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Perry Miller(1948), from Jonathan Edwards on the Sense of the Heart:

Edwards's problem then became to make words capable not of evoking the idea itself, but of inciting a full awareness of the idea previously given through experience. Without awareness there could be no regeneration. The regenerate state thus becomes one with that living, pulsating state in which a word is vividly, fully identified with its sensation. As life is lived from day to day, the name imperceptibly takes the place of the sensation, and ultimately becomes the only object for the idea. By then the idea becomes a decaying phantasm and only verbal knowledge remains. To our horror we realize that we are lost among signs, none of which any longer have reality.

Tip toes

May. 10th, 2009 05:33 pm
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This morning, I danced with a tall, elegant, self-contained woman who I would place in her sixties. I felt elegant myself while we were dancing. Her arms were very long, and I went on tip toes when we did one of those disco over the head joined hands twirls.

After, I waited on the sidewalk for a sweet Mother's Day parade with tall puppets on stilts and someone leading the way dressed in a fluttery white costume like a bird.

Also, I'm excited about the F to Elvis event that [ profile] jasonelvis is curating at the National Portrait Gallery in London in August, so I've been thinking all day about Elvis.
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The Fat Studies Reader is available for pre-order from NYU Press. Edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay, it's got my short essay, "Why Fat Girls Need Fiction," and tons of other great stuff, including essays by [ profile] charlottecooper, [ profile] mermeydele,[ profile] bearsir, and I don't even know who all else. There's a foreword by Marilyn Wann. I really do think that the publication of this anthology represents a kind of watershed moment for fat liberation, making a lot of thought, writing, research and scholarship about fatness more visible as active, engaged, insightful, important and of interest to a lot of different individuals and groups than it has been before.

Also, Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere by Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding is available for pre-order, too. Marianne blogs at The Rotund (link to lj syndication), and Kate blogs at Shapely Prose. I first noticed Marianne's writing on fatshionista, and it's really interesting to see voices come out of these online forums and make an impact on mainstream culture.

And not a moment too soon. Go team!
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I was so sorry to learn, via Paul Lisicky, that Deborah Digges has died.

She was a poet. I met her only once, almost twenty years ago at a writers conference. I was in a workshop with Terry McMillan, and my clearest memory is dancing in a circle with Terry and Deborah, who was also teaching, and a couple of high school aged writers at a party, while some others looked on a little bit sourly ("That's not dancing, that's aerobics," I remember hearing one of the male faculty poets say.) It was just the length of a song, but it's a strong impression: Deborah being kind and willing to appear at least a little bit wild. I think she had on hip huggers. I thought of her as very beautiful.

Right after that, I read her Late in the Millennium. I remember lying on my back on the bed in Chesterfield, being moved and amazed. I loved the poem about her mother, "The Rockettes." I went looking for the book tonight, and couldn't find it. but here is a link to a stunning poem, Telling the Bees, about her father's death. There's a recording there, too, so, if you want to, you can hear her voice.
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I'm so sorry to hear that Eve Sedgwick has died.

Condolences to those who knew her and are grieving, and to all of those who have been touched, challenged and expanded by her work.

Nobody knows more fully, more fatalistically than a fat women how unbridgeable the gap is between the self we see and the self as whom we are seen; no one, perhaps, has more practice at straining and straining to span the binocular view between; and no one can appreciate more fervently the act of magical faith by which it may be possible, at last, to assert and believe, against every social possibility, that the self we see can be made visible as if through our own eyes to the people who see us. 256
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
From "White Glasses" in Tendencies


Apr. 11th, 2009 08:56 am
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Oh, I need it this morning:

  • Pink buds pushing out on the neighbors' tree.

  • The reliable warmth of oatmeal. Plus the extravaganza of a chopped apple, toasted walnuts warming the cinnamon, and really good yogurt.

  • A crossword half done, with my love reading the clues aloud.

  • A walking tour that I better hustle to get to. The trike ride on the way!

  • A morning party tomorrow! The old girls network. The beautiful faces of friends and fellow travelers as we age.

  • Getting inspired by the gorgeous accomplishments of others. Being lifted by that.

  • Unextinguished passion for the things I love. Knowing what thrills me. Willingness to be surprised. Willingness.

