Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Truest Detectives

I'll admit that, when I first heard of True Detective, I confused it with the Jason Schwartzman/Ted Danson comedy Bored To Death, about a writer who pretends to be a private eye. I was like, "huh, that's still on? Weird." And then I just went about my life.

When I finally clued in, I watched the entire series over the course of a weekend. The show's moody, brooding disgust with its own world was mesmerizing: the Louisiana bayou could, and did, suck any number of secrets (and the men who kept them) into its backwater bogs. For me, season one was about what happens when men break: the cost of maintaining a masculine identity, the cost of losing one's place as family leader, and the men who close ranks to protect those among them who hurt women. Rust Cohle and Marty Hart weren't exempt from this brokenness. They only worked well together when they were working a case—any attempt at socializing ended in disaster.

As the series began, it seemed clear that Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, was the more damaged of the two. After all, his wife was gone, his kid was dead, and he had spent untold months drugged to the gills as part of an undercover sting operation. Paradoxically, of the two lead characters, Cohle seemed to have the better handle on who he was; Woody Harrelson's Hart was a philadering liar whose need to be liked—nay, loved—governed his every interaction. Say what you want about Cohle, but at least he was an asshole to your face.

Anyway, the show begat a million think pieces and Hot Takes, focusing on everything from the cinematography to its anti-natalist bent to the semi-mystical elements to the unfeminist angle it seemed to pursue. It was Big Deal TV, and it had seemingly come out of nowhere. By the time I heard of it, the show was already three episodes deep; by the time it was finished, we were having True Detective huddles at every cocktail party, birthday outing, and bar crawl.

So season two, which kicked off on Sunday, has big shoes to fill. The show is an anthology, which means that no-one from seasons one's cast has returned, and the action and storyline have shifted from Louisiana to Los Angeles. What unites the two seasons so far is corruption (in season one, it was spiritual; now, it's political) and police characters.

The cast is....okay? I mean, I don't really care about Colin Farrell. To me, he's in the same group as Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel; that is, people who are bigger names than they are actors. The last big movie Farrell was in was Total Recall in 2012, which wasn't a flop, but it wasn't exactly a hit, either. Same with Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughan; Vaughan, especially, has some work to do, seeing as how lately he's been phoning it with with "movies" like The Intership and Unfinished Business, both of which were unmitigated failures, and both of which earned Vaughan special excoriation for his performances. He's definitely driving the McConaughey bus in this season. True Detective is his chance to atone for those past movies, and prove that he's more than just a lumpy sack of eye-rolling. It'll be interesting to see if these guys have the chops to manage writer/creator/show-runner Nic Pizzolatto's somewhat heavy-handed dialogue without chewing every last scene from now until August.

Anyway, the story seems to be about a few different things. First and foremost is the construction of a high-speed rail corridor through central California—and, I mean, there's nothing sexier than public transit plots, amiright? Vaughan's character Frank Semyon is a gangster who seems to have reformed enough to be a viable leader on this project, but not so much that Ray Velcoro, Farrell's dirty cop character, isn't still his heavy on the side. It's a relationship that goes back the better part of a decade, after Semyon hipped Velcoro to the man who raped his wife. Velcoro is also investigating ("investigating"?) the disappearance of the City Manager, who was in business with Semyon.

McAdams plays Ani Bezzerides, a Sherrif's detective who isn't quite capable of separating her personal life from her work; hence, the raid on the cam-girl house where her sister works; hence, her spitting hate towards her guru father when she investigates one of his missing compound employees. I'm not sure how she ends up at the scene when the City Manager is discovered, eyeless and (presumably) dickless on the side of the road, but she is there. (Copious amounts of internet searching turned up bupkis on that front, so I'm going to assume it was because it happened on the side of the road and she has some sort of jurisdiction?) And Taylor "Tim Riggins" Kitsch plays the sexually defunct highway patrolman who finds said City Manager's body, after a game of high-speed, cheek-flapping motorcycle chicken with himself.

