mary’zine #49: April/May 2011

if I had a hammer…

A couple of years ago, a church here in town had a sign out front at Easter time that read, “We use duct tape, God used nails.”

Now the sign reads, “We tried to use nails, but he got loose.”

Is this not the essence of vulgarity? (“morally crude”; “lacking in cultivation, perception, or taste”). The Easter bunny has more dignity.

Happy Spring!



but first… say good-bye to winter

Its being April already—almost May!—I thought I had overshot the winter window for writing about wet, cold weather. But we had snow on the 15th, and again on the 19th and 20th, so we’re still in its thrall. As I write this, it’s 46 degrees and I have a window open. The snow is gone, for now. I watch every day for signs that the buds will come out on the trees soon, and flare green.

The House Was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon

 Someone was reading in the back,

two travelers had gone somewhere,

maybe to Chicago,

 

a boy was out walking, muffled up,

alert on the frozen creek,

a sauce was simmering on the stove.

 

Birds outside at the feeder

threw themselves softly

from branch to branch.

 

Suddenly I did not want my life

to be any different.

I was where I needed to be.

 

The birds swirled in the dusk.

The boy came back from the creek.

The dead were holding us up

the way the ice held him,

helping us breathe the way

air helps snowflakes swirl and fall.

 

And the sadness felt just right,

like a still and moving wave

on which the sun shone brilliantly.

 —David Young

(Reprinted with permission of the author)


you don’t need a weatherman…

My sister Barb called one evening in early March to ask if my “hatches were battened down”: We were due to get hit by a big winter storm within the next 6 or 7 hours. “Oh?” I asked, only vaguely aware of the thing called “weather” taking place outside my cozy homestead.

About a year after I moved back to my hometown, she had called with another weather warning, this time about a tornado that was whirling and dervishing its way across northern Wisconsin and the U.P. I took her seriously and ended up in the downstairs bathroom, sitting in the tub on a comforter (wishing I’d brought a book), two cats closed in with me along with their litter box, food and water. I had my radio tuned to the weather channel, and the ominous, staticky voice (as if carried on radio waves from a ship on a distant ocean) kept announcing at-risk counties and specific deadlines (8:15 to 8:45) past which you could breathe a sigh of relief, assuming the tornado had not already whisked you and your pets and lawn furniture above the tree line. Luther was pretty copacetic—he’s a born follower—but Brutus was literally climbing the walls. At one point, sensing movement above my head, I looked up to see him hanging straight down, by his claws, from a swinging cabinet door. Hang in there, baby! So we hung in there until the weatherman announced the all-clear. I vowed never to be led down this bad-weather path again by my well-meaning sister.

But in this case, it was just snow on the way, predictable and fluffy. I had an hour before Van’s IGA closed, so I ran (drove) down there, delightedly rationalizing to myself that though I had plenty of “real” food on hand… egg salad, fresh bread, penne with Italian sausage, tomatoes, and cream (which I had cooked myself, personally!), and broccoli… if I couldn’t get out of my driveway the next day I would be seriously bereft of snacks. I knew, in the rational part of my brain, that it wasn’t going to be a huge deal, my nephew would plow me out and I could surely last 24-48 hours without potato chips, but the reptilian brain that’s addicted to said thin slices of spud and sea salt took the weather warning ball and ran (drove) with it. I stalked the aisles of the little store, assessing the best bang for my buck: Ruffles, Doritos, chocolate chip cookies? I needed eggs anyway, so I got those, and, in the spirit of “gettin’ while the gettin’s good,” picked up some breakfast sausage too, because I didn’t want to be caught without a source of protein. I took a stroll past the freezer section, eyed the Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, but kept on walking, proud of this minor act of restraint.

I’m reminded of Anne Lamott describing her desperate purchases of alcohol back in the day. For better or worse, I’m my mother’s daughter more than my Irish alcoholic father’s. In my refrigerator are a few bottles of Bud Light and some raspberry-flavored Smirnoff that I bought longer ago than I can remember, plus a half bottle of gin in a cupboard that a houseguest left behind. It never occurs to me to drink any of them.