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I just saw the terrible news that, in the nearby city of Springfield, 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover has hanged himself after enduring anti-gay bullying. Evidently, his mother's attempts to talk with school officials about the bullying did not result in an effective response. Oh, I feel for that child and his family.

It makes my heart ache, it really does, for all of the children who are harassed at school, who have to fight so hard to find the inner resources to get through the attacks, often in isolation. It happens so much around perceived gayness or queerness. It happens around so many things. It happens around fatness.

I experienced harassment around being fat as a little girl and a high school student, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Other kids didn't perceive me as queer, but there was no missing the fact that I was fat. I've heard stories of children who have killed themselves in response to fat-related bullying, and a quick google turned up more. I'm not going to link to them -- reinvoking all of that waste and loss and sadness seems as if it might not be helpful.

But, I also heard this week that Massachusetts schools are starting to send reports on students' BMI home to their parents. And, very sadly, I think that this kind of institutional focus on weight and the bullying of fat children is related.

Here is an excellent article linking school programs that focus on fat kids with bullying by Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, who wrote The Tyranny of Health.

Here is the main page of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network, which looks to be doing amazing work against bullying in schools.

Here are strategies around children and weight from Body Positive.
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On Thursday, I heard Marilynne Robinson give the last of a series of four lectures at Yale. The series was called “Absence of Mind: The dispelling of inwardness from the modern myth of the self."

The talk was in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, a domed lecture room with seats that might be as old as I am, the kind with a fixed wooden arm to write on. Mine had smoke weed carved deeply into it; also, cut in less deeply: emerson and his brothers.

There were lots of gray-haired people, including three women talking about their writing group. Some of the students were formally dressed. There was a guy with the aggressively unimpressed air of a reporter with a brown scarf slung around his neck and an open laptop in the front row. Tall, black mikes stood in the front of each aisle that made me imagine urgent, lengthy questions before anything started. A sign language interpreter sat on the stage with his shirt sleeves rolled up, casually chatting with friends. It was beautiful day out, although it was supposed to rain. The daffodils were already in bloom. After I looked at the people a while, I noticed the huge black hearth near the entrance. Then, the stained glass, beautiful, with allegorical figures and words like music, religion, reverence , science, research, art, intuition, allegory. There were bas relief profiles and heads of Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Plato, Franklin, et all, each in his own little alcove above a window around the dome. A student tapped the mike before he sat in the adjoining row.

Marilynne Robinson has iron gray hair, straight, with a little flip at the shoulder. She had on a black pantsuit and purple silk scarf. I had the impression of wryness and intense reserve. Also of a lot of lived experience, and that she was not someone to back away from a rant should a rant seemed called for. She didn’t refer to her novels except in response to questions, but she is one of my favorite writers: Housekeeping. Gilead. Home.

I loved being under the sound of what she called the beautiful voice of human thought.

• She suggested that the soul could be thought of, not as an argument, but as an experience.
• She referred to the response that God gave to Moses when asked who he was: I am that I am, saying that people use the phrase I am, often, almost always with a modifier. I am hungry. I am typing. I am a reader. She called this the abrupt descent into singularity from the breadth of existence.
• Also: Complex life may indeed be the wonder of the universe. If it is, it is not diminished by the fact that we kill it routinely.
• The mind is what the brain does.
• She said that contemporary thinking about the soul tends to use the model of the wager -- that the soul exists primarily to be saved or lost, not as a name for an ongoing experience. She said that she, along with Descartes, thinks that the soul is mind’s self awareness, the part of self that stands apart and appraises. And that human beings are capable of negotiating our own enhancement.
• She said: The strangeness of reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science. Science not a final definition of reality, but a highly fruitful way of inquiring into it.

I talked to her a little afterwards, and asked if that definition -- a highly fruitful way of enquiring into reality – would extend to writing fiction. She smiled, and said that she wouldn’t disagree.

One of the most moving things she said was when, in response to a question, she spoke about having written three sad book. She said that she hadn’t set out for them to be sad, but that she knows that they are. But then, she said, she has spent years immersed in art of all kinds from all over the world, and knows that art at the highest levels can absorb huge levels of pain and make it thrilling.

Then she spoke about getting letters from readers, saying things like: My father was dying, I read your book aloud to him. I was so comforted.