This season was promoted with vague allusions to "the occult" and "public transportation," which don't really seem to go together (unless the Metrolinx staff have a lunchtime Wiccan circle they're not telling us about), but I'm excited to see how the show handles that intersection. I'm also excited that there is a real live female cop in this season, which was sorely lacking last time around. And I'm excited to read all the endless recaps and think pieces that I'm sure will come out of this season, too.

True Detective is often not quite a show, per se: it's more a series of moods, of chiascuro-lit set pieces, of dialogue that would make a suitable bumper sticker for a hearse. It's T Bone Burnett's impeccable soundtrack work, of Cary Fukunaga's—and now, Justin Lin's—challenging scene direction. It's a chance for all of us to step into the swirl of television criticism, because both seasons seem to offer so much to critique. I don't mean that the season two is bad; quite the opposite. The show in its entirety is a rich swirl of character, plot, and philosophy. It's trying to say something about the world, which gives people a lot to chew on. 

With its older sibling now graduated, this season will have to fight to prove that it's up to the task of engrossing us all—of ruining another season of cocktails parties with our True Detective huddle. Even if it's not as "good," I think it's already well on its way to being just as interesting to think about.

Image via The Decider

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Ghomeshi Chronicles

This month's Toronto Life cover story leaves me feeling a bit icky. Jian Ghomeshi's face, in that classic grainy black-and-white mugshot aesthetic, is grinning out at me. The cover line promises to delve into "who is standing by him, and why he's sure he'll walk," which immediately made me wonder what kind of article this would be.

As it turns out, the article is more of a conflicted MASH note to Ghomeshi than a solid rebuke. Just what we needed

The article, clocking in at over 4,000 words, was written by Leah McLaren. She refers to Ghomeshi as Jian throughout the piece, as if she's writing about a friend. And, indeed, she is. McLaren first met Ghomeshi over 16 years ago; in the article, there's a photo of them together at her wedding.  He is her friend, and she has the job of investigating how he lives after being exposed as a man whose penchant for sexual violence cost him his work and his reputation.

Over and over again, McLaren shows us moments of Ghomeshi overstepping boundaries, and then backs away from making a solid judgement about them. To wit: after their first meeting, when he was 32 and she was 23, he invites her—the journalist who had just interviewed him—to an orgy. In their last exchange, an email Ghomeshi sent McLaren after the death of his father and before his exposure, he mentions a long-ago crush on her, and that he had imagined marrying McLaren. When McLaren shows the email to her husband, he just rolls his eyes and dismisses it as "creepy," but McLaren thinks it's a nice summation of her relationship with Ghomeshi:

It was quintessential Jian. Grieving the loss of his father but still a consummate flirt, reminding me of our shared (non-romantic) history, complete with a self-deprecating reference to his anxiety issues and winky-face emoticon.
But here's the thing that McLaren misses, either deliberately or accidentally: when a man knows a woman is married and says that he would have liked to marry her, it crosses a line. When a musician invites a young woman doing her job into group sex, it crosses a line. The consequence for crossing a line doesn't have to be severe, but it should exist. There's no indication that McLaren has ever felt that Ghomeshi's comments and invitations are out of line. For whatever reason, she shows us these moments, but steadfastly plays them off as jokes, as Jian being Jian, as a usual moment in her friendship with an unusual man. When she mention a moment at Q, when "just seconds before going on air, he said he liked it when his girlfriend wore a certain baggy wool sweater because he knew it was obscuring the bruises on her breasts," she doesn't condemn him—which she could, on multiple levels: as a sadist, as an abuser, as an inappropriate member of his workplace—but just tells us about the moment. I don't know how she feels, but I know how I do: gross, dude.

The fact that McLaren does come out halfway through the article and say that "though none of the allegations against Jian have been proven in court, I now believe he behaved violently and without consent on what appears to be a habitual basis over the past 20-odd years" is a mild count in her favour, made even milder by the fact that she forgets to say, "and it's a problem!"

Maybe this is how people in Canadian journalism really feel about Ghomeshi—he was powerful, and he was well-liked (as long as you could tolerate the occasional bruised breast). I wish McLaren hadn't been so quick to discuss those warm gatherings over at Ghomeshi's house in the Beaches, and his ability to hang onto friends despite the allegations against him.

