My friend Molly - AB - is probably 10 years older than I, and the other day she was explaining that the 20 lbs. she'd lost on Weight Watchers had "come back". She's headed to Florida soon for a family reunion where, she says, she expects to gain yet a bit more weight. She said something that struck me, echoing a thought I'd entertained before: "This is me. This is how I look. I'm no glutton, but I'm certainly not trying to look younger or like an athlete or actress,"
People (women, in particular) often gain weight over the course of our adult lives, according to a genetic pattern. Life insurance company guidelines in fact allow for a certain amount of such weight gain, indicating a fairly broad range of accepted weights. Throughout history, people in their 50's and 60's were not (unlike us) working out in gyms or INCREASING their physical output, let alone appearing less and less aged.
Some sobriety is called for when we look at ourselves, and others, in midlife. We are a generation saturated and besotted with TV and movie images; we have artificial "ideals" and role models. Molly's physique is not her livelihood, so, unlike her peers in the public eye, she can be 100% honest-Molly-in-the-flesh and not lose her job, say. While the morbidly obese can be in grave medical danger, those of us grown-ups who are simply somewhat overweight, or just heavier than we were 20 years ago,may be extraordinarily well-occupied otherwise.
My readership is well aware of this pet peeve of mine, here on a health/diet-oriented website; I am convinced that good physical health is but one possible ingredient in a Life-Well-Lived. I've known people suffering from poor -even tragic- health who've been kind, generous, brilliant, courageous, and plenty of other things that, to my mind, make them memorable and important individuals, without whom the world would have been much poorer. And I know plenty of self-absorbed, uninspiring people who keep themselves utterly buff, not to mention "lifted", as if living to be featured on some vapid TV-makeover show. I usually don't remember their names... I'm actually of the opinion that later eras will look back on these obsessions, including that of celebrity/fame for mere TV sitcom actors, to find us seriously askew.
Me? I'm currently on the heavy side, but that's FAR from my most immediate or pressing concern. Yes, I could stand to lose 20 lbs, as can Molly. Nevertheless I'm spending myself in numerous other and important ways. (Often I work with a new mom who's a "fashionplate" and is yearning to "get her figure back" early in the postpartum, so she can look like she DIDN'T just have a baby?)
Genes? My grandmothers were both vital, active, attractive women with "great figures" in youth, more "full-figured" in midlife and later. I'm really glad they weren't weight-obsessed, as were the moms of some of my childhood friends, with calorie charts taped (pre-magnets) to the refrigerator. Indeed, some of my loveliest memories of both women include their excellent, and generous, cooking. They also had That Feeling of worth and peace, sourced in considerations other than slenderness, or even wellness! Both women lived into their mid-eighties.
I once had lunch with a lady who appeared to be only slightly my senior, when I was, oh, 40 or so. She confessed to being 62 and having had alot of --excellent-- plastic surgery. But she admitted she was unable to stop; she was single and had met men who'd guess (as did I) she was much younger, and so, in order to keep up the charade in light of her relationships'...progress... she'd run to the OR for tummy, thigh, and breast work. She looked vital --even fantastic--(clothed), but she sounded haggard, demoralized. Surgery is still surgery, and harder to recuperate from later in life; and living a lie was leading her to despair.
I think good health is important, insofar as it enables one to continue in good works. But, even there, it's not essential. Many of the world's greatest contributors didn't live very long. In fact, as longevity increases from century to century, we're not necessarily becoming better, finer human beings with a LESS socially troubled society.
For many, midlife is when we face mortality: Our friends have heart attacks and bypasses, cancer, diabetes and other increasingly-prevalent-with-age conditions, from varicose veins to cataracts. If we haven't learned What Matters by age 50 or so, if we're obsessed with Perfect Health just to achieve a greater number of years' longevity, then we're but hoarders of a commodity mislabeled "Life", frustrated "Ponce de Leon"s, mirage-chasers.
Do you want That Feeling? (Perfect health doesn't provide it! Nor does beauty.) Molly's looking forward to it when she sees her beloved family in Florida, over a number of meals, surely. She's being realistic: She could gain some weight there, weight she'll try, to some extent, to lose later. But Molly cuts herself slack, because (did I mention?) she's kicked cancer and alcohol; she "shouldn't" even be alive! And she's quite a dame, the kind no diet can deliver.