So… I slept for a few hours, and when I woke up the snow was coming down in droves, the poor birds were pecking around, trying to unearth (unsnow) the seeds and nuts they remembered from yesterday, and mourning doves were lined up on the fence, quite content, it seemed, to be sitting in a fluffy downfall, knowing that spring was near despite all evidence to the contrary. I don’t envy them their need to scavenge in harsh conditions, but, Ah, the beauty of flight, to live above it all.

The snow fell and the storm passed. Was it too soon to hope for signs of spring?

Yes, it was. Father Snow—or is it Mother who covers us with those cold but beautiful blankets?—was not done with us yet. Two and a half days after “the first day of spring”—an impractical joke that is played on us Midwesterners every year—we got the worst storm I’ve seen here, a total white-out. And it was the oddest thing: The temperature had been hovering just above to just below freezing, so Nature split the difference and brought us loud cracking thunder just as the snowish-rain or rainish-snow began to fall. For the next 36 hours it sounded like all hell had broken loose, as blinding blowing gusts of snow flung themselves against the windows, creating intricate crystal-doily designs.

In the daylight hours, I watched the birdfeeders blowing back and forth from white-thick branches, the little birds holding on to the perches for dear life and the bigger ones hunched together in the trees, feathers ruffling like petticoats in the wind. I felt especially bad for the one cardinal that comes around in the wintertime, contrasting gloriously red against the driven snow, because it has no one to be of a feather with. The squirrels are plentiful, but it’s hard to make out their relationships: no coats of a different color, and when we think they’re playing?… chasing one another up and down the tree trunks? No, it’s life and death, a Masterpiece Theatre of drama with a plot that’s impossible to follow. Is it brother versus brother out there, like in the Civil War? Are all the womensquirrelfolk back in some hidey-hole, keeping the home fires burning? Is it a tragic story?… or just one of the many quirks of Mother Nature, who put large populations of incompatible creatures on the earth and then made them compete for limited resources?

I was snowbound for an entire day, and when I woke up the morning after that, the sun was shining on the white wonder windless winter land. The birds were back in force, pecking holes in the snow so they could feast on the fat seeds that lay beneath. I stood at one of my upstairs windows and spotted a mixed flight of birds—united in their birdiness regardless of feather identification—rise up and flee en masse. That usually means they have seen me peeking through the blinds, but this time, right at eye level, I saw a small hawk sitting imperiously in the birch tree, its head swiveling and eyes beadily scanning for prey. It either didn’t notice me or wasn’t bothered—human-behind-glass, big deal. I watched the beautiful creature until it swooped down and through my yard and disappeared from sight.

I know that, to truly appreciate Nature, I’m supposed to be out there getting cold and wet and buffeted by the harsh wind, being One With It All. Maybe this is hubris, but I feel like we’re already One. I may be like a small Russian doll inside my house-within-a-bigger-Doll, seemingly uninvolved, unexposed, a creature intent on her own comfort, abstractly appreciating but not truly interacting with that which is “outside” me. But in a larger sense, none of it is outside, it’s all inside me, all the feeling that comes through sight and sound and caring-about and caring-for those innocent winged and fluffy-tailed ones that feast on my largess. I am practically bursting with involvement, my heart exposed, they are not background to my life, they and Brutus and Luther, my cats, are integral to my life, as are the sad-dog, sad-cat, sad-elephant or -horse pictures in magazines. They have a physical existence apart from me (especially the ones on paper), but I take them into my heart—no, they are already there, we coexist in our animalness, our together-on-this-earth-ness, our depth of love and hopeless signaling to or fleeing from one another, like birds of a different feather but One flightless shared soul.

changes in l’attitude…

In every pot of ointment soon appears a fly. Your good fortune lies in not needing to forget it or deny it. In every situation hides some creative chance.—Sidney Cox

