Body for Life, the Universe, and Everything

Being a description of the author's thoughts on the experience of participating in the "Body for Life" Challenge, questions of great philosophical import, and randomly selected topics of no significance whatsoever

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Location: Missouri, United States

In no particular order, I'm a professional lettering artist, a yoga practitioner, a cat lover, a vegetarian, a reader of everything from books to cereal boxes, married to a very attractive guy named Tom (nope, no kids), an exercise enthusiast, and a lot of other things I don't care to admit in a public forum. I have a BS in applied math that I haven't used in over 10 years, and I can put both feet behind my head. What else would you like to know?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Books, animals and soap operas

Last night, about 2 a.m., I finally finished the edits on the first draft of Tom's NaNoWriMo novel. He knows I'm done, but I don't think he's looked at what I did yet. He finished the book four weeks ago today, and I read it a couple of days later and started editing a few days after that. The editing process went much more slowly than I had expected. I mostly did about 20 pages at a time, and there were 128 pages before I started adding my notes. I really do think it's a good story, although it's not gem-polished yet. Ever since I first read Tom's novel, I have had it in the back of my mind as I read other books (published stuff)--I think I've probably read about twenty books since then. I make comparisons and think about techniques the author used, in whatever book I'm currently reading, that might make Tom's book stronger. I'm a pretty decent proofreader, but I don't consider myself any better an editor than the average person who is intelligent and loves to read. I really hope Tom gets the opportunity to have someone better at it than I am to edit his books.

When we went to the local NaNo TGIO (Thank Goodness It's Over) party on December 1st, the coordinator was agitating for both Tom and me to participate next year (something about getting more couples doing NaNo). I felt very intimidated by the concept of writing a novel, and later I figured out why (at least, I think this is why): I write a lot, but except for school assignments (always short pieces), it's always been nonfiction writing. Autobiographical or informational. Letters to friends, this blog, information for my website, things like that. I suppose I could write something that was autobiographical but thinly disguised as fiction, but that seems a bit silly. And I don't have a strong desire to publish. Okay, it's not the desire that's missing, it's the belief that I might actually write something that someone would want to publish. I think it would be great to be a published author, but I don't really believe that's where my strongest abilities lie, although I might have some skills in that direction.

A couple of days ago we had an unexpected backyard visitor. I was at the kitchen sink, and I glanced out the window and noticed a brownish blur in an odd place (I didn't have my contacts in). I squinted at it and then told Tom (who was napping on the couch), "There's something on the pool cover. I think it's a hawk!" He jumped up with considerably more energy than I expected and came to look. "Yep, it's a hawk, all right!" (He had LASIK surgery about a year ago, so he doesn't have vision issues any more.) I rushed to the bedroom to get my glasses while he kept watching. The hawk was apparently getting a drink off the top of the pool cover, as many animals come to our backyard to do in the winter. I was a little worried about the possibility of the hawk (and other creatures) getting poisoned from the chemicals in the pool water, but Tom said that most of the water on top of the cover was probably rain or melted snow rather than leakage through the cover from the pool. We watched the hawk standing on the cover looking around for a few minutes, and then it flew over to our fence, so we moved to the bedroom to get a better view of it, and I snagged our bird book along the way.

The hawk hung out on our fence for long enough that we were able to narrow down that it was a true hawk rather than a falcon, although it wasn't there long enough for us to determine the subtle differences that would have told us which of the three varieties of true hawk it was (goshawk, sparrow hawk, and I forget the third kind). Based on the information in the bird book, we were pretty sure it was a young one, although that deduction was simply from the markings. It was very similar in appearance to the hawk we encountered on the Katy Trail back in September as we were setting out for a bike ride, but the one in our backyard seemed to be considerably smaller--perhaps crow-sized, where the one on the trail was maybe half again or double that size. On the other hand, the one in our backyard was at least ten yards away, and on the other side of the glass, so the perspective was a bit different because we didn't get quite as up-close-and-personal with it as we did with the hawk on the trail, which I got within about a yard of (Tom was a bit nervous about me getting so close to it, because it looked like its talons could have taken off my arm if it so chose, but the hawk didn't act nervous or threatened, and I watched it carefully when I was that close). It really was a thrill seeing the hawk in our backyard--we don't usually get wildlife that's quite that wild in our neighborhood, although one night we saw an owl roosting on a mailbox in the next subdivision over while we were out for a walk. That was another exciting experience!