This is a sympathetic portrait of a man in trouble, of a man who created his own trouble by abusing his power and the women around him. Jian Ghomeshi is not an accident. He made this problem for himself. I am not sure why Leah McLaren and Toronto Life feel it's necessary to play this as a great downfall, a tragedy of the misunderstood. I'm not sure why we're supposed to be inspired by his confidence; unless this story was published as meta-demonstration of the type of ambivalence Ghomeshi produces, even now, I can't imagine the point of defending this person.

I know we like a good anti-hero. I know we like a good, messy, complicated story. And the story here seems to be that McLaren, even having been exposed to Ghomeshi's boundary-bruising firsthand, still wavers. It is difficult to hear that your friend is a lousy person. But it's not as if Ghomeshi operated in secret; from the very first time she met him, alarms bells should have been ringing.

But they didn't.

I will tell a story of my own life. Back in high school, there was a boy named Neil. Neil was charming—funny, self-effacing, good looking—but suffered from cripplingly low self-esteem. He dated girls who were smart and beautiful, and he cheated on them, a lot. To him, sex and sexuality were a salve for his feelings of inadequacy, and so he weaponized that. He would say things like, "The only reason you don't want to have sex with me is because I'm fat and ugly," and the girls, both girlfriend and extracurrical, would be in the position of having to soothe him even as he ignored what they wanted.

One by one, the girls wised up; the boy became a man. When I last saw Neil, I was dating my husband, and Neil and I met for a drink. At the bar, he put his hand on my thigh, and I told him to take it off. Neil pouted, called me a tease, said "The only reason you don't want to have sex with me is because I'm fat and ugly," and when I refused to comfort him, he left. It was a relief.

I have known Neil for a long time, and I have known him to be charming and fun company. But after him crossing the line for so many years, and after hearing about him cross other people's lines, I grew tired of excusing his behaviour. The alarms didn't start ringing that night at the bar; they had been going off for years. I know that Neil has his damage, and might think he has good reasons for acting the way he does, but it doesn't make it less toxic. Being friends with Neil meant I had to excuse the way he treated women, and I finally reached a point where I didn't want to.

There is a difference between knowing about something and condoning it. I know about Neil; I don't condone him. I do not get the sense that McLaren, or Toronto Life, has made that distinction about Ghomeshi.

Image via Dream Fierce

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Short Love Letters to the Writers of My Childhood

Dear Madeleine L'Engle: Thank you for writing Many Waters, and making sure that, when I was eleven, it was on the market with this cover. That cover, which reminded me in all right ways of a certain Mr. J.T. Thomas, was one of the most wonderful pieces of proto-sex fantasy I could ever wish for. Thank you for writing A Wrinkle In Time: despite the Jesus-y parts, which I had blocked out of my memory entirely, the book is still a really weird, fun example of science fiction for children, written as though kids are capable of grasping both scientific and metaphysical concepts. I'll never forget that image of Charles Wallace, his eyes pinwheeled into nothingness, berating his sister. It rivals 1984 for utter annihilatory creepiness.

Dear R.L. Stine: You scared the ever-loving shit out of me with Goosebumps #14, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. My bedroom was in the basement, and my bunk bed was right in line with the ground-level windows, which meant that I spent the better part of two years waiting for werewolves to burst into my bedroom and eat me.

Dear Ann M. Martin: Bless your heart for making chapters two and three of every Baby-Sitters Club book totally skippable. Thanks for giving us Jessie, the eleven-year-old Black ballerina, and Matt Braddock, the deaf baby-sittee, and Danielle, who had cancer, and Stacey, with the diabetes. Even though these characters were as one-dimensional as paper dolls, and often defined by their differences, at least they weren't automatically punished for them. Even network TV is still playing catch-up on that front.

Dear Paula Danziger: Thank you for writing confused, angry teen characters whose anger and confusion wasn't the sum total of who they were. Parents—adults in general—are sort of fumbling around in the dark most of the time, so thank you for making your families fallible, because I learned through you that families can fall apart in more ways than just with the Dead Parent trope. Finally, thumbs up for setting This Place Has No Atmosphere on the moon, because that is a deeply silly place to set YA fiction and that makes it perfect.