Lately, the family seams are being stretched a bit. I blame the Republicans and my brother-in-law, not necessarily in that order. During the huge protests in Madison about the rights of public sector workers, there was a mostly unvoiced but palpable tension between the unionized retired teacher (sister Barb) and the nonunionized, still-working factory worker (sister K). Every night on the news, shills for the GOP hammered home the fiction—and the contradiction—that teachers are the New Elite who (a) think they’re better than their family members and neighbors who work in grocery stores and factories—as if Republicans were siding with the “true” working class—but (b) engage in “class warfare” against the poor, misunderstood plutocrats and fat cats. I have to hand it to those guys: They can twist words, and they know just whose neck to twist them around. Bankers are extolled as a class that “performs a wonderful service and creates jobs”—and does it for measly millions in bonuses and golden parachutes. Much is made of teachers working short days and having summers off. But everyone who knows a teacher knows that they rarely have an evening or weekend free of grading papers, planning ways to keep their students interested in class, or dealing with demanding parents. Barb spent at least half of each summer planning for the coming school year because the administrators kept giving her new classes to teach. She was as dedicated to her work and the kids in her charge as anyone I’ve ever known.

Nothing much was said around the family hearth (TV) on Friday nights, but it wasn’t too hard to see what was going on. K muttered that the protesters “couldn’t live there” (the state capitol in Madison) and offered up a coworker’s opinion that they could try Gov. Walker’s budget plan for a year or so, and if it didn’t help the economy, they could go back. Barb and I exclaimed in unison, “They never go back!!” Her statement assumed that the Republicans were just trying to do their best to help everyone get through the hard times. Her naivety was alarming. So there was bad (or at least slightly tainted) blood bubbling just under the surface, but both Barb and I were afraid to push it. K and my nephew believe that unions “do nothing for you but take your money,” so it was strange that they envied other union members who supposedly make too much. There’s not a lot of rationality when the non-college-going members of the family start spouting off. And I’m not being snarky, it’s just a fact that if your information comes only from the local TV news, you’re at the mercy of any well-coiffed reader of a teleprompter. According to one Green Bay news anchor, the teachers were not protesting but merely complaining. Words matter.

In other Wisconsin news, the lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, opined that if gay people are allowed to get married, people will surely want to marry their furniture. (I must have missed those marches.) “Can I marry this table,” she asks, “or this, you know, clock?” I would love to see this, by the way. Right now you can marry a serial killer or a drunk you just met in a bar as long as you have opposing genitalia. But if you want stable relationships, I can think of worse combinations than a guy and a table. (Two guys and a table would, of course, be outlawed.) Inanimate polyamory is another possibility: “And the dish ran away with the spoon” (but two forks? no way!).

A week after this mostly silent, thin-lipped brouhaha, I was uncharacteristically looking forward to seeing my peeps, downing a burger or two or a fish fry, watching some harmless crime shows, and hopefully having a few laughs. When I arrived, everyone else was already there, doing the usual comparison shopping between fast food places: “What are you in the mood for?” “I don’t know, what are you going to get?” Right off the bat I felt uneasy, I don’t know why—like I didn’t belong there. It could be because my nephew’s girlfriend always acknowledges (if you can call it that) my arrival by flicking her eyes over me and then looking away. OK, so she’s “nobody” in the grand scheme of things, but it’s annoying.

A new plan had been announced for Friday nights; now we were each supposed to pay for our own food, rather than take turns paying for everyone. I’m sure this had to do with my questioning MP (brother-in-law, a.k.a. blood-in-law) last week about paying only for his own food, so that (it seemed to me) he never had to spend a penny on anyone else. The “plan” is changed often, because my sister K is all about streamlining; she once suggested that we all eat before we get there, and I suggested that it would be even more efficient if we didn’t get together at all. Gosh, do you think my smart-ass self could be part of the problem?

After we ate our greasy portions of meat or fish, we checked to see what shows they had recorded during the week: not much, because there had been a lot of reruns. It was decided that we would watch “NCIS.”