I am now going to attempt a modified version of the post that was lost in the wilds of the internet a few days ago. It had to do with Tom's friends.

Most of Tom's friends are, and have been for the 20+ years we have been together, women. (I am used to this by now and it is not generally a problem.) Women (and men too, for that matter, but especially women) find Tom a sympathetic listener, and they talk to him. A lot. I mean A LOT. Due to Tom's involvement in community theatre, especially community college theatre, many of them are young and often full of self-created drama, although not all. Younger, older, reticent or overdramatic, they all talk to Tom. And then he tells me about their stories (unless he has been asked not to do so just yet, in which case he respects the confidence). I am continually astonished at the soap-opera qualities of his friends' lives. In the last few years he has listened patiently to the ongoing sagas of the following friends:

--A girl who got pregnant on the first date, decided she didn't want to get married until the baby was old enough to be a flower girl, and, as the icing on the cake, is now (several years later) worried that her parents (who have had a collection of spouses since they divorced each other, one of whom is still married to the mother) are having an affair with each other;

--Another girl who was on the verge of moving out of the apartment she was sharing with her boyfriend due to problems in the relationship, who then two weeks later announced that the two of them were engaged;

--A thirtyish lesbian friend, with a good job, who owns a house with her girlfriend and is now trying to get pregnant (via artificial insemination), who was told by her mother (who has been married about six times) that her life was too unstable to bring a baby into;

--A barely-twenty-something who seems to only date much older married men and therefore gets her heart broken a lot;

And in just the last couple of weeks:

--A 17-year-old in her last year of high school, with many talents in the performing arts, who has been poised to begin (next year) both college and an excellent career performing for hundreds of people, who just announced that she is pregnant, by her college-student boyfriend, an individual who is universally referred to (even by her on occasion) as "the idiot."

--A forty-something who revealed that her husband, who makes quite a bit more than she does but whose finances are completely separate from hers, was (in her view) likely to throw her out of the house (owned solely by him) if she crossed him in the matter of replacing, with strictly her own money, the beater vehicle she has been driving for some ridiculous number of years, and who, by the way, is still clearly in love with his ex-wife;

--A friend who has been yammering ad nauseam about how wonderful her marriage and husband are for the five years or so they have been married, who suddenly announced this week that they are splitting up because they never spend any time together, since he spends every free waking moment on computer/role-playing games (they are both about thirty; isn't it past time to reduce that kind of activity?), and to top it off, he already had a date lined up less than three weeks after they tentatively decided to split up (although they are still living together); this was not exactly a surprise to Tom and me, since the husband (according to the stories I heard about the times when the two of them were in one of the off periods of their on-again/off-again romantic relationship) seemed to feel a need to always be sleeping with someone or other, and didn't seem to care much about the relationship involved. The line he gave her, when she told him she thought maybe they should split up and she wanted some time to think about it, should be bronzed as a classic: "Well, let me know by next Wednesday."

Who needs television when you've got friends like this?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shut up and drink the Kool-Aid

I wrote a moderately-long blog entry earlier this evening, but the computer ate it, and I'm not presently inclined to attempt to recreate it (maybe later), so you are getting something different instead.

I was decluttering one of my e-mail folders just now and came across an e-mail broadcast to a group I'm in that talked about reasons to treat your body well. Some of the things mentioned were, "Each person reading this is worthy of being loved and merits exquisite care," and, "Recognizing that you are a child of God. You are precious in His sight."

When I read stuff like that, my throat gets tight and I invariably want to burst into tears. Sometimes I actually do. I think this feeling is due to conflict between the head and the heart; the head calmly thinks this information is likely to be true, and can nod and give the correct responses when questioned about such things, but the heart is brokenly certain it's a total lie, and that the truth is that we (it has to be we, rather than I, when I talk about conflicting opinions within my personality) deserve nothing better than to die miserably alone, ripped to shreds by wild animals, preferably as soon as can be arranged, and to be forgotten immediately, except as a bad example.