She said, “Something that breaks your heart can enlarge your life. It’s amazing.”

When I spoke with her, I told her a little about what is going on with my novel. She told me to be brave. I said that I am. So, there’s that to live up to.

I loved the intellectual stimulation and moral seriousness; her beautiful, stern, aging presence; even the little chair desks that were fixed and immovable, yet still accommodated me in all my fullness at this difficult moment in my life. It was a pleasure -- a rare, fine, sweetness – to get to hear her talk.
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The Fat Girl Fleamarket is today in New York City. Open until 8.

In honor of such a mighty moment, I give you:

  • Charlotte Cooper's account of the Invasion of the Chubsters event at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. That's in her rich blog, Obesity Timebomb.

  • youtube video of a closing song and spontaneous dance at the event that made my eyes well up. Honor also to [ profile] jasonelvis for curating and all.

  • Deb Malkin of Re/DressNYC interviewed in Plus Model Magazine. As Deb talks about in the interview, she is one of the founders of the Fat Girl Flea and, although she can't be there this year, she has poured a lot of work and love into it over the years.

  • The lineage of what I was wearing yesterday when I was videoed reading excerpts from my novel for the Jonathan Edwards Center website. I had been thinking that we were just doing audio, so I hadn't picked out my clothes to be on camera, but what I had on was:

    • the black linen jacket that I got at the Re/DressNYC opening. I would have succumbed to being overwhelmed with options at that event, if not for the intensity and focus of [ profile] beccawrites, and I'm really loving that jacket. We were thinking job-hunting clothes, but I'm wanting to wear it all the time.

    • a gold and black sleeveless silk top with calla lilies, hand-me-down from my beloved friend, Lynne.

    • The black skirt I got for Christmas that my mama hemmed to the perfect length for me. She's making me a top out of some blue checked fabric out of her fabric stash right now. I never appreciated these arts as much as I should have when I was a girl. They are highly charged with complicated feelings and practical advantages. How lucky am I that my mother can and is still willing to pick up a needle and thread on my behalf?

    • black leggings

    • marled ankle socks from Sock Dreams, which I learned about via [ profile] theoryofgravity.

    • my sturdy, new balance black shoes, because those are pretty much always the shoes.

    • I had on the vintage pearls that my friend gave me after she heard I had lost the other string!

    Can you see it? The beautiful way that varied relationships and communities are threaded into the clothes I had on? The power that the histories of those articles of clothing drape me with when I go somewhere like Yale Divinity School (where another community of people has been consistently wonderful to me)? The ways that the clothing that has been given to me or made or altered for me or made available to me has expanded the vocabulary I have with which to address the world?

And how events like the Fat Girl Flea and the Invasion of the Chubsters keep doing that -- in cloth, in images, in experiences, within and outside of language -- for expanding circles of people who are able to find ways to get themselves there or to make such moments on their own?
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Jumping up and down with a little girl, waving hands in the air and mouthing the words to You Are The Sunshine of My Life is an excellent way to spend a piece of a morning. She had sunflowers on her shoes.
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Sally Bellerose is a seriously beloved friend, one of the mainstays of my life. We met in a writers group, and we've kept a working relationship around writing going for more than twenty years, through all sorts of good times and hard weather.

So I am so excited to say, as some of you saw on facebook earlier in the week, that Sally's moving, beautiful book, The Girls Club, parts of which can make me cry or snort with laughter just thinking about it, is going to be published by Alyson Books. You'll be hearing more about this around here, I'm sure, but for now, whoo hoo Sally!
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Yesterday afternoon, I went to something called cello temple. It was in on the third floor of the Fitzwilly's building. My Sunday morning dancing is on the fourth floor of the same gigantic old building. This was in a yoga center, which I had never been to before, so instead of placards and loud music, there were long silent halls with shiny floors. My shoes were muddy from the trike, and the cellist was in the tiny coat room. I felt a little shy and claustrophobic. I took off my shoes and coat, went inside and found a cushion near someone I know a bit.