It’s MP’s “job” (prerogative) to handle the remote… which becomes a problem when he falls asleep, which he does every week. When awake, he fast-forwards through the commercials, or mutes them if we’re watching live TV, but tonight he has to be nudged awake. So he hits the fast-forward button and apparently falls back asleep, because the rest of the show goes whizzing by, way beyond the one commercial break. “You went too far!,” my sisters cry. So he rewinds and then goes practically all the way back to the beginning. “Oh no! We’ve seen this part already!” I make one of my trademark, only slightly barbed, observations: “Maybe someone who doesn’t fall asleep should keep the remote.” He stops the show in the part we already saw (and it wasn’t that good the first time) and stomps out of the room, his usual way of expressing his annoyance with one of us “girls.” Barb hands the remote to K, thinking she can take over, and K says, grimly, “I don’t know how to use it.” And then she adds, “You shouldn’t mess with the guy who runs the TV.” That’s a criticism of me, for stating the obvious and not being willing to enable the man of the house in his delusions of grandeur. She’s quiet for the rest of the evening, and MP never comes back out, so I decide to leave early. Barb gets up to go too. Her approach to MP is not to let him know that he gets to her, so she calls out, “Good night, MP,” as she always does, and I don’t say anything because my attitude is—not to put too fine a point on it—“Fuck ‘im.” If K stood up to him once in a while, he wouldn’t be able to get away with that prima don act. But her attitude has always been that it’s better not to challenge him so as to “keep the peace.” An uneasy peace, if you ask me—if it’s any kind of peace at all.

I’ve been dealing with this situation for 6 and a half years now, with greater or lesser degrees of success…. trying to use humor to deflect his moods… keeping my mouth shut when he makes disgusting remarks about brothers of another color… trying, for the sake of my sister, not to cause a scene. But I know that this is just the “wages of family”—like the wages of sin—not death, but endless cycles of compromise and drama and rebellion, from each according to her ability to cope, to each according to his place in the family dynamic.

This straw having shattered the camel’s aching back, we all realized that something had to change. We agreed to “play it by ear,” and it was understood that we wouldn’t be getting together in the same configuration for a few weeks. The following Friday, Barb and I happily ate at The Landing, dining high on the hog, or at least the chicken—cacciatore and marsala—for a change. We entertained thoughts of future rendezvous at the local medium-to-high-end restaurants in the area: Table 6, Little Nugget Golf Club, Riverside Country Club. If we include Green Bay as a destination, the possibilities are, if not endless, at least more appetizing than the round of fast food places we usually have to choose from.

The following Friday sounded promising, as K, Barb and I were planning a sisters’ breakfast out and shopping. We arranged to meet at Schloegel’s at 8:00 a.m. I got there a bit early and waited in the Jeep for them to arrive… and soon, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but… MP. K had thought he was working that day, but he wasn’t, so she told him he “could come with if [he] didn’t want to be alone.” It felt bizarre to be sitting together in a restaurant so early in the day, especially when we had been expecting a laugh-fest sister-clatch. After breakfast (for which MP paid—reflecting generosity, or his assertion of control?) MP drove us to Peshtigo and Marinette to buy a recliner for Barb and miscellaneous necessities at Shopko and Penney’s for her and K.

I actually ended up buying some beautiful dining room chairs, so the day wasn’t a complete loss. MP stayed in the truck at each store, which I’m sure put pressure on my sisters to hurry through their browsings and purchasings. Oddly, I sat in the truck with him for much of the time, because my legs hurt and I didn’t need anything in particular. He was perfectly amenable; I actually feel very comfortable with him most of the time—it just seemed like he was exerting his control over K (indeed, all of us) by impinging on our sisterly fun.

Is this what being close to someone means—knowing their limitations, their ego-boosting delusions and self-serving grottiness, as well as you know your own? Being able to predict their reactions, their facial expressions, down to the last word and grimace, so that disappointment and a sickening sense of predictability surge up and crush the breath out of you the moment you clap eyes on them, before anyone’s uttered a word?  —Sophie Hannah

As family dramas go, ours is no Downstairs, Downstairs. Or maybe that’s exactly what it is. The complaints are petty, secrecy is prized, and self-awareness is “more honor’d in the breach than the observance.” Conflict is expressed in veiled glances, cold silence, and premature departures. For all my fancy talk and psychological sophistication, I’m as primitive as anyone else. I’d like to find a way to achieve harmony with my bloods and blood-in-law without exposing all the messy differences between us. I want them to be a book I’ve already read and can put down with satisfaction as I sip my glass of wine and perhaps take an aspirin for the slight headache caused by my intense concentration. One of my favorite memories* of college life was being alone in the apartment one night while my roommates were away; I finished reading Katharine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, heated up a can of tomato soup, and then went out for a long walk in the snowy, silent night. I enjoyed the feeling of being immersed in a drama that did not, strictly speaking, involve me… except as an engrossed but disinterested reader in a position to write several pages about it for Dr. Burhans. Literature allowed me to enter into relationships that distracted me from my own life and then to withdraw at The End. With one’s real-life relationships, there seems to be no End. (My mother died 20 years ago, and yet my blood still boils at certain memories of her.)

