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Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

North

Cone-head_Reni_-_dog_in_Elizabethan_collar

Today on our daily hike in the forest I ran into a woman walking with her dog. My dogs & I were walking south & she & her dog were walking north. She asked me how to get to Moonridge, & I told her she was going the exact opposite direction, & that if she kept going on this trail she would end up in Big Bear City, 180 degrees from where she wanted to end up. She wouldn’t believe me when I told her she was walking north. I said (pointing to the sun in the late afternoon) Look. That’s west. It was on your left. That means you were walking north. She was highly suspicious. She asked where we were going. I said At the end of this trail you will be a few steps from Moonridge, if you want to come along with us I’ll show you. So we walked up to the end of that part of the trail, where I would take one fork to get back to my starting point & she would take the other. I pointed to where she needed to be. I said There’s Moonridge. You can see it from here. There was no convincing her, though, & she proceeded to keep walking with me even though it was north & taking her away from Moonridge. She kept trying to impress on me how this must be the road to Moonridge, which was actually now at our backs and getting farther away by the second. I said No, now you are walking north. Moonridge is back there. South. She looked really irritated.

Her dog was this year-old boxer who had been to the vet & was wearing one of those Elizabethan collars, poor little guy. She said they made a point of asking the vet for a clear one so he could see where he was going, which I thought was pretty funny, considering.

I keep thinking about how this was the perfect enactment of how we look Truth in the face & say War is Peace. Up is Down. Big Bear City is Moonridge. How your brain can be so fixated on a reality it has conjured up, you ignore everything your senses are telling you. I actually think I’ve been doing a lot of this lately. House is Security. Job is Fulfilling. That sort of thing. Maybe that’s why I’m laughing about it now. Always refreshing to realize you’re walking down a crowded sidewalk in your underwear.

Those old color-TV ads. Maybe they still have them now, I don’t know. Even as a kid I remember thinking how odd it was that they actually got people to say to themselves “Wow. The color on the TV in that commercial is so much better than the color on the one I’m watching it on.” You cannot escape the image your TV is providing you with, but your brain has gotten you to say “Wow. The life I’m seeing on that other TV is so much richer, fuller, more interesting than mine.” No wonder the ads work; we’re totally predisposed.

So when we came to the fork that led to my car, I told her one more time, You’re walking north right now. I could tell she was still irritated with me for continuing to tell her that north was north and south was south & wanted me gone.When I left her, there she was, clinging to north like a compass needle in the late afternoon, with her dog zooming around in circles with that cone on his head.

The Tiny Haves & the Tiny Have-Nots

gold

A little background: After watching a video about a luxury tiny home that cost 90 thousand dollars, I posted the following comment:

Deenibeeni: I thought the whole point of the Tiny House movement (one, anyway) was to avoid having to carry a mortgage. This thing is obscene. Just more evidence of the co-opting of a great movement by the Haves. Really. It makes me kind of sick.

One answer I got was that you can’t really get a mortgage for a tinyhome, so that became a non-issue. I did get this one, though:

Per Sebra: People have all sorts of reasons why they choose the size of the house they want, tiny or not. Tiny house sizes are just now an option that people havent always been aware of. although “tiny houses” have always been around.   In its current growth of popularity, it hasnt been the homeless or very poor into tiny houses. Its been the hippies, the middle class and the affluent. Many tiny house owners do mention they wanted to avoid a mortgage, but that is relative many times to a bigger house. You mention TexasTinyHouses in your second post. Those are among the most beautiful tiny houses created to date, Brad may be a genius, certainly an artist and a visionary. That said, his houses cost 35-90k when he was selling them! Hardly money low income people have in their cookie jar.  And what do you mean co-opted? If you want to spend 10k on your tiny house and someone else spend 50k, how are they co-opting you?  if someone was to spend 900 bucks for a natures head composting toilet and you use a bucket, how is that co-opting you? what is so obscene about this house? how on earth do you know how much materials this builder wasted?   What part of this house is contrary to the “tiny house movement? The deep sink? the french doors? the washer/dryer or the skywindow?

Deenibeeni: I’ll just respond to one part of your post, because the rest of it is too angry-sounding & aggressive & I’ve had enough of YouTube aggression of late. I’m not interested in defending myself against a rant aimed directly at me (which is different from my original post, which was my opinion floated out to the universe). You are welcome to disagree with it, but don’t you dare turn each question into some kind of frikking gun with every question mark a bullet. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?

Yes, it is possible that he used recycled materials (and I don’t mean “new materials from sustainable sources”; I mean “reused,” because even if it’s from a sustainable source, it still means X amount of material from old construction went into a landfill). So I’ll post that and maybe Deek  or the builder  will respond.