The cellist, Stephen Katz, was wonderful. His music reached me right away, and he got up and did a big spinning dance move with his cello at the very beginning. He had on pants with billowy legs and the human qualities to the cello were both audible and visible. There were lots of people there -- a couple sitting on chairs, most on the floor, sitting or lying down. I recognized some from Sunday mornings, and knew that they were strong dancers. There was a big space cleared in the middle of the floor.

I had come wanting to dance, but the atmosphere was too much like a performance for me to do that. People were slow to start dancing, but when they did, it was beautiful. They were doing contact improv. I wish I knew where to learn how to do that (inexpensively, from someone gentle, respectful, smart and prepared to help me work with the limitations and strengths of this body at this moment). Lots of low moving, crawling kind of things at first, and then dancing together, in pairs, in mounds, people moving with at least one point of contact between them. Rather formal, respectful approaches, courtly in feeling, sometimes, then a man is in the air upside down on another man's back, then rolling over his shoulder and landing on his feet, caught and the movement keeps going. Two women do something that looks like a waltz to me, and then touch foreheads and and roll so that they are leaning backwards, connected at the head. It's moving, and it starts to look to me like a metaphor for human culture, for connection. The music expands everything.

There were lots of aging bodies out there. No one my size, not even close. The cellist started dancing, too, dropping back on his back, still playing while people held him up or danced with him. He played with the cello against the head and then the back of a woman sitting still. It looked risky. At one point, he was separated from the cello and the bow. At another, he was being held upside down, playing Mary Had a Little Lamb. Kind of astonishing and adventurous, but it also seemed like a natural extension of the music and the relationships already in the room.

I had started moving where I was sitting early on, back from the center, knowing I wasn't ready to go out to the middle, because I didn't understand the basics of the way those folks were dancing, and it seemed to me that a person had to be ready to take someone else's weight. But I was moving around on the ground, and starting feeling as if there wasn't enough space, and there would not be enough room for me on the dance floor. That "not enough room" feeling is an old, deep, tender place, and it can lead to all the ways I feel or have felt that there's not a place for me in the world -- fat pain, dyke pain, no job, no place for my book -- that abyss. I was open from the music and the beautiful way the dancers were leaping and stepping and moving together, from the subtle spectacle of their trust in each other, which I almost wanted but couldn't share. I started to cry: tears and big, shuddery breaths. So I knew I had to get up.

There were a few sets of ropes hung along the wall. I saw a woman get in them and hang upside down. A child wanted to swing next to her, but she asked him not to. I was sitting near them, and when a set was free, I got up and went to them. I didn't know anything about what I was doing or what they were for, but they looked a little like pulleys, with loops at the end. I tried them, and they were strong, tied securely to hooks on the wall. I played with putting my hands in two of the loops and leaning back, then pulling myself up. I ran my hands up the ropes, which were twisted blue and white, to the wall, then back again. Then I got inside the big loop and slowly leaned backwards. I let go of the ropes and let my hands rise at my sides. I used to love doing back bends when I was a kid, and this time, I didn't come close to gettng my hands on the ground, but I was suspended on trust, on a rope, leaning backwards over the hard floor, with my legs shaking beneath me. It was emotional, it was wonderful. It was probably not graceful. My back hurts today at the point where it was bending over the rope, holding my weight. It might not be smart to do things I haven't ever done before without any guidance, but it was a beautiful, physical expression of an answer to my grief, my fear, my pain. There was room. There was an adventure to be had. I didn't have to risk more than I was able, because what I was able to risk was plenty.

The cellist, the wonderful cellist, ended by singing and playing and dancing an inspired version of "If I Only Had a Brain." He hugged some of the dancers and thanked his friends. I folded my blanket, put my shoes back on and went triking off to dinner and bread pudding. The night, I know I've said this, was rainy. It was rainy. It was dark. It was warm.


Mar. 8th, 2009 02:43 pm
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The chain came off my trike on Friday in front of the Y. I flipped the bike back over and put it back on, but, even though I scrubbed my hands in the shower before I swam, the grease is only now wearing off. The chain is still loose, and it's rusted from the winter snow.

I had dinner last night with my sweet, smart friends, one of whom gave up all animal products for Lent. The other one gave up wine. We had a chocolate vegan bread pudding that was steamy and good -- it had banana and dried cherries. They talked in this wide-ranging way I love, and gave me bread pudding to take home. It was warm and a little rainy. I rode my trike, living a little dangerously on the bike path with a loose chain at night, but all was well.
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There were a few light flakes of snow as I rode in. There's supposed to be a big storm coming tonight.