Robert O'Brien: Thank you for writing both Z for Zachariah and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM. These are both deeply weird, deeply science-driven books that I haven't read in ages, but I think about often and fondly. The cover for Z for Zachariah, in particular, is one that has stuck with me for more than two decades.

Dear Nancy Farmer: I know that a white woman setting a book in a futuristic Africa wasn't ever going to be completely the right thing, even if you did actually live and work in Mozambique. But in The Eye, The Ear and The Arm, you knew enough to treat Zimbabwe like a specific place, with its own history and culture, instead of just one panoramic view of AFRICA: PLACE OF OTHERS. It was thrilling for me to read about a place that wasn't another Sweet Valley knock-off, and Black characters who weren't marked by their blackness.

Dear Judy Blume: You are the gold standard of writing for girl children, even if my own personal experience of reading you was 80% confusion over what a sanitary belt was, and 20% skepticism over Getting One's Period as the defining moment of my teen life. So, uh, thanks?

Dear Francine Pascal: Thank you for never once explaining what the fuck a "lavaliere" necklace was, or why it was so important to have a heart-shaped face. Thanks, also, for playing into that uptight bitch/flighty bitch duality that women are assigned to. Thanks for making the smart kids ugly, too. That was great. Oh, wait: your books were soaps for teens, and they taught me that having a perfect body or money meant you could be an asshole. So thanks for nothing.

Gordon Korman: Thank you for making laugh so hard at Son of Interflux that, when I tried to read a chapter aloud to my young sister in the waiting of the dentist's office, I slid off the black leather couch and onto the floor in hysterical glee. The receptionist peered at me, and my sister, who was laughing in that helpless "I don't know what we're laughing at!" kind of way, and then pointedly ignored us. Also, your insights into Teen Dude Brain were highly valued on my end.

E.L. Konigsburg: Thank you one million times for From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Claudia Kincaid is a bad-ass bitch who is afraid of nothing except not knowing. She is fierce, determined, swoony, romantic, particular, and grim. She is a girl who is very much a girl—that is, a female character that can't be rewritten as male—but a human being first and foremost. Her adventures in the Met spawned a lovely shot in The Royal Tenenbaums, and ten million arty runaway fantasies. Your book is a puzzle, a love letter to learning, and a sly poke at well-behaved children. It is a perfect map of young adulthood, of being a girl, and learning about yourself. So, yes: thank you.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Most Furious Road

I was not keen to see Mad Max: Fury Road. Let me be more precise: I was fascinated by Fury Road's obvious bombast and visual mayhem, but it seemed to offer the same old ultraviolence that we've seen in other movies, with an added bonus of "explicit rape culture" and "preggos in peril," two tropes that I'm actively dialing down supporting with my purchasing power. I've seen them too many times to care any more.

Since its release earlier this month, Fury Road has inspired roughly seventy billion internet think pieces. They range from the absurd MRA responses, to disabled folks being like, "Oh look, there's me!" to focusing on the climate change that might one day shove this film into the "documentary" category. Most of the articles, though, have talked about Mad Max's surprisingly feminist angle. It's unexpected, to be sure. But also? One thousand percent awesome.

Let's backtrack for a moment. The movie's visual effects are simply stunning. I had remind myself a number of times that, oh yeah, I was in a movie theatre. The cinematography is impeccable: for a movie that has dozens of car crashes and explosions, many of which happen inside a sandstorm, it's surprisingly easy to watch. None of that shaky-cam shooting style that's so en vogue with CGI-driven boom-a-thons. Just pure speed, a desert palette that easily flips from midday sun to star-flecked, and a production designer unleashed on all the tumors, nipple clamps, and silver spraypaint he could ever wish for. The movie looks insane, but it takes your breath away without trying to give you a concussion at the same time.

