Bringing Sexy Back (or Possibly Something Much Better)

Our semester is dying. We are not finished with the teacher/student things of this world, but we can feel our minds letting go, anyway.

In times like these, I find myself 1). staring out the window at the ivy we planted to cover our chainlink fence, and 2). looking for shows on Netflix. I’m okay with staring at the ivy. I’m not proud of the Netflix shopping. I realize I may be the last person in the U.S. to feel shame of any kind–especially shame over Netflix, but here we are.

Anyway, I found an Australian show awkwardly titled Bringing Sexy Back. It’s like Biggest Loser only with one or two contestants whose main goal it is to become “healthier” (which everyone knows really means to get thin and look hot). I have binge watched this show for the last two nights, and I hate myself for it.

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It’s supposed to be heartwarming and fun, but it’s actually profoundly depressing. To begin with, the hosts make people who hate their bodies stand in spandex on a stage before a live audience. The contestants are forced to see how fat they are in numbers and percentages, and most of them cry. Then, to address the problem, a trainer makes them work out so hard broken capillaries crop up under their eyes. Since no one can sustain that level of exercise for the rest of her life, this seems like a cruel and non-permanent solution to being fat. Plus, it’s humiliating.

The rest of the show is pretty predictable. When they’ve lost enough weight to be considered okay, the thinner-than-before contestants get their hair and makeup done and wear fashionable clothes (that, honestly, still look ill-fitting half the time). Their loved ones watch them process down a catwalk, and it’s their turn to sob. They gasp and praise, and it feels like our contestants have finally won the right to be accepted.

In the end, though, even after chair squats and chicken cutlets, the contestants stand on the stage, uneven, wobbly human beings with wrinkles and the occasional jacked-up tooth. The “shocking” transformations they’ve undergone are–am I allowed to say it?–sort-of meh. So many burpees for meh.

It makes me sad. Because, also? After the show, these people are going to battle loose skin, swallow endless, well-chewed bites of salad, work out until their knees are shot, and, eventually, get old and die. That’s their future–and mine. And while I’m not saying people shouldn’t care about their health and take charge of it, I am saying our bodies don’t stay the way we want them to.

They get old and fat or too thin or wracked with cancer. We can’t put our hope there.

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Give me conversion stories or aha moments or just about anything that deals with the inner person, the soul that endures. Turns out, I’d take those over watching someone hate-lose 50 lbs and wear bronzer on TV.

This is my life at 41. Even when I’m bored, I want to think about things that will last.

Love > Art

My sister blew in to town this week. She’s one of my best friends, and I’m always happy when I get to see her. At the same time, I got my manuscript back from my agent. She had some ideas about things I should tweak to make my story stronger. Also, she wants me to up my mileage on social media (not something that comes naturally to me).

In other words, I have work to do.

But my sister lives hours away, and I don’t get to see her and my nieces and nephew very often. I don’t want to miss a minute with them.

This is how it always is: God gives me little opportunities to choose the most important thing in any given moment. Sometimes I choose the wrong thing. Sometimes I’m selfish or short-sighted. But this week I chose my sister, and I’m not sorry. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about my manuscript the whole time she’s been here because I sure as heck have. It just means I’ve been able to see things more clearly this time. I’ve been able to focus on what’s most valuable right now.

Writing is important, but people are more important. No amount of writing about people can make up for not actually loving them. So I chose the real characters in my life. And I chose to live a story instead of write one. This week, anyway.

The End.

Saying Yes to We

I’m something of a loner–not a complete hermit, mind you (though I eat in my bedroom, sometimes)–but someone who, shall we say, enjoys her solitude. That’s not likely to change any time soon. And yet I’ve been thinking about the trap of spending too much time in one’s own mind. Is it possible I could get lost in my head?

My sisters had an idea of collaborating on a blog where we share ongoing, three-way conversations about life. Committing to it would, of course, mean sharing creative control. It would mean responding to something other than my own whimsy. It might be complicated. But could it keep me grounded?

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And then I watched this documentary about two people who wanted to “explore” their own minds (in, admittedly, controversial ways). One of them ended up making a train wreck out of his family life. The other managed to stay engaged in the physical world even after wacky forays into his own mental “universe.”

The whole thing felt like a giant parable: If you stay in your mind you will fail the people you love. If you never press in further than your to-do list, however, you will not truly live.

Back to my bedroom: I can only spend so much time here. I can only spend so many hours musing, writing, letting my eyes blur. I need time to think and pray, of course. But too much time in this isolated space is dangerous–not just for me but for the ones I love.

So I said yes to the collaborative blog. I don’t know what we’ll end up saying, exactly. But, at the very least, it’ll be a conversation, not a monologue. And that’s a good place to start.

If You Can’t Write Anything Useful, Don’t Write Anything at All

It’s popular, in some circles, to deny the existence of writer’s block.

Butt in chair! Don’t wait for the muse! Treat writing like a job! they say.

They’re mostly right. Writers can usually conquer the blank screen by typing words in succession, asking ourselves what if? and then what happened? We can work ourselves out of a jam. That is, if we’re writing fiction.

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You know when this “just do it” stuff doesn’t work–at least for me? When it comes to blogging.

I think the reason for this is that the blogging world has become so crowded that, if you do have a blog  and you want people to read what you write, you feel an enormous pressure to say something useful. Give readers a takeaway, an actionable step.

Right now.

I see a lot of bloggers copying other bloggers’ “useful ideas,” almost verbatim, because they’ve bought into this idea that the appearance of added value is more important than any sort of originality or creativity. The way to get readers, they’ve been told, is to do how-to posts.

  • Short ‘n’ sweet
  • Bullet points.
  • Two picture minimum.

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I, for one, cannot force myself to say something useful. Sometimes I do, but it’s often by accident. So I stare at the blank screen. I can’t think of a single thing to say that someone hasn’t already said.

This is not useful. There is nothing to take away.

But it’s true.

On Not Having a Plan (Or How Not to Quit Before You’ve Started)

Blogging is kind of like writing a novel.

Wait, I said kind of.

When you’re trying to nail down an idea for a story, one that will resonate with readers and have enough heft to be worthy of all those pages, your brain tells you to quit immediately. It tells you your ideas are, at best, lame, and, at worst, absolute garbage.

It’s not so different when you’re trying to think of things to blog about. I mean, really. What do people care if you can’t stop missing your grandmother–the one who wrestled with pancreatic cancer and taught you how to die? Or about the grit it takes to keep working on a project, day after day, when you have no guarantee it will end up being interesting or good. Or that when your Taiwanese neighbor collapsed suddenly two weeks ago, it changed your life.

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So, okay–

If I were to write a post about the top ten ways to manage your mornings, I might get some views. But I’m not interested in telling adults how to get things done because 1). they’re adults, and 2). everyone is doing what they can to get along.

Some experts say if you can’t think of ideas for your blog, you shouldn’t have one. That makes total sense. Except I write novels, and I know that if I were to quit because I don’t always know what I’m doing or because ideas slip out of my grasp like greased eels, well, I’d never write.

I’d never write.

Maybe you want to write, but the you feel like you can’t nail down a plan. I say, sit down and blog about the process of not knowing until things come into focus. Even if you’re the only one who reads your work (plus that one follower in Finland), you’re moving in the right direction.