Following me up the steps this week was the man who cried last week. He was very polite, almost meditative in the way he went my pace as he walked up the stairs. About the third flight, he said something I couldn't understand, and laughed in a friendly way, but when I said, "What?" He said, "Oh, nothing." Then, he mumbled something like, "We're going the same place." I smiled and nodded, both because we were and because it made me happy. I stepped aside and gestured for him to go up the last flight ahead of me. It felt a little like starting the dance on the stairs, with all the placards telling us anyone can dance.

I spent some time with a cushion on the floor, stretching and playing a little with how it feels to get up and down. I watch people go to the floor with so much grace, but what is between me and the floor is something else. For one thing, if the chairs of the world are too flimsy or too small, the floor and the grass or the ground always stretches out to accommodate me, and I take it up on that, sometimes regardless of propriety. Because my arthritic knee needs padding under it if I rest my weight on it on the hard floor, I get up like a baby, walking myself up with my hands on the ground, my legs a little straddled and and my butt in the air. I was self conscious about that when I first had to figure out how to do it, but now it comes naturally. So, yeah, I don't swoop down and leap up, but I bent over and slapped the floor for a while today, like people make steps with their feet.

They played Rock Steady! What it is what it is.

I was trying not to jump around because my knee was sore all week, so I spent a long time planted in one spot. But then they played some kind of country song, and I couldn't figure out what to do with it until I started skipping all over the room, which felt like flying, it was so fun. Other people started doing something like it, too, and it was pretty delicious to weave in and out of everybody dancing (a young willowy girl in a black leotard and filmy skirt who danced with her even younger sister like a ballerina letting her hair down; an older woman doing contact improv with a young man -- her son? -- who might have been autistic, rolling him over her back, dancing with another woman her age as they both kept physical contact with him; a little girl tossing a rubber snake back and forth to her mom; couples doing swing dance moves), I liked it, and my mess-with-me friend from last week was doing it, too, but I has to skip out the door in the middle of the song to gasp and drink water, because I am not so used to moving that fast.

Later, when I was dancing in a corner, a young woman came over to hug me and tell me that I radiated joy. A guy who had been dancing behind me said, "You have more fun than anyone." Which might be true. I think that this was something that I've been needing -- in a time when I'm looking urgently for paid work, and holding the experience of getting so much no and silence back from putting my beloved book out into the world, when my personal obstacles can set up a clamor with the big struggles and hard times -- to have somewhere to stretch physically, socially, emotionally, to explore connection and separation, to move. It's very wild to me that this is a bodily thing, not an intellectual thing, not about language, and that I've started to feel reflected back there in a way that I've been thirsty for. There are a lot of things about it that almost embarrass me, especially once people start talking, but I can't afford the luxury of indulging my taste for critique, not now, not yet, maybe not at all. Mostly, I'm just grateful that it's there, even for the likes of me, and that all I had to do was find it, drop my five dollars in the basket and dance.
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I got interviewed last week for a book on fat and stigma that will be coming out from NYU Press (which is also publishing The Fat Studies Reader). I'll let you know when it's published. It is a powerful thing for me that the author, Amy Farrell, who I had met when we both presented in the Fat Studies track of the Popular Culture conference a couple of years ago, has read all of my books. It was a pleasure to talk with her. She asked me about poems from Belly Songs that I wrote more than twenty years ago, bringing the emotional resonance of that work to life again with the intensity of her engagement. Before she came, I went out on the porch and got out the ladder to reach the boxes with my books about fat. I spread them out all over the table and the couch: chapbooks of poems, Panza Monologues from Texas, copies of FaT GiRL (Bertha making vegetable pudding -- yum!) and Size Queen, Fat and Proud, so many books by people I know or have met or may never meet. The weight of them is something. Among them was Shadow On A Tightrope, which was the first fat liberation book I ever read, read so hard that its pages are falling out, like my copy of Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
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Hey, do we know any children's book writers who might like to apply for a gig as a Writer in Residence at the Boston Public Library? 20 hours a week, $20,000.


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May 2009



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