The plot is centered around the five young "wives" (read: sex slaves) of the repulsively leathery villain Immortan Joe, and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)'s attempt to rescue them before they bear Immortan Joe's children and are discarded, their purpose having been served. Furiosa hides the Wives in her nigh-indestructible tanker, called the War Rig, and fights tooth and nail, usually at 80 miles an hour, to make sure they're all free of Immortan Joe. She's trying to take them to "the green place," her childhood home, and presumably the last oasis in this otherwise arid world.

Max is also there.

That's not say that Max himself doesn't matter. He does, just not in the way we expect him to. Max, a role originated by racist-ass Melly Gibsons, has a certain cachet within the action/apocalypse genre. My husband pointed out that The Road Warrior, the second in the Mad Max trilogy (but the first to make a splash in North America) was pretty much responsible for what we think of as the post-apocalypse aesthetic: the black leather, the stripped-down cars, the repurposed safety gear as armor. But in this installment, the film really does belong to the women. Max is like a Trojan horse: his name got us into the theatre, but Furiosa has nearly everyone cheering.

For an action movie—actually, for any Hollywood movie—Mad Max is just chock full of women. There are fat women, old women, young women, pregnant women, disabled women. At one point, Furiosa punches Max in the face with her amputated stump hard enough to knock him back on his ass. This is not something I've seen before. In an age when Hollywood is constantly trying to one-up itself with ever-crazier fight scenes and end-of-the-world stakes (see: Transformers, Avengers, the Fast and the Furious franchise), a simple punch—albeit one that was delivered by a disabled female character—was what it took to knock me back, too.

But the feminist angle isn't just window dressing. While it's possible to imagine the film with a much more traditional cast—some burly, taciturn man rescuing those poor, lithe, perfect Wives—Charlize Theron inhabits Furiosa with, yes, fury. And intensity. And the sense that she herself might have spent some time in those gauzy linen outfits, or could have been involved in getting the Wives to Joe in the first place. It's clear that, whatever Furiosa was doing before she freed the Wives, she was part and parcel of Joe's societal machine, and she bears a burden of guilt for it. Max, as an outsider and a kidnap victim himself, is interested in freedom, but that doesn't necessarily extend beyond the borders of his own body; Furiosa, on the other hand, sees freedom as something that everyone should have. She drives for Immortan Joe. She knows his brand of crazy. She's lived with it.

And this is what makes Mad Mad: Fury Road so amazing to watch. Furiosa is pissed. The Wives are fed up. Their anger, not Max's, provides the emotional center for the film. Their decisions, not his, provide the action. It's shocking that this is shocking, but telling the stories of female victims who refuse to live inside their victimhood is just not how action movies usually go. We get plucky side characters, or romantic love interests, or, if we're in our forties, the villainess role. But to be the King Leonidas, the John McClane, the Snake Plisken? To be the ass-kicker? To be the whole point? That is fresh.

While drama is slowly ceding territory to women's stories, especially on TV, and comedy is beginning to take women seriously, this is one of the few action stories where the estrogen matters as much as the testosterone. I was wrong about not wanting to see Fury Road. I want to see more movies like it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Take Care!

It took me a long time to figure out what proper self-care looks like. For example, as an introvert, I didn't understand why I would come away from coffee dates or house parties feeling exhausted. Happy, of course, because I love my friends—but at the same time, it was like my own personal battery was drained down to 12%. Now, when I'm in host mode, I try to create events where everyone can kind of take care of themselves: potlucks, for instance, or weekends in the country where it's a perfectly acceptable social activity is to fall asleep on the couch with a 2013 issue of The New Yorker in your hands.

But self-care extends beyond the ability to be social in ways that appeal to you. It's also being honest with yourself: maybe week three of your awful spring head cold isn't the right time to run that half-marathon, even though you've already paid the money and bought the water-cooler fanny pack. Or maybe it's turning to your partner, or your mother, or your best friend, and saying, "Hey, can you watch the kids this afternoon? I really need some time to myself," and then doing nothing more strenuous than painting your nails. Or maybe it's registering for yoga, even though, like, four people said they'd come with you and then they all bailed. It's doing the things you want to do, because they feel good. And, it's saying no to things that will likely make you feel not-so-good.

