NEW DOMAIN: TURTLEPROGRESS.COM

Hi everyone! I got a sudden but violent desire to move this party to my own domain so that I could do more fun stuff with it, so please change your links and click over to http://www.turtleprogress.com/. All of my old posts and your previous comments have found a lovely new home there :).

I won’t be deleting this page for a while because I don’t want anyone to think I’ve disappeared, but all future posts and commenting will take place over at the new, improved blog!

TURTLE PROGRESS!

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Banana Yoshimoto’s “Kitchen”: Healing Meals

flickr.com/photos/nidriel/153543441

flickr.com/photos/nidriel

When her grandmother dies and she is left truly alone in the world in her late teens, the only place Mikage Sakurai can fall asleep is on the floor of their home’s kitchen next to the comforting hum of the refrigerator. Yuichi Tanabe, a young man who had befriended her grandmother, reaches out to her in his strange but kind way through this haze of listless grief, and Banana Yoshimoto’s story of realism with a touch of the otherworldly, of light and dark, of shared moments and loneliness, and—most of all—of kitchens is set into motion.

Kitchen is one of my favorite reads of all time. It holds a privileged position on the bookshelf of my life, right next to A Confederacy of Dunces. In other words, it’s a re-reader. The way kitchens and cooking comfort and heal Mikage—and Yuichi, after he experiences a tragedy of his own—is parallel to the way I feel when I have certain favorite books within an arm’s reach.

Yoshimoto’s book has been on my mind more than usual lately as I rework my food plan, because I think it can be easy to forget the communion that cooking, that eating together, represents. I’m making a careful point of not suggesting that eating itself is the unifier, when in this book and in most real-life instances, it is the communal nature of meals prepared and enjoyed together that brings joy and comfort to the eaters. When immersed in a weight-loss venture, it is easy to obsess over calories and food groups to the point that we isolate ourselves from the benefit of shared meals. In Kitchen, the kitchen as a source of nourishment, and shared meals as a talisman against the cold loneliness of the universe, play a central role.

Soon after Yuichi befriends Mikage, she is invited by him and his mother, the dazzling and gracious Eriko, to move in with them while she recovers a bit from the loss of her grandmother. Despite the relative suddenness of the offer, Mikage knows she is in good hands, partly because of the way the Tanabes’ kitchen makes her feel: “I looked around, nodding and murmuring approvingly, ‘Mmm, mmm.’ It was a good kitchen. I fell in love with it at first sight.”

Throughout one beautiful, idyllic summer, the unlikely trio share many meals after Mikage falls in love with cooking and applies herself to mastering the art with true passion. Looking back, she muses, “When I think about it now, it was because of my cooking that the three of us ate together as often as we did.”

Eventually, Mikage gets back on her feet, moves out of the Tanabe’s apartment, and obtains a job as an assistant to a well-respected chef. All the while, her love of cooking grows and the theme of sharing tea and meals remains central to the book. Her love of kitchens overflows into a love of the rhythm and soul of creating in them:

Memorizing the recipe, I would make carrot cakes that included a bit of my soul. At the supermarket I would stare at a bright red tomato, loving it for dear life. Having known such joy, there was no going back.

When was the last time you appreciated an item of produce that much? I can’t remember when I genuinely rejoiced over a fresh vegetable, or really taken the time to appreciate a perfect apple.

I won’t give away every nuance or plot development here, but I will say that Kitchen is very touching and also quite whimsical considering the themes of grief and isolation that it explores. Every time I finish reading this little novella, I feel oddly comforted. I picture Mikage and Yuichi making and eating a meal together, finding joy despite the heartbreaks they weather, and I know that everything will be okay. Perhaps Mikage is right when she hypothesizes why she cherishes this one part of the home above all others:

Why do I love everything that has to do with kitchens so much? It’s strange. Perhaps because to me a kitchen some distant longing engraved on my soul. As I stood there, I seemed to be making a new start; something was coming back.

For those of you who consider yourself to be dieting or in some way restricting your food intake: Do you find that your food plan has an isolating effect, making it difficult for you to eat in a group with others? And for all of you: Do you take pleasure in making meals to share with others? Are you, like me, just now making tentative steps into the kitchen? Can you find happiness in the promise of a bright red tomato?

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I Have a POWER ANIMAL

You know in Fight Club, when Ed Norton is a raging insomniac and keeps attending all these support groups for diseases he doesn’t have because the crying and hugging helps him sleep? And how at one of them he has a vision of his Power Animal, which turns out to be a penguin that is all cute and probably in the imagery of the film totally symbolizes being a slave to the Man? Well, I have identified my own power animal.

I discovered this while visualizing a deep well in my body. But wait. Let me explain.

I experienced three-pronged distress meltdown last night, which burst to the surface of my consciousness around 9:30 PM CST:

Prong 1: My new therapist? Has not impressed at all me thus far. (Although I guess I should thank her for inadvertently introducing me to my power animal.) I pinned all my hopes on this particular therapy working for me (I have tried so many, many times before) and although I haven’t said much about it, I have been feeling pretty upset about how things are going.