Remember to have priorities that transcend Health, which is just one means to a greater end, one tool in your God-given belt. If, in spite of all of your efforts and knowledge, you should lose your health, live in such a way that all is not lost, that you are not deemed a failure, especially of the moral kind; in such a way that, fit or not, your departure will be mourned by those you've served and known. If in your life you invest too heavily in cheating Death and Decay, your INEVITABLE defeat will appear all the more ironic or even pathetic. Having done your best at the grocery store, go and live your life.
I am a serious book collector, and San Francisco used to be a serious town for the likes of me. I buy 'em used, sometimes by the carton-load, and upon occasion I resell to selected fair buyers.
Independent booksellers have taken a beating, first by the big national chains, and then by the Internet. Recently Powell's, the huge ("square block of a million books") used book store in Portland, Oregon, has been sending its agents down to San Francisco to offer PUNY lump sums for the entire inventories of targeted local used book sellers, to induce them to drop out of the increasingly difficult market, and thus increase Powell's share.
The San Francisco Chronicle article breaking the story behind two recent local shop closings, involving incentives offered by Powell's of Portland, was waved in my face by Tracy, the petite owner of Lifetime Books, a used book shop in town. She knew that I, of all people, would want/need to know.
The story broke this summer, just after one SF shop closed without warning, another announced its imminent closing, and yet another was winding down toward closing. I plopped down in the big naugahyde armchair by Tracy's bookpile-covered front counter, so that she and I could hash this out, after picking up dinner for us both, next door. I knew it'd be a long discussion, and that Tracy would be indignant and very vocal.
Tracy explained/ranted that she would NEVER sell out to Powell's. She was disgusted that her colleagues were doing so, rather than soliciting offers from herself and other struggling locals in the business. So committed, in fact, was Tracy to the Cause of Independent (local) Bookselling that she'd recently started up a second (unrelated) business, just so that she wouldn't be starved-out as a book retailer! This was, indeed, her consuming interest.
Tracy (O, age 50) was a tiny spitfire (5 feet tall, without the Harley helmet or spike heels), and her counter was a neighborhood hub. She knew titles, authors, editions, everything a bookseller needs to know, yet she was no intellectual: She was, rather, a very diligent hound, scouring the papers and Web for news of library sales, garage sales, etc. She'd regularly comb thrift shops and sniff through all sorts of charity bins. And then, at her counter while hobnobbing with her usual customers and friends, she'd mylar-cover the dust jacket of each hardcover she'd acquired.
I knew Tracy's buying preferences pretty well. Any bag of my outgoing tomes that I knew she'd want, she'd in fact want. She'd issue Store Credit in return (which I'd immediately use!). Kind of a symbiotic thing.
* * * * * * * *
A few weeks ago, I brought a bag of surefire titles to her store, but an employee was behind the counter, saying Tracy hadnt come in: She didn't feel well (was having a headache and a "pinched nerve in her neck"), so there'd be no purchases that day. I had a heavy load, so I left and sold the books immediately elsewhere.
A couple of days later, I passed by to say hello, but Tracy was still out sick. "What's wrong?" I asked, seeing that same (previously very part-time) employee. I was told she was still in pain, so she'd decided to ... go for a chiropractic adjustment.
"But what's the DIAGNOSIS?" I asked. "This isn't like Tracy, to be down for days on end. Has she seen a doctor?" "No," he replied, "And I know what you mean...But then, she says she THINKS the chiropractor MIGHT actually have helped."
"'THINKS'? 'MIGHT'? And helped WHAT?" I argued. "She doesn't even know what's wrong! She has a severe headache for DAYS? it came on SUDDENLY?" I was disgusted. I would have given her a piece of my mind -- I bought a book and left.
Four days later, I was passing Tracy's store and thought I'd go in and get the lowdown from Tracy herself. But there was that employee again (I've since become friendly with him)! "Still??!" I asked.
"Tracy died," he said softly. And then, "And this is her brother, in from Colorado...It WAS more than a pinched nerve..." The brother sat glassy-eyed in the big naugahyde chair. "I just cremated my sister," he said, gazing from some distant mental tundra. Long silence.
"Did she pop an aneurysm?" I asked. The two men looked at me, astonished. "How'd you know?" asked the brother, suddenly alert.