*I know, it’s pathetic: a favorite memory of college life is a night alone with a book? Welcome to my world.

Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’… for a little while. —Jeff Bridges, singing in “Crazy Heart”

Yes, news flash: Real relationship is messy, and family relationships may be the messiest of all. The bond that holds us together is stronger than preference or delight; friends may float away if there’s a falling out, but there’s no floating and plenty of falling from the family tree—it’s all guts and no glory, unbreakable but no easier for all that.

The uneasy peace lasts for a few weeks. Barb and I have our Pleasant Valley Fridays, but there’s no clear sense of how things are supposed to change or who’s supposed to make the first move. Finally, we’re invited back, but I’m clear that I don’t want to simply revert to the same routine. There’s talk of going out for Easter brunch, if we can find a good one. Barb keeps me informed of all the news by e-mail, since my sleeping schedule is so erratic that it’s “better not to call.” (I got them to stop “dropping by” years ago.) So that’s a buffer that I cherish.

Then there are two strange occurrences. Though I’ve been grumbling about various annoying aspects of MP, I’m reading the New Yorker one day and come upon an article about a book he’s been waiting to come out for 3 years. In fact, the article is about how everyone has been waiting for it for 3 years: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. I cut the article out and mail it to him with a note signed “Love,” along with money for Josh’s last snowplowing of my driveway. It’s not that I decided to make up with him or anything, it was action first, and feeling followed.

Then, within a day of my attempt at rapprochement, MP becomes ill in the middle of the night and is taken by ambulance to Green Bay. It is feared that he has spinal meningitis. Barb e-mails me the news, and I call K to offer to drive her down to the hospital. She thanks me but later passes the news along, through Barb, that my nephew is going to drive her. I had not talked to her since our pseudo sister visit, but there is no hint of discomfort or caution. I have already made a gesture of peace to MP, which he will get when he returns home from the hospital, and the offer of a ride to K is not even a gesture, it’s just plain, down-home assurance: “I’m here if you need me.” Fortunately, MP didn’t have meningitis, it was an infection from a badly administered tetanus shot. The VA works in mysterious ways.

The following Friday, we all took our usual places on couch and recliners, and it was as if nothing had changed—and not in a good way. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I guess I’m still waiting for my creative chance.

Finally, we come to some good news. I underwent a screening for calcium in my heart arteries, and to my amazement, I scored 0%! The nurse couldn’t believe it either; she said she’d trade with me if she could. She went on and on about how great it was, exclaiming, “You’re going to live a long, long time!” And I kid you not, my first thought was, “Oh shit.” She followed that up with, “You’d better get your retirement money together!” Again, “Oh shit.” She was so enthusiastic on my behalf that it made me go all quiet and just nod and nod with a fake half-smile, even though I was thrilled also. Excitable people wear me out. After spending half an hour lecturing me about heart attacks and blocked arteries, etc. (Why? I’m obviously invincible, cardio-wise), she helped me on with my coat, complimented me on it, shook my hand, and walked me partway down the hall to be sure I found the right exit. I half expected her to ask if she could see me again.

I like when I hear something in passing, at random, a peep or a croak almost beyond my awareness, a peripheral vision of the ear. And it sounds so simple, obvious, what-else-is-new, and yet it sums up an essential fact of my being. This happened one day when I was listening to a podcast by the comedian Marc Maron (wtfpod.com). It was a simple statement that overeating isn’t about food, it’s about anxiety. Obvious, right? But it struck me, and stuck with me. Later in the day, I was thinking about how Barb was going to drive her son down to the Green Bay airport so he could return to Texas. And I had a familiar feeling of anxiety about her driving in possibly treacherous conditions. And suddenly I connected that feeling to my longtime dread, my constant wondering of, Who’s going to die next? When will the next tragedy strike? My grandmother, with whom I was very close, died when I was 4; my little brother died of leukemia when I was 6; and my father became incapacitated by multiple sclerosis when I was 7; it was as if he had died, because he came home after several months in the VA hospital so changed (physically and mentally) that he didn’t seem like my father at all. For the next few years I could hardly bear to let my mother out of my sight, because for all I knew, this was simply what happened: People died—in droves—dropped like flies—consecutively checked out every couple of years, and the next to go was surely my mother. When she would go down the basement to change a fuse, I would practically hold my breath, picturing her standing in the water that had spilled over from the wringer washer and being struck down by fuse lightning. Of course, there were many other scenarios, infinite ways in which death could come again.

