Beth Burnett

Storyteller

The Elephant in the Room

By Sonya Schryer Norris

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

I’m big.

Real big.

Real, real big.

And recently I had a revelation about what my fat body is capable of. I have a belief born of hard experience that if I do so much as basic housework my back will go out and I’ll be in agony. I’ve had back pain since a childhood playground injury, but it is exacerbated by poor conditioning and obesity. It’s not polite to talk about fat, even when you’re talking about yourself.

But!

This summer, on a five day prescription for Prednisone due to a nasty case of bronchitis, I cleaned out closets, rooms, corners, bookshelves, and drawers. I moved stack after stack of books, and bags and boxes of clothes. I sorted “stuff” and carted my own piles to recycling or trash or the car to take to Goodwill. I reorganized, cleaned, and reclaimed living and storage space. I worked in one half to one hour sprints with breaks of about the same time. I got disgustingly sweaty, dried off, and got sweaty again. I stank.

I learned that physical activity doesn’t always result in pain. This was a genuine revelation. And it was AWESOME to feel physically productive. I’m used to being intellectually productive, but not satisfied about what I can do with my body. And due to the Prednisone, I was pain free for the first time in years. It’s also been years since I’ve been free from fear of what’s happening in my body. I’m afraid my fat will kill me.

I’m told by some that’s a fallacy, while others insist in calm tones that it’s just a statistical fact. In the meantime, I live in quiet dread that I’ll die by heart attack or stroke in my 40’s.

About a year ago, I went on a retreat to think seriously about what I wanted for my life. One thing I wanted was to be healthier. To have greater mobility. To have less pain. And to live in less fear.

I considered what I was willing to do to make that happen. Given my fear that physical Sonya at LITA revactivity would lead to pain, I decided on adding movement that was psychologically acceptable. First, I decided to park on the far side of the lot at work. I bought a FitBit to help me with a little reward when I made my modest step goals. Beth, here at Beth’s New Life, challenged me to a FitBit Adventure Race: the Pohono Trail. I was up and walking circuits of my floor every hour. On the last day of the challenge, I got in more steps than any day before or since. Since my revelation about my capabilities with more intense movement, I began a water aerobics class with a friend to build up strength.

Another goal I made during the retreat was to eat lower on the food chain, and to eat more homemade foods. My friend Dragon and I started making dates for cooking marathons. We prepare foods that freeze well and we’ll have the stove, oven, and crock pot all going at once for several days in a row. Without her moral support, I’d never be able to do it. We prepare meals such as a soul-satisfying, vegan split pea soup. Even other choices, like meatloaf with a side of rosemary roasted potatoes, are better than the platters of French fries that tempt me in the cafeteria at work unless I pack an appealing lunch.

Many people encourage me. They invite me to dance with them. To walk with them. To swim with them. A college lover who shares my emotional take on food helps me realize we still understand each other, even from across the country and many years. These women let me know that I am valued. And sometimes it takes a village of these friends to remind me that my health is worth fighting for, no matter my pace. These women combat the cruelty I face due to my weight with kindness and I can dip into its reserve long enough to order a salad instead of something deep fried and send a triumphant, cross-continental text which results in a prompt thumbs up emoji response.

Occasionally, someone will make a thoughtless comment about my weight. Sometimes, people are purposefully cruel. People were cruel when I was ten pounds overweight, when I was a hundred pounds overweight, and when I got to be two hundred pounds overweight. And the judgment felt the same at every stage. The humiliation was the same. The shame was the same. The fear of social ostracism was the same. I get it from strangers and friends alike. When you’re my size, it’s hard for people not to take note. For instance, when you break one of their chairs just by sitting on it. When you fall on the ice and it takes three people to help you back up. When you have two seats for an airplane trip and you’re traveling alone. When you attend a show with someone but can’t fit into a standard theater seat and have to ask for an accommodation in the back of the room.

I look at pictures of myself at age 11, when I was 80 pounds. I was teased in school about my weight and on a diet. Inside, I feel exactly the same today as I did as a mildly chubby tween when I waddle my way from the parking lot into work each day. My internal experience has not changed. My fear of being dismissed – of having my ideas and emotions dismissed because I am overweight – has not changed.