Prong 2: I’m supposed to be taking the GRE in a week and a half. At some point this weekend I realized that it wasn’t going to happen and it was all my fault because I was too paralyzed to even begin studying the Math. I am all over the Words. But the Math is but a fleeting high-school memory to my now 31-year-old brain. I got psyched out, blew off studying, and now I need to cancel my test appointment because I refuse to bomb the thing. What this means, in terms of my cognitively distorted mind: I will never ever go to graduate school. Big fail.

Prong 3: The diet. Ahhhhh, the diet. Saw this one coming, didn’t you? Yes, I’ve been sticking like glue to my new Weight Watchers food plan, which I initiated on Monday. But I am not sold on everything WW teaches. I never have been. A lot of the guidelines are very sound common sense. But I . . . I think we should be eating more food. Or at least I should. Last night I fell into the merciless deprivation mindset. It’s like having a screaming, Banshee-wailing two-year-old lying on the floor kicking and red-faced . . . in your BRAIN. Get out get out get out!! I hate that kid.

As I snifflingly discussed these various dilemmas last night, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I need to slow down and take on fewer demons at a time. Slowly.

Slowly? To me a thing isn’t worth doing unless it can be done in a blur of procrastination-induced hyperactivity!

Slowly. That word. It reminded me of the one not-totally-disappointing part of my last meeting with my therapist: the mindfulness exercise. It’s not worth paying $110 a week for, but it did involve the counselor hitting a metal bowl, gong-style, and me picturing a deep well inside of me. Evidently this well is where my Wise Mind resides. Because I had to picture hanging out in this well for a good 5 minutes, and I got kind of tired of looking at the wall of the well and the water and all, I decided I wanted company in the well, and that the company would be a turtle. MY POWER ANIMAL, REVEALED!

I was very pleased to have the turtle in my wise-mind well with me, although I started to get worried that he would drown if he couldn’t go up for air soon, a concern that put a slight dent in me communing with my awareness of the moment.

The turtle is a common metaphor for sensible weight loss. But the truth is I have always had an affinity for turtles. Maybe because they resemble my zodiac sign, the delightful and pinchy crab, in that they have a safe shell to retreat to in times of trouble. I even had a pet turtle for several years in my early 20s. She was liberated on Cinco de Mayo, 2001, on the same day a man flashed me and my roommate in Central Park, but that’s a whole other story.

That being said, at some point during a conversation last night, I realized that it is perfectly okay for me to lose weight slowly. Like, even at a glacially slow pace. If I eat more (relatively healthful) food, it may actually be a great thing for my metabolism and the weight-loss will zip right along. Or it may very well be that I lose less than a pound a week. It could take me two years to lose the weight. Is this okay?

Deep breath. Yes. Yes, it is. Turtles are stubborn, and slow, and tough, and so am I.

This year I will not worry about graduate school or career (non)goals. This year I will not worry about finally saving some money; as long as I stay out of debt that’s acceptable. A car can wait. So can the advanced degree.

What can’t wait is working on my mental and physical health, making those the priority while at the same time being patient and compassionate with myself during the process. I’m going to visit a new therapist next week. I’m going to stick with a (modified, Liz-personalized) version of Weight Watchers (take what works and leave the rest) and keep attending the group meetings. The rest can wait. Tiny turtle knows this is all good, and so do I.

tiny-turtle

Um, So Like, When Is She Going to Drop the Weight?

I created this site two weeks ago, titled it Liz Drops the Weight, and . . . have yet to lose a single pound. I haven’t even been trying. But the time is nigh!

Last night, after I decided to give the therapy a go (one individual and one group session per week, and my checkbook is screaming bloody murder by the way), I mused on the fact that I’m really ultra super tired of being fat. Nothing new there. But I’m ready to take action. John expressed concern because he knows change of any kind is often tough on me, and here I just committed to starting some pretty intensive counseling. Am I up to adding another big change to my life simultaneously?

It was a very good question, the kind of thoughtful point I’ve grown to appreciate from John. At the same time, I feel like the counseling and weight-loss could go hand in hand very nicely. And I don’t want to go through yet another Texas summer obese! Unless you’ve spent months upon end fat and living in 100-degree heat, you don’t know what that’s like. It’s revolting, exhausting, and dispiriting.

I’ll be hitting up Weight Watchers (not for the first time) on Sunday afternoon to get the ball rolling. I can do this. Also, my secret dream? To be one of those Success Stories on their website. I’m putting that out there even though I feel a bit sheepish admitting it. But as the manga story the other day taught us, sharing your dreams puts you one step closer to your goals!

Special Halloween bonus: The scariest music video ever, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Watch out for: a haunted boarding school; Bonnie Tyler’s hair; terrifying schoolboys with demonically glowing eyes—seriously (evidently this is what she means by¬† “turn around bright eyes”?); choreographed ninja dancing at 1:20; various homoerotic scenes involving the boarding-school boys dressed alternately as fencers, tumblers, swimmers, wrestlers, and football players. Plot twist at the end! Apparently Bonnie Tyler is a total cougar and is actually one of the professors at the school?? Most terrifying moment: A tie between the incidents at 3:34 and 5:11. You just have to see this for yourself to believe it.

Boston

I’m on my way out the door to the airport for a long weekend in Boston! Hope everyone has a great weekend and gets to enjoy a bit of nice fall weather. I’m looking forward to a small dose of New England autumn :).