I just thought of this, how my father, who was able to walk with a cane for a few years after his initial diagnosis, was eventually confined to his recliner and a wheelchair. His anxiety (and anger) expressed itself in the same way mine did, but a little more vocally. My mother worked at Montgomery Ward for a while, and he would listen to the radio when she went to work, and if he heard about a car accident happening in town, he would immediately think it was her, and he would get all agitated and call her at work to find out if she was all right. He was also extremely jealous (hey, me too!) and would accuse her of resting her breasts on the card table during our Scrabble games with their “handicapped” friends, supposedly as a way of enticing Vince, who had a milder version of MS. But my dad had an autoimmune disease, what was my excuse? Just growing up in that household, observing how the world seemed to work, how fears and frustrations combined to construct a personality, a point of view? I’ve always assumed that I took my cues from my mother, her passive-aggressive response to a life of hardship and enforced care giving for a man she had wanted to divorce before his illness… not that my circumstances were similar, but I surely adopted another of her defense/attack ploys: eating. Being an observant sponge, I took bits from Mom and bits from Dad and created my own chef’s blend of anger, anxiety, and food substitution.

life is short: eat the Doritos first

I was a skinny kid and adolescent; I weighed only 112 in college. So it wasn’t obvious that I had a thing about food. But I remember, as a teenager, lying on the couch watching “Perry Mason,” and a character saying, “I was so upset, I couldn’t eat.” And I thought, “There’s no way I wouldn’t be able to eat.” And that has proved to be true.

I went to NutriSystem the first time when I weighed 148. And everyone there exclaimed that I didn’t look like I needed to lose weight, but I was trying to nip myself in the bud. I got down to 117, prompting one of my friends to say I looked like a concentration camp victim. Now she’s lecturing me the other way. Of course, the weight slowly piled back on, like snow flakes that look so insubstantial drifting in the air but build up on the ground in minutes. The diet industry will never go away, because the process is stacked against you, like the odds in a casino. You deprive yourself for the period of the diet, and when you’re done and feel invincibly thin, a mouthful of the simplest food tastes like manna: a piece of toast with a bit of butter: heaven! But it’s not long before your taste buds long for Mexican food, or Chinese. And at first it seems you’re getting away with it, because your new pounds come on so slowly, like those snowflakes again. (Is every pound unique, I wonder?) The mantra of the diet industry is that you should change your whole way of eating, yeah, duh. But they count on no one being willing or able to do that. And programs like NutriSystem keep offering better and better tasting food (according to them), so you’re still rewarding yourself with food, just temporarily less caloric.

It feels good to be thin, but more important to me is that when I’m thin I look better, thus avoid (that particular) judgment from others—a judgment that is grossly unfair, but that’s human beings for ya. A thin person who eats like a pig with no visible consequences is envied… but an obese one on a perpetual diet is considered lazy and lacking in self-discipline. Nothing stands in the way of the media excoriating Midwesterners (especially), all that stock footage of headless fat people trudging toward their next meal, presumably. Fatness is immoral. Even pedophiles, though reviled, are understood to not be able to help it.