"Because of her sex and age, because of the abruptness of onset, the symptom of headache, but most of all, frankly, because of the outcome."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Just a week previously, Tracy and I had discussed what the imminent (9/30/06) closing of a landmark bookstore a block away would mean for her own business. She was hoping to adopt some of those customers as her own. "We'll see", she said, ever the optimist. "I'm ready for 'em,"
And she was. Her eye for titles had gotten better and better, with every year --- PLUS: She was on the upswing, having just started the 2nd business and moved to a new apartment, which she'd wanted me to help her decorate... But - DANG! - I could really read her the riot act here: She went to her CHIROPRACTOR, with a sudden, excruciating headache and neuro-deficit symptoms, thinking "pinched nerve", and "I need 'an adjustment.'" She even told her boyfriend, after she'd come-to from a repeated faint: "Don't you DARE call 9-1-1!"
Look, folks, I can be as holistic as the next guy - sorta - but Tracy urgently needed medical attention: Specifically, an angiogram or MRI. She'd even had a few days' window to obtain it immediately: This isn't England or Canada, where such testing only comes after weeks or months on some waiting list; any San Francisco Emergency Room would have worked her up for Intracranial Hemorrhage. (As it turns out, that's what happened, when it was too late: Tracy was indeed admitted to the hospital, where she promptly lapsed into a coma, convulsed, and died.)
I'm continually amazed by people who choose Chiropractic over emergency medicine, especially for sudden-onset headache. And I'm positively vitriolic toward practitioners who DON'T say, "Y'know what? See a medical doctor first: Your life might depend on it."
My friend Shelley, also 50, also type O, had collapsed at her own store in 1999, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where her cerebral aneurysm was surgically repaired; she survived: Gradual but complete recovery, returned to work, etc.
But Tracy will not return to work, at this crucial time for her Pet Obsession. Tracy will not be a part of what becomes of her Cause or her store. (Powell's of Portland? "Over my dead body!" Tracy would have quipped, winking, and stomping in her inimitable clipped and bug-eyed way [Thyroid]. And then she'd give off a big burst of a laugh.)
* * * * * * * *
1. Go out today and support your local independent (used) bookseller. Browse those stacks, and make it a habit. Do it for Tracy! Take up the Cause!
2. Don't categorically write off Allopathic Medicine. As you can see, the stakes are just too high. Be definitively diagnosed; THEN make educated choices. Remember Tracy, who, a couple of weeks ago, had a new business, a new apartment, and more spunk and spark than any 5 women half her age. She was dying, and she went to the Chiropractor.
3. If you're a Chiropractor, remember Tracy. It's okay to suspect the worst and do the prudent thing. Otherwise, someone could lose a sister, a wife, a daughter...or a friend.
I have been busy this summer with a few clients, each an Individual.
I'm perpetually wondrous over the sheer uniqueness of each precious, faceted gem that is a new mother. Each woman traverses the raging river of this transition in her own way, according to the particular configurations of her own psyche and setting; I am the sherpa who takes her by the hand and assures her she is okay and that, together, we will arrive on Terra Firma. And we do! (Only because I am guided can I guide. Only because I am loved can I love).
The babies themselves are Individuals too, but simple and unpolished as yet: All the easier for new parents to cope with, as the latter attain their own footing. "But they're NOT easy!", a client might protest. "He was easy LAST week when he was sleepier!" I remind her that last week the baby was difficult to rouse and underweight, or jaundiced and wrapped in "bili-lights", etc., as the case may be.
Week by week, the dual-career, egalitarian, childless relationship morphs into a family, with its division of labor and its sometimes bitter sweetness. Selfishnesses are confronted, grieved, attacked by not-always-cute bundles of pure need.
Eventually, the cocoon of the "fourth trimester" bursts, and the woman undergoes social re-entry as a mother, the couple as a family.
Santé waves bye-bye, and our city's population is enriched with yet another citizen who's gotten a Good Start. The earth may quake here in San Francisco, but I do what I can to solidify the ground under its families.
Spoken language, like wine, has "mouthfeel", and I intend to here rattle on about it.
American English, my native tongue, feels elastic -- perhaps because I can stretch it every which way. And French, my second language, is mellifluous on the palate. German is lofty, and Italian is chewy.
My "Tertiaries" first:
German is serious and "meaningful"; it can go unctuous, like Beerenauslese, or gossamer, like Spätlese Trocken. There is a melancholy streak in German, providing the structure for bouquets ranging from gloomy to joyful, its consonantal breadth and multitudinous cases, declensions, and genders holding interest and keeping one alert and intrigued...or wearing one out!
Italian, on the other hand, is engaging of romantic energy, not dark and mysteriously passionate, which is more of a (castilian) Spanish tone, but a youthful and less serious "Dolce Vita" sort of attitude, with the glorious chewiness of perfect pasta. Italian is, indeed, a highly textured language; it whines and poses and acts out, rages, demands, and seduces.