If you're not really great at self-care, that's okay! It took me ages to figure out how to do it. I had the yes part down: saying yes to myself and doing things I like. But it took for-freakin'-ever to figure out the no part: saying no to things when I felt sad, or tired, or just uninterested. No is pretty tough to feel good about. It's starts off as an empty space, but it's one that allows you to fill it with other nice things. No is a great starting point.

Here's a crash course in self-care. Try some! Try all!

Eat some really delicious foods. If you're tired of your usual delicious foods and are suffering a crisis of imagination, try some of my favourites: smoked oysters from a can; lemon sorbet; those honey-and-sesame snaps that everyone's Grandma used to squirrel away in a cupboard; grapefruit with a little bit of sugar on top; pad thai.

When someone invites you to a social event, say, "Can I get back to you on that?" before automatically saying yes. It doesn't matter if this person is your mother, or your brother, or your boss. Go home. Check your calendar. Look at what else you're doing that week. Ask yourself, "do I really want to spend a weekend with my mother, when 90 minutes in, I'm usually wishing I was anywhere else?" (Not you, mom. I like spending the weekend with you.) If the invitation and your love of spending time with the person don't match up, suggest an alternative. Maybe a weekend with your parents isn't sometime you want to dive into; maybe an afternoon with them at the aquarium is more your speed.

Get some physical activity. There is a great Dorothy Parker quote: "I hate writing. I love having written." I feel this way about working out. In the moment, it is such a colossal drag. All that grunting and movement and breathing. Ugh! But afterwards, I love flexing my muscles in front of the mirror, or feeling okay about that bowl of ice cream. You yourself may pull a Dorothy Parker and celebrate the close of your workouts with a large glass of gin. The more I work out, the more I feel like my body and I are coming to peace. I love that it makes me feel good, and strong, and accomplished.

Take a bath. Or go for a swim. Immerse yourself in a body of water, and allow your body to float.

Read. Put your phone/tablet/phablet down and pick up a book. Or a magazine! Even if you're not a reader, per se the joys of leafing through a book, engaging with it as a physical object, can be so pleasurable. Get a big glossy art book out of the library, or pick up a splurgey magazine, or even browse your own bookshelves for those unread stories. Time spent reading is time well spent.

Walk. Anywhere. Bring a podcast or a playlist if you want, and just walk. Pick a destination, or a duration, or a direction, and be outside.

Make a list of thing you're good at. This is an awesome idea if you work at a job with an annual review, but even just seeing a list of things that you know yourself to be good at is a pretty powerful thing. Put down the big things, like communication. Put down the little things, too, like having a knack for packing boxes, or being able to dispose of spiders without killing them. Update this list whenever you need to. Read it often. Believe in it.

Make space for nothing. I really believe that overscheduling is the devil's Blackberry, and that humans are much more like housecats than we let ourselves believe. With the advent of smartphones, we can be engaged with something anytime, anywhere: in line for the bank, pooping, if our husbands go to get eggplants one aisle over at the grocery store and leave us to watch the cart for 45 seconds. Make time for yourself to do literally nothing. You won't actually be doing nothing, obviously: you might decide to take a bath, or bake some muffins, or call a friend. But leaving a little bit of space every day to just chill those brainwaves out is pretty nice.

When you say yes, mean yes. Don't mean only if something better doesn't come along or I'll do it if nobody else says yes or I'd rather not but I'm afraid of starting a fight or even this will tide you over for a few months, so okay. Yes, I know. Sometimes saying no when people are used to hearing yes can open up a conversation, and that can be uncomfortable. But also? Saying yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no, makes you feel pretty great. Seriously. Try it.

There are other ways to do great self-care, depending on who you are and what you like. Try making something with your hands, like woodworking projects or knitting! Try meditation or contemplate movement, like tai chi or yoga. Try dates with the people you love: a standing Thursday night coffee date with your boyfriend, or a monthly book club with your black-witted girlfriends. Try cutting down on booze, or trading chocolate for cherries. Try different things. Some will make you feel okay, and some will make your soul sing. Listen carefully.

Image via Joe Webb

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Heavy Stuff

Last week I wrote about how discovering a diet that worked for me changed my life (and I want to do a Chris Traeger "lit'rally" here, because I feel strongly about this). Eating paleo was only one part of the puzzle for me, however: the other half comes, as it turns out, from weightlifting.