As for the rest, I get the feeling I must have touched some kind of nerve with you. That usually means something I’ve said is actually something you already think. Something you are wrestling with. When that happens, I like to get out of the line of fire between “You” and “You,” so I’ll stand back & let you duke it out with yourself.  It also sounds like you will really only be happy when I change all my views & agree with everything you think. Good luck with that.

You are missing my point if you think all I am concerned about is the cost.

I will tell you exactly what is being co-opted: A movement that was capable of teaching a materialistic culture about a sense of “enough.” I really thought it might be possible to take a new path; for the culture overcome the greed of the 1990s & onward, & to learn that it does not take “luxury” to be happy, or that simple things can feel luxurious. The lessons of the Shakers. The beauty of simple elegance, but more important, the feeling of serenity that those things engender. Because greed is a drug that carries higher & higher tolerance levels, & that kind of greed is exactly the mindset that causes people to have to rape the earth in order to get off. Certainly it is a continuum, but do you know what I see in the ever more “luxurious” tiny home models? I see that pretty soon it won’t be enough to have a beautiful tiny home that is classic & glowing with beauty & that makes a truly small footprint and is owned by people who are truly content. No, now we won’t be happy unless we’ve got a tiny home with tiny floors made of rain forest wood & tiny doorknobs made of the tusks of poached elephants & Cecil’s stuffed head on the tiny wall. And I don’t care if that particular tiny house (or anything remotely like it) is 5 square feet: That is HUGE footprint, & if the owner is a person who has not learned the lesson of “enough”, then we as a culture have not learned a DAMN thing. THAT is what is being co-opted–not anything tangible, as you are trying to imply with all question-mark bullets–but something that is an umbrella over all that. The gift of contentment with enough. And I see that as obscene and tragic. The tinyhouse movement is unfortunately not going to get us back to the garden. Maybe it will for some people, & that’s something; change happens slowly. But for a lot of people, it’s just going to be a new source of gratuitous excess & a new excuse & rationalization for using more than you need. Different movie, same cast of characters.

The $35K to $90K that TexasTinyHouses charges is for building the house for you. His idea of recycling materials, regardless of who does it, and regardless of the final cost, is what is important to me. Many people are able to create a nice place themselves, with recycled materials, for 10K (or less) to 20K — not even a quarter of the cost of this thing. Personally, if I wanted to spend 90K I’d spend 80 of it on land & 10 on the house! But that’s my priority, and I plan to build my own, Just because it is inexpensive doesn’t mean it has to look shabby or have a bucket or anything else. It can be quite beautiful; it would just reclaim a lot of materials in the build. I’ve seen too many situations (outside the tinyhouse movement) in which people from outside an area move someplace “affordable” & spend the big bucks they made from the sales of their expensive houses in the Big City, & they drive up the prices in the new, previously affordable area so that local, long-time residents can no longer afford to live in their own hometowns. I certainly hope tinyhome builders do not adopt this strategy & begin to price their homes out of the reach of the people who need them the most.

Oh yeah, & in case you’re wondering: I’m not homeless. I could write a check for that beast, but it would make me sick to do it, & it would not be a great financial decision to spend that kind of money on what is essentially a car or RV or anything else that depreciates in value.

Now go take a Valium.

The Principled Monster

Jeff
Something I always notice about serial killers. I’ve seen tons of them get interviewed, & their degree of what you might call “acknowledgment” really varies, from the ones who say they are completely innocent, all the way to the ones who say “I took the lives of two innocent people and I deserve to be executed.” But of the latter, no matter how sincere their acknowledgement seems to be, in the end they themselves cannot wrap their minds around what they actually did–the deed, the blood, the weapon. They will be telling the interviewer “I did this, I did that.” I entered the house, I held them hostage, I drove her to a remote location, I ordered him to lie down, I tied them up. Then suddenly when it comes time to tell how the victiims actually died, they switch to the passive voice: “They were stabbed” “They were shot” “Their throats were cut.” It happens again & again, & I just find this fascinating. How they unconsciously use distancing language to remove themselves from their memory of the crime scene, as if someone else is suddenly inserted. The serial-killer equivalent of “going to the restroom” instead of “shitting.” Although many of them say they have nightmares about the crime scene every single night.
There’s one exception, though. Jeff Dahmer copped to absolutely everything he ever did, & in the first person. No flinching, no skirting, no blaming. “I drilled holes in their heads.” “I ate them.” Period. I always had a certain respect for him for that. Yeah yeah, he was a monster. But within the company he kept, he was a principled monster.