I normally don’t talk about my fat with anyone who is not an intimate friend. My silence is not protecting me. Audre Lorde said that, and she was right. My mobility is impacted in ways that make me think twice about where I go in public. Making excuses for not going out just divides me from others. I’m in pain every day. It makes me crabby and there’s no way to explain and not sound like a broken record of complaints. My relationship with food is “complicated” and most people don’t understand how going through a McDonald’s drive-through is so satisfying that it can soothe the worst emotional crisis. Or how, after years of yo-yo dieting that always results in weighing more than when I started, the hopelessness is as much a problem as the extra pounds.

I wish I could say that I draw the line at relinquishing my dignity to judgment, but I’ll tell you the truth. That judgment can be paralyzing. Sometimes, the cruelty is stronger than I am. It’s the every day hurts that wear me down. When I go out with people who are in better shape than I am, I’m sometimes left to struggle behind them like a pouting child. Eating with others can be a trial of self-evaluation and second guessing what’s socially acceptable for the occasion. And there’s the invisibility that comes when people tell me in the most matter of fact way that my fat was so loud, they literally couldn’t hear the words that came out of my mouth. Because that’s happened, too.

I’m not going to explain how I got to be this way. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. I’m fighting now for my health in the ways that I’m able to. But even if I were making no effort, it wouldn’t change my right to human dignity. Being fat is not a crime or a sin or a moral failure.

Remember that part about my dignity.


Sonya and Scout revFollow Sonya at WordPress where she blogs as the Snake Lady Librarian. She’s currently unwinding a true story about a cross-continental quest to study romantic female friendship poetry complete with tales of manipulating Welsh librarians for the benefit of decoding 300-year-old erotic expression, walking in the footprints of vacationing Romanovs, being psychologically repelled from a 17th century monastery, Serious Ass Research Monkey Serendipity, and the revelation that Antwerp has better French fries than the U.S.

I’m so excited to announce that my dear friend Sonya will be visiting my blog next week with an excellent post on “The Elephant in the Room.” The topic, being a fat person in this world, is one that is near to my heart. Sonya is a writer, a librarian, and a deep thinker. Her recent article, Striving for the Divine: An American Convert’s Early Years in Islam was published in the academic journal, “The Other Journal” by the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Tune in next week to read her guest post.

 

 


Sonya and Scout revFollow Sonya at WordPress where she blogs as the Snake Lady Librarian. She’s currently unwinding a true story about a cross-continental quest to study romantic female friendship poetry complete with tales of manipulating Welsh librarians for the benefit of decoding 300-year-old erotic expression, walking in the footprints of vacationing Romanovs, being psychologically repelled from a 17th century monastery, Serious Ass Research Monkey Serendipity, and the revelation that Antwerp has better French fries than the U.S.

When my wife and I first moved to British Columbia, I was in bad shape physically. I could barely make it around the block, let alone do any hiking.

The first time we walked out on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail (a couple blocks from our home), I looked at the opening of the old train tunnel and said, “I want to make it a goal to get to that tunnel someday.”

I don’t know how long it took to get there. I do know that it’s been almost four months

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The author and the tunnel

and now, that tunnel opening is the point at most of our walks when we say, “Phew. We’re almost home.”

To me, when we go for a long walk or a hard hike and we get to this side of the tunnel and say, “Almost home” it reminds me that something that once seemed hard to obtain is now the relief moment.

Isn’t that huge? That a distance that was once a goal to BE the end of the walk is now the marker that we’re almost to the end of the walk?

 

That’s what writing a novel is like. You get a few words down, then a few more. Maybe at some point, you look at the end and say, “I want to get there someday.” Maybe you don’t even truly believe it, but you put a few more words down the next day and a few more the day after that.

Did you know if you wrote just 200 words a day, you’d have close to a full novel in a year? That’s how I’m taking my own writing these day—a step at a time. A few hundred words here, a few hundred there.