I've never been particularly femme or butch. Wait, do straight girls get to claim "femme" and "butch"? In either case, neither extreme has really ever rowed my boat. I've always been fascinated by supposed flaws, like gap teeth, freckles, unconventional hair colour, tattoos, and fluffy hair. But my bete noir was skinniness. Fashion models, the tiny girls in my high school, the sub-20 BMI, the size-zero jeans, the 24-inch waist: all of that was my holy grail. I wanted it so bad. To me, being skinny was being a woman. It was being unassuming in body so that my large, sometimes challenging personality was easier to swallow.

This manifested in a lot of different ways. There was the eating disorder, but in between flare-ups, I would often drag myself to the gym in the name of good health. Academically, I knew purging was bad for me, so I tried to get down to that magical waist size by working long hours on the treadmill, or hitting the Pilates classes.

Here's the thing about the treadmill: it is boring. Supremely, ridiculously boring. If you want to talk about the futility of trying to accept your body while still actively loathing it, there is no better metaphor than the Stairmaster. Climbing forever and getting nowhere; sounds about right.

Besides, going to the gym took a lot of time. There was getting there, changing, doing the stair machine, rowing furiously on the rowing machine, clambering on and off the gazelle-looking contraption, wandering around the weightlifting section like a little lost lamb, leafing through the brochures for classes, weighing myself, feeling upset, changing, and leaving. This was no lightning-ops procedure.

At some point, I got a pair of dumbells from my mom, and a weightlift-at-home DVD to go with them. It was very 1993: the hosts wore a lot of Spandex, she had a side ponytail, and he said things like, "Whew, I'm tired just watching you work out, girl!" But I would put it on once a week and follow along at home. At first, I was terrible. Anything to do with my triceps or my quads was just a gong show. But, slowly, I got better.

Scratch that: I got stronger.

And I liked that.

Turns out, I'm not alone. This article by Anna Maxymiw cites studies that show lifting heavy stuff is good for you: "A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course in weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic activity was found to have to have no effect on body image. Research from 2005 suggests that high-intensity weight-lifting is an effective treatment for older patients suffering from depression." No wonder the treadmill wasn't making me feel better. Besides, people who work out at home rather than in a gym are more likely to stick to their routine, and these days, a pair of dumbells (or even just a Pinterest board of bodyweight exercises) is enough to get me going. I do Russian twists with style, I have five different kinds of squats in regular rotation, and I've graduated from my first pair of blue plastic five-pound weights to a beauty pair of adjustable stainless steel numbers that clock in at about 14 pounds fully loaded. That's a bicep curl that you'll feel.

The outcomes of lifting weights have been pretty dope. I have visible tricep muscles! Do you even know how hard that is? I can do a chatturanga pose for ten breaths and not want to die. Instead of visible hipbones, I have visible obliques. That feels wonderful. It feels like I've made something I'm proud of. And, to be fair, while I love having visible muscles, I felt this way when I was heavier, too, when the muscles were there—and strong!—but not showing off for the naked eye. It's a feeling of knowing that I can push myself, that I am strong, that I'm more than a 24-inch waist, and that I'm proud of what my body can do. That is a rare feeling, and I will praise any path to it with my biggest, loudest voice.
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. Research from 2005 suggests that high-intensity weightlifting is an effective treatment for older patients suffering from depression. - See more at:
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. Research from 2005 suggests that high-intensity weightlifting is an effective treatment for older patients suffering from depression. - See more at:
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. Research from 2005 suggests that high-intensity weightlifting is an effective treatment for older patients suffering from depression. - See more at:

Saturday, May 16, 2015


There are very few things that I get evangelical about. I'm not, like, really committed to a certain genre of music, and I won't corner you at a cocktail party to expound on the benefits of registered GICs versus high-interest savings accounts (LOL, like I know what those words mean). My life moral and message is pretty much you do you, except when your choices are exceptionally stupid, in which case we go into life is a rich tapestry mode mode (and I'll definitely talk shit those choices, FYI).