In a side note, you’ve probably noticed that those shots of the overly large on the evening news are all of white people, in some sort of perverse fear of accusing black people of anything… just as “white trash” is a respectable, widely understood term, but it would be unthinkable to refer to “black trash.” I read recently that the term “white trash” is actually an insult to black people, because if you drop the modifier “white,” then all you have is trash. I don’t buy this. “White trash” is an insult to poor white people, an acceptable target. Poor black people are equally (or more) despised, but it would be so impolite to admit it. Do I have to say this explicitly?—that I’m no apologist for racism: my point is that there are lots of ways that racism in this country has turned from rabid to subtle (but still real), and one of those ways is to divert attention from our uncomfortable feelings about race by attacking poor and working class whites for their (often rabider) racism and overall uncouthness, such as having poor taste in clothes and, you know, being fat.

I’ve always felt that I’m “afraid” to be hungry. It’s not that I went hungry as a child, but I have an association with food as a bulwark against… something…. In concrete terms, it seems that it keeps me from feeling sick. There is a sublime sense of security when my belly is full. So I’m thinking about my constant pursuit of food as a sign of my baseline anxiety. I stay up all night most nights, and so there are long, empty hours when I want to eat. The night after I rediscovered the association between anxiety and eating, I got through the night without going downstairs and raiding the freezer for ice cream bars; it wasn’t what I really wanted. What I really wanted was for no one close to me to ever die again.

Anxiety’s doppelgänger is anger. Another duh, I suppose. But sometimes insights catch you flat-footed, telling you something viscerally that you thought you already knew.

I was thinking about anger one day, and this is exactly how the sentence went in my head: “I don’t know why I’m still so hungry, I mean, angry.” Those words are already forever linked by being the only two words in the English language that end in “-gry.” As with the connection between hunger and anxiety, it helped for a few days to focus on my anger whenever I wanted to eat. But the internal forces demanding to be satisfied greatly outweigh (so to speak) those that are willing to face the truth. You can call it laziness, but I think it has more to do with an overwhelming sense that what your “better judgment” is asking you to do is simply impossible.

 

finally—family fun!

In our hiatus from Friday nights at K&MP’s, Barb and I usually get together to eat good food and watch quality TV or movies. The night before Easter, we ate at Table 6 (or Ta6le Six, as they like to call it—foiling all attempts at alphabetization). We both had versions of pasta carbonara/alfredo, plus salad. I tried a new sauvignon blanc from Germany, and Barb finally found a wine that was sweet enough for her—a Riesling—also from Germany. We passed on dessert. Then we went back to her house to watch 2 episodes of “Nurse Jackie” that she had recorded; “The King’s Speech,” which I had gotten from Netflix; and “Black Swan,” on Movies on Demand. All were excellent except for “BS,” which was compelling but extremely unpleasant to watch. When it was over, I actually wished I hadn’t seen it.

For Easter—a beautiful sunny day (52 degrees but felt like 70)—Barb and I went out to the country to have dinner with her daughter and her husband and two boys. We had ham, cheesy potatoes, jello salad (but good! with cranberries and walnuts), corn, rolls, lemon cake, and pumpkin bread. I ate exactly twice as much as I should have, then took home the equivalent of another 2 meals and repeated the whole experience later that night.

After dinner, we waddled out to the barn to see their newly acquired baby chicks and ducks. I held a little chick for a long time, stroking its soft yellow head and wishing I could take it home with me. (I don’t think the cats would mind, do you?) The chicks are for eventual egg-laying, but the ducks are pets. The 16-year-old named his duck Bruce Willis (no explanation forthcoming), and the 10-year-old named his Sarge. Since that one is a female, my niece asked him why the name? He said, “Women are in the armed forces, and they can be sergeants.” I thought this was hilarious and amazing. He is an extremely intelligent, loveable, creative kid. His older brother got a job for the summer, working as a receptionist in a nursing home. He aced the job interview when he was asked to waylay a resident who was trying to escape out the front door. He went up to her, asked if he could take her hand, and spoke to her so gently that she went with him without a fuss. He too is highly intelligent, an excellent student, and an athlete. And he and his brother are both avid readers! These lovely boys and their gentle, hard-working father contravene my long-held generalizations about males.

It was a beautiful Easter after all.

 Au revoir! Bon appetit!

[Mary McKenney]

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2 Responses to “mary’zine #49: April/May 2011”

  1. kelly Moore Says:

    Wonderful! Once again, I relate so much with everything you wrote about.
    I especially liked your thoughts on anxiety, eating, classism and racism.
    Thanks for writing!

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