Before you know it, I’ll be at the end of one of the works in progress and looking forward to the next journey.

 

Look. I know my novel is important. I know I need to sit down every day and put words giphyinto my current work in progress. But I have other things to do!

There are short story contests to enter. There’s bad poetry to write. There’s my very demanding Patreon audience.

Don’t even get me started on Twitter. Those crazies never stop.

I’m currently trying to bust out the sequel to Coyote Ate the Stars. I’m so close to finishing the rough draft, I can almost taste it! And I really want to finish it in the next few weeks because I’ve committed to doing NaNoWriMo and I need to start fleshing out an outline for whatever I’m going to be writing in November. Here’s my NaNo profile, if you want to be buddies.

Coyote 2 and I have been on a break. I just don’t know if I love his story as much as I did the first time. But I think it’s time to give him a second chance, if for no other reason than to shelf the finished rough draft and forget about.

Happy writing, everyone.

 

brutie and gordoMy top ten list for a happy life. Happy October, friends.

1. Follow your dreams. At least one, at least once, even if it screws up all of the rest of your plans.
2. Love hard. Love even, and especially, after your heart breaks.
3. Cultivate radical honesty. Some people won’t love the real you, but the ones that do will be the ones you want in your life.
4. Do something really difficult that you thought you couldn’t do.
5. Take care of a someone or something that can’t give you the same level of care back. A dog or a child or a cat or a fish.
6. Love your family. Grow your own if you can’t do that with your biological one.
7. Learn to stop talking shit about yourself! And don’t let others do it to you, either.
8. Develop loving friendships with women.
9. Base your happiness on your own life, not on how it compares to others.
10. Recognize your own worth every day in some way. Value you.

I’ve been keeping a Patreon page for the past year or so. I have to admit for the most part, my followers there are my closest friends, people who are supporting me because I’m supporting them (essentially canceling each other out), and my mom. (Hi, mom.)

I have several tiers – most of my supporters are at the 2-5 dollar tier, but I do have some kind souls who go a bit higher.

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In the beginning, I was pretty random about posting things to Patreon. I’d throw up a short story now and then, post a cover I’d made on Canva. I sometimes reviewed books I’d read of other authors in my genre. A couple times, I took a poll about the next thing people wanted to see and the majority voted for a 100 word story in which they got to pick five of the words.

I was posting some great content and getting some good feedback, but it was sporadic. I’m kind of a random person anyway, so it’s hard for me to do things on the regular-like.

Over the past few months, however, I have buckled down and created a schedule. I’ve been posting full novels chapter by chapter. I’ve written short stories only for my supporters. I’ve posted writing advice, character sketches, even opening paragraphs of stories I’ve written for contests.

And lo and behold! I have three new supporters this month and – wait for it – I DON’T KNOW ANY OF THEM! Of course, I turned right around and followed one of them back, thus negating their pledge, but hey, IT IS THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS. Besides, it is less about the money and more about the support. I don’t know when I might publish another novel. I won a major award with my last novel, and since then, I’ve hit a stalemate. So I have nothing forthcoming, but with Patreon, the people who love my writing still get a chance to read it.

Further, it keeps my creative muscles agile. I may not be doing much writing on my manuscripts these days, but I am always inspired to bust something out for my patrons. In a way, my supporters are doing more than paying for my writing; They’re giving me the motivation to keep going. Lately, that counts for a lot.

Thank you, Patrons.

 

 

By Beth Burnett

The Queen’s Guard glares at me again

As I cross the street in front of him.

Back and forth

My hands clasped against my rib cage

I’m well aware that I look a fool

In my house dress

And Doc Martin boots.

A fat, flowered widow who can’t let go.

Every chime from Big Ben seems to ring in my throat

around the lump I can’t quite swallow.

I went to Stonehenge last week,

perhaps I thought I’d sense something there –

A spirit, a guide, energy.

Instead, I saw a lot of tourists and

a man wearing flowing purple robes

who held out his hand to me and implored me

to take this crystal

for the one I seek.

Remembering, I stare into the guard’s face

and imagine asking him to hold me.