Castilian Spanish plays for keeps. It slowly creeps over mountain ridges, like fingers of fog; whispering, but making ancient and irrevocable statements. Spanish vines are often very old, but they can produce exquisitely fine and quiet sherry, for instance, as well as Priorat from Priorat, from the deepest chthonic earth: Tortured, twisted wines, crucified (for you) on their stakes, and yet: smooth, even gentle, kind...hushed...dry.
I have minimal experience SPEAKING, as opposed to, say, reading, other (quaternary?) languages, but I find one to be like dark coffee and another like pilsner, when I trip them across the tongue.
It's English and French which are hardest for me to describe, perhaps because of my fluency. It's tempting to say "French is like Champagne", but it isn't, really. There's a certain frontal consonantalness, yes, but those R's keep pulling one back to an ultrasuede soaveté more akin to a Viognier. The overall impression of the spoken language is, I think, elegant à la Bourgogne...(but the country can be Funny, like Beaujolais: Jolly. Some of the pinks and Loire chenins deliver this, but usually there's something UltraFine even there). The exquisite nuancedness of French is actually best related to a different palate altogether, that for experiencing fine perfume, leaving materiality almost entirely....
As I come to know a given language better and better, I distinguish its many regional dialects. Thus I'm rendered incapable of nailing down only one overall "mouthfeel" for that language. That's the problem with French. A small country (the size of Texas), with "infinite variety", not to mention its numerous "offshore" accents!
Speaking of variety, American English can be jazzy and snappy like CocaCola; it can be happy and down-home like a cuppa chowder. I don't know if American English has -yet!- the depth, the sheer maturity to be compared to wine. The language feels "youthful" (and the country invented phony chipped-oak flavoring methods to mimic barrel-aged winemaking. Cute, huh?). American English is the Imperial, global language of our day. And it's marketed to be drunk young: Go figure.
While British English(es) can be redolent of resinous Port or antique single malt Scotch (when deliciously pronounced), or swingier, like a pubby sort of brew, or even downright cream-y, American English is like punch, or (orange pekoe) tea...
For all that, it has no pretension, as a language. Though immature regionally, its venerable origins give it complexity that may very well be unequalled, at least in the Western World and perhaps globally. When those roots and its world role are factored in, we come up with something almost plaintive, wistful, Celtic, beneath the apparent soda pop - something more like Rain and the rolling, surging immensity of Ocean.
The other day I stopped into a café for coffee. I had my choice of cup sizes:
"Sooper Dooper": $1.90
When it was my turn, I said, "Tiny coffee, please."
Another woman in line asked if she could please see the "tiny" cup. I asked her, "Isn't it refreshing to see a small cup accepting reality and not demanding to be called 'Tall'?"
Last year, a study of California's public high school graduating class showed that fully 25% (!) of the students were issued diplomas SHORT OF mastery of the required material. In my day, those kids were left back. But today's teachers issue passing grades to reward merely showing up at their classes.
These MILLIONS of high school "graduates" are then free to attend so-called Universities (often Self-Esteemese for colleges, which is often Self-E'ese for High School remedial study centers). When they attain the high-esteem title "University Graduate", they can call themselves "professionals", it seems, at anything they do...I'm reminded of the Soviet Union, where plumbers and handymen were called "Engineers".
There was the story in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, applauding an inner city Oakland high school delivering a 100% graduation-rate: An outfit under the reformist policy of a nonprofit that is opening such "successful" "schools" across the country. According to this article, "Real world experiences are stressed as more important learning tools than direct instruction and testing", and "There are no final exams, no letter grades...students spend only three days a week in classrooms."
"I started liking school," said one "graduate", "because I got to learn what I wanted to learn," (leaving the "university" to teach her how to READ?).
One of the school's own first students, however, tells it like it is: "[S]he feels the school does not prepare students for traditional academic courses and standardized tests as well as the other schools do." 'Nuff said?
Maybe Starbucks' market research showed that its male customers, in particular, don't want to order anything called "Small", let alone "Tiny". Thus they can feel like tough caballeros when they order their 8 oz.-or-less cuppa "Tall" in the saddle. (Remember "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche"?)
Leave it to San Francisco, and a local company herein, to take stabs at the Big Guns... OK: That's another story. Meanwhile we have a generation to educate.
Pass the Half-&-Half.