There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. I'll talk about weightlifting next week, but for now, I'll just go ahead and paraphrase Nicole Cliffe: I love picking up heavy shit. I LOVE IT.

But this week, I'm going to yammer at you about the paleo diet. I know, I know: trust me, I know. And I know that anecdata is pretty much the devil's breakfast cereal when it comes to reasons to believe in something, but here's the thing: following a paleo diet pretty much works for me.

I first started the paleo "thing" three years ago, when I was a good thirty pounds heavier and getting sick every time I ate. My stomach would seize up, and it would be an agonizing cycle of constipation, bloating/gas, and then horrible diarrhea. TMI! But also, my skin was this like, gray colour? And I had had acne for fifteen years? And my farts smelled like something was literally rotting inside me. So, yeah, TMI. But I want to make it crystal clear how foul it was to live inside my body.

When I first read about paleo, I dismissed it as one of those eliminate diets that promise its adherents the moon (but like an hourglass moon instead of a fatty full moon), but in reality is just an eating disorder with a fancy name. Besides, I had tried the gluten-free thing. I had tried giving up lactose. I had tried a low-calorie approach, and its sister, low-fat. Nothing worked. I was still puffy, I was still farting, and I was pretty sure paleo wasn't going solve those problems. After all, nothing else had worked.

For those of you who had never heard of paleo, it's your basic low-carb/high-fat and -protein model, based on the idea that our modern diets have evolved far faster than our ostensibly cave-man guts. Agricultural inventions of the last 10,000 years—things like grain crops, for instance—don't jive with our digestive systems, which evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. The science is a little iffy; for example, humans have developed the capacity to eat dairy only in the last 7,000 or so years, but it's definitely there. Anyone who can drink milk can raise a glass to evolution.

On the other hand, one might argue that the basic tenets of the diet have been borne out by nutritional research (eat whole foods, eat protein, eat vegetables), and that trading cheeseburgers and chocolate croissants for sweet potatoes and red peppers is actually a step in the right direction. And! Even nutritionally clued-in modern humans are pretty bad at figuring out where calories come from. Like, there are 170 calories in two slices of bread, which is roughly the same as an entire can of tuna, and about double the calories in a large navel orange. Grains are a good source of fiber; two slices of bread have about four grams of fiber. But a half-cup of raspberries offers the same amount for one-fifth the calories. It's not like two slices of bread will make a person feel fuller than a teacup full of raspberries, but it's good to be able to wave vaguely at these basic nutritional considerations.

Anyway, I cut out grains, upped my protein levels, and immediately noticed a difference. I lost a whole pile of weight, but I also just felt better in my body. I slept better, I pooped on the regular, my skin cleared up. It was sort of amazing. Over the last three years, I've slid into a lazy-girl's paleo diet: I eat protein at every meal, I load up on fruits and veggies and nuts, and I try to avoid grains. I try to sneak fermented foods in as often as possible, since our gut bacteria is a delicate biome and I have stomped on mine. I like kale. I like kimchi. I like almonds as an afternoon snack, and an egg every morning for breakfast. I eat avocados in bulk.

I also make sure to eat cheesecake and maki rolls if and when I want to, because eating for pleasure is a hard thing to learn after over a decade of treating some foods as inherently evil, and others as "good food." Food is food: sometimes it messes with us, and sometimes it's good for us. And sometimes, eating something that I know will have digestive repercussions is a once-in-a-while treat, because why would Jesus invent chocolate cake if He didn't want us to eat it?

My moral and message is this: it worked for me. It may not work for you! It may turn out that your body is really turned on by, like, yogurt and rye bread. That sounds delicious and amazing. But if you are currently trapped in a body that makes you feel like shit, trying some really old-fashioned eating habits might help. And if not: hey, there are worse things you can do to your body than fill it full of avocados and chicken. I am so happy that I tried this "paleo thing," because it allowed me to come to peace with my body: how it felt, how it looks, and how I feel when I live inside it. That's a victory.

Besides, buying vegetables and meat means I spend so much less time reading the nutritional information on the back of the package. There just is no package. Bliss.