Hi, my name is Cheryl and I am clinically depressed. (Welcome to my world. Straitjackets to your left; hand grenades to your right. Noose-tying lessons begin at noon.) I also have a mild case of mitral valve prolapse and a family history of breast cancer and heart disease, but I have a ridiculously healthy lifestyle, so it's a bit of a challenge to guess what will kill me off (and when). If I were a betting person, I'd put my money on the depression. That's the only thing that's come close so far, although there were a few interesting moments when the mitral valve prolapse was misdiagnosed as something much worse (as in, "kills everyone who has it before age 25" worse). I have been asked why I bother to do things with a long-term horizon (like eat right, exercise, and study piano) when I'm so convinced that I am grossly overdue to change my status from "quick" to "dead" in order to free up resources for more deserving human beings. Well, I don't rightly know, but I suspect it has something to do with hope that what I believe is wrong. I mean, people keep telling me I'm wrong. How likely is it that I'm right and all of them are wrong? Intelligence isn't everything, after all. What kind of world is this, where you hope that what you believe is wrong?

My dilemma is this: I believe in an afterlife. A good one, despite my catastrophic failures in my current state of existence. I believe in it so firmly that I am constantly asking myself this: Why shouldn't I ditch my current misery ahead of schedule in favor of that? I'm not afraid to die, but I'm a wimp when it comes to pain. Right now I'm in pain (have been, in fact, for approximately 2/3 of my life). Not physical pain, but emotional pain. You can point out how good my life is until you turn purple, and it won't make a difference. That's been tried. Sorry, no dice. The landscape is inside my head, and what people say doesn't change the picture in there--at least, not permanently. When the warm fuzzies from a compliment wear off in a few minutes or hours, the inner blackboard is still going to say that I am lazy, useless, selfish, worthless, untalented, fat, ugly garbage, a failure, can't do anything right, a total waste of resources, and the world is far better off without me.

Tell me again why I'm supposed to hold off on my trip to the pearly gates? I forget.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Guilt and Circuses

Sunday was not a good day for me emotion-wise. I was out of sorts when I woke up and it just went downhill from there. In the afternoon I was explaining to Tom that part of my near-perpetual depression is that I feel guilty about everything.

"When I wake up, I feel guilty that I slept so late," I told him. "When I'm cleaning the bathrooms," (something I do almost every day) "I feel guilty that I haven't learned to do it faster--it takes five minutes per bathroom. When I'm doing something for my business, I feel guilty that I didn't do it earlier, because I always procrastinate on that stuff. I always feel guilty any time I spend money, no matter what I spend it on--groceries or socks or cat litter. When I cook dinner, I feel guilty that it takes me two hours to make a meal, and I also feel guilty that I have never reconciled myself to having to do it, so I resent the necessity. Whenever I'm doing household chores of any kind, I feel guilty for spending so much time on trivia instead of doing stuff for my business so that I might actually make a positive difference in the world. When I read, I feel incredibly guilty that I'm not doing something productive." I paused, and then continued.

"Remember early in our relationship, when you joked that I couldn't possibly have all that much guilt to deal with, because I'm not Catholic, and Catholics--especially Catholic mothers--have cornered the market on experiencing and spreading guilt? I thought you were wrong, but I didn't want to argue with you about it at the time."

He smiled wryly. "Where could you have possibly gotten all this guilt?" he inquired rhetorically. "Who could have trained you to feel this way? Who could it possibly be?"

