays them. Need I explain the absurdity of 40-year-old women feeling insecure when confronted constantly with images of 12 year old girls they are expected to emulate? This bankrupt culture has sexualized the asexual and desexualized what is inherently sexual. Female hormones are stored in the fat cells, thus the relationship between anorexia and ceased menstruation. I've never doubted this is why fat women are more orgasmic than thin women, because women's bodies are supposed to have fat on them.

My therapist insisted all of this was OK, because I similarly value men for their money. What is this, a Marilyn Monroe movie? I've never once dated or been interested in a man for his money, or eschewed one for his lack of it. Quite the contrary, I've turned down men who brandished money and favors but who did not treat me with respect. The men and boys I cared most for and still wonder about were generally poor. What I value in a man is intelligence, humor, depth, an uncommon perspective, and his openness to Erica Jackson, in all her glory.

Last night I tried to set up a date with someone and he insisted on lunch. I explained that I need to write and study on my lunch hours, and his response was "be nice." With those two words, he not only dismissed my needs and goals, but also attempted to invoke in me a need for his approval, because women are supposed to be nice. Yeah, and niggers were supposed to know their place. Fuck that. Now, if you've known me any length of time, you know I'm not nice. Of course, I say that sardonically, tongue firmly in cheek, because my good friends would describe me as nice, if not to a fault. That doesn't mean I throw my pearls before swine.

Back to that concept of what I could do if I was thin. I treat men like crap all the time and take great pleasure in it. I think that is the only way to deal with the unfounded, unbounded arrogance of most males -– cut them down a notch or two. It doesn't mean I hate men -- my male friends don't act that boorishly, which is why I keep them in my life. I wish more women did this, I wish more women held men responsible for their behavior, I wish more women just stopped humoring bullshit male ego and got real.

It is only in this way that we can ever hope to reach parity between the sexes at large (let alone between other inequitable dichomies, like race and class) and in close relationships. After all, the relationships that I see lasting, where both partners seem most happy and well-adjusted, are the ones in which the bullshit is put aside and the partners have a fundamental respect for one another.

Also, I'm not waiting for thinness so my life can start. If I was, I would not have made it to New York at all. I've weighed 150 pounds (which my therapist described as "not bad"), 250, and 350. I was happiest at 250, actually. It was there that I felt equilibrium between my body image and my body reality. Beyond that, I felt strong, healthy, and beautiful. Coincidentally or not, I also felt well adjusted, competent and I'd discovered the part of me that was young and fun loving. I had my own apartment, good friends and a decent, if not ideal job.

I also have to be fair to myself. Sometimes I am needlessly upset. I have so much on my to do list, so many interests and goals that, even when I don't lack focus, I can be impatient. Part of this is quite positive -- content people don't change the world, they just take up space. While it would be wonderful to traipse through life with nary a worry (this is the luxury, the blinder of whiteness, thinness, maleness or any other trait that is valued in this society), it would also mean not appreciating the little things as much or making the big things happen.

In any case, I never looked at life as trading my appearance for the money and approval of a man. I've always been in search of, working toward developing a new paradigm. You are welcome to join me, or you can be left behind, in historical blindness. But I say it here, publicly, if you are waiting for me to be thin so you can love me, then you have missed out on a million wonderful things. For those of you who see ME in here, moments like this only make me thankful you're in my life and I love you all the more.

[Next entry: "a Dreamer"]
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