I knew exactly what he was talking about. After my father died, when I was seven years old and my brother was two, we were raised exclusively by our mother. I not only look like her, I have inherited many of her personality traits. Not all, but many. I have a lot of good things from her, but many of the things about me that drive Tom (and other people) crazy come from her too. She trained me well. For example, I did not understand until I was about thirty years old that it isn't normal for kids to be put through the third degree and treated as though they had committed a crime if they bring home a report card with five A's and one B. (To be fair, I must mention that for straight A's, which was my standard report card score through the end of high school, I got to choose a restaurant and we would go out to dinner. Unlike many of my classmates' parents, my mother did not believe in rewarding children with money, which was fine by me.) The flak I got when I flunked out of college after my freshman year was not any worse than the "bad" report-card hullabaloo, although it lasted longer. (I switched colleges after that notable failure and subsequently did pretty well. I have the dubious honor of being one of the few college graduates to possess a transcript containing the line, "Removed from academic probation," immediately followed by the line "Placed on Honor Roll," all for the same semester. Tom is another member of this exclusive club.) :-) One of my college friends met my mother for the first time after several years of hearing me talk about her. Later this friend said to me, "Y'know, until I met her for myself, I always believed you were exaggerating when you talked about your mother...."

I returned Tom's wry smile. "Who, indeed?"

"Your mother," he said, with the gravity of one issuing a solemn pronouncement, "could have been the mother of the pope."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Snow Day

So, Wednesday evening we were out for a walk in short sleeves and were comfortable, and Thursday (yesterday) afternoon there were icicles hanging from the roof and an inch of sleet on the ground. By this morning there was so much snow and ice that Tom's car got stuck at the end of the driveway when he was trying to leave for work, and half an hour's work with shovels and sand and other winter implements was required to extract it. Now (Friday afternoon) it has not only finally stopped precipitating, the sky is that crystalline blue you only see after storms. Hopefully the sunshine will melt off some of the ice. It's going to continue to be cold for at least the next few days, though. But right now, I'm looking out the window, and despite everything, I have the opportunity to enjoy the sight of the ice on the trees sparkling in the sunlight. I wonder if my camera can handle this cold....

The muckety-mucks at Tom's employer decided to break tradition (XYZ Company is always open!) by sending everyone home at noon yesterday. However, they announced this with an e-mail message sent to 12:36 p.m. How nice. In related news, Tom generally takes the winter supplies out of his car for the summer, and he discovered when he went to his car yesterday (after they were dismissed early) that the ice scraper hadn't found its way back into the car yet, so to get the ice off the windows, he used...a CD case. He said it actually worked pretty well. I wouldn't rush out and buy one just for that purpose, though. :)

Last night everything in town was shut down because of the weather, so Tanya didn't come over to work out (we rescheduled for Saturday), Tom didn't bowl (now he's bowling twice a week), and he didn't go watch the boxing match of a protege of a boxing-professional friend (also rescheduled for Saturday). We stayed home and looked out the windows periodically and thought about how glad we were not to be out in that weather. Tom worked on the cover for his NaNo book (which came out rather nice, I think) and I put together cookie dough (for the cookies I'll be baking this afternoon for a benefit for my favorite charity, the St. Charles Humane Society [a no-kill shelter]) while talking to Tanya on the phone. Tanya and I had a fine chat about various things sexual in the context of discussion of her current class in human sexuality (part of her studies for her bachelor's degree). No, you're not getting any personal details about our conversation; you can just forget about that. She says she's probably the oldest person in the class, which is probably why she makes by far the most comments of any student in the class. I remember when I was college-aged, and how embarrassed I was at the time about discussions regarding anything of that nature (especially in class! Or in front of any person of the opposite sex! EEEK!). Now I'm around twice that age and much more matter-of-fact about conversations about it. Whatever....

I got up when Tom left this morning, even though I was still tired, because I didn't think I could go back to sleep. Since then I've been puttering around, mostly on the internet, but I also managed to copy-edit another 25 pages of Tom's NaNo novel. I haven't yet gotten through any of my normal morning routine, so I'm still sitting here in my robe. Kind of a backward day today. I need to get cleaned up and dressed (and hopefully find time to get my exercise in before that), then finish the cookie-baking and get the products of that activity over to the shelter, plus I have a book I've got to read and get back to the library (I have it out on interlibrary loan, so the fee for lateness is 10x the usual fine). Tonight we are celebrating "Thank God It's Over!" with the other NaNo participants at a party organized by the local moderators at a restaurant, so that should be fun! Tom is taking a copy of his novel, so that will be the first chance anyone but me has had to read it (as far as I know), although the first chapter is up on his page on the NaNo site. Don't know if anyone will take the time tonight, but at least the opportunity will be there.