Psychics

Johnny

The thing is, I don’t really believe in them. That’s why I didn’t have a lot to say about the guy who does the psychic readings. I do believe that “letting go” is part of the grieving process, but I think that is the task of the living, not the dead. My family, bless them, could not be more gone, & the idea that they can actually be contacted just prolongs the final stage of grief. Which might be helpful for awhile initially; right after the loss it might ease the transition to acceptance, but not 20 years later. To my way of thinking, each person’s individuality, like a drop of water, was long ago subsumed into the great ocean of the cosmos. I think that energy can be “repurposed,” as we like to say these days, since energy can’t be destroyed, but in this case it doesn’t reappear in its original form but probably, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, as Joe Schmoe.

There’s this great movie called “Grace of my Heart” that includes a character loosely based on Brian Wilson, the nutty Beach Boy. After he commits suicide his wife really loses it in a way that’s similar to the way I did–she cannot seem to move on. She is telling a friend that her inability to get past the loss is entirely because the person who died hasn’t completely let go of life & that once she facilitates that, everything will be fine. Her friend says “He did let go of life. He drowned himself.” That’s a good reflection of what I think about this issue. The dead have all made their decisions, especially those who leave voluntarily. When people say that ghosts are still looming around out there even if I don’t think so, it feels the same way as when christians tell me god doesn’t mind if I’m an atheist. & yes, I did not capitalize “christ.” It wasn’t his name, you know.

Maintenance

Olivia Benson

This morning I was plumping the pillows while I was making the bed & wondered how much time pillow-plumping would add up to over the course of a lifetime.

My banjo-playing friend, Mark, used to say “It costs money every day just to live,” but that’s not the half of it. Add to pillow-plumping time the time it takes to eat, get dressed, read your mail, eat, pee, shit, brush your teeth, polish your faucets, vacuum. Very little is left over for curing cancer, & even renowned cosmologists still have to clip their toenails. If I had a car that required this much maintenance between relatively brief trips to somewhere luscious, I would have junked it a long time ago. I don’t know why I put up with it. Even if I haven’t put forth a good quintessence theory of the universe by the time I’m dead, at least I’ll have clean underwear & no nose hair? Really?

So let’s see. Eight hours sleeping (also maintenance), 5-ish hours working, 3-ish hours fucking off, watching Law & Order re-runs, etc. (mental maintenance). Eight left over, probably 5 of which is maintenance for me & an 2-3/4 is for maintenance for my dogs (I think if you have kids this is probably reversed), & 15 minutes for “fun,” not to be confused with Law & Order re-runs, which fall more into the category of “addiction.”

That’s 74% on toenail clipping, tooth brushing, food prep, driving to places where maintenance must be conducted outside the home, cleaning belly-button lint, folding laundry (you’re kidding), sanding calluses. All stuff that will just have to be done again relatively soon. I guess that’s what makes it “maintenance” rather than “repair.” That leaves 25% for solving global warming, of which 23% has to be spent on my actual day job, & 1% on fun (I don’t have any examples, since I’ve forgotten what that is, exactly). If I live to be a hundred (I’m cursed with longevity), that means I’ve spent 74 years of it just trying to stay here. I find the thought exhausting. All that time just so I can have hairless legs? So my dogs’ nails won’t scratch the Pergo? So my pillows look like little breath mints instead of crumpled-up pieces of newspaper?  Lawdy. I’m beginning to understand my friend Tom Field, who said he wanted to just clean the bathroom once & then never have anyone use it ever again. I just got my dog Andy’s teeth cleaned for the first time in his 7 years. How great would that be. If I could do that I’m sure I could milk at least another month and a half out of my hundred years. I heard a dermatologist say once that if your skin didn’t self-exfoliate, you’d be driving your face around in front of you in a shopping cart. I wish it were all like that.

All this hamster-wheel running  is aimed at staying here as long as possible so that I can do more maintenance, & even more of it is aimed at nothing whatsoever. Only a fraction of my time on the planet will be devoted to something other than checking my email, & this just suddenly seems astonishing to me. I don’t know if there’s really anything that can be done about this other than having dredlocks & bad teeth. It occurs to me that this describes street people & those from third-world countries. They have almost no maintenance, but they also don’t live as long. 100% of their time is spent on survival, which is totally different from maintenance, since you’re trying to buy a ticket to stay rather than paying the equivalent of HOA dues so your lawn can stay mowed. Still, I would bet the net number of years without maintenance is more than it is in a long life with. & potentially here’s a lot more meaning in survival than in pink toenails & buying loofas at Walgreen’s. There’s something about this in the Tiny House movement, not that Tiny House-ers all have too much hair, but at least they don’t have to take 1.9 years out of a life to vacuum.

This all makes me think some serious time management is in order, but it’s going to have to wait until I’m done squeezing my nose pores.

Butterflies & U-Hauls

ora-vet

Andy got his teeth cleaned the other day. I was a wreck over putting him under anesthesia, but I found an actual doggie dentist who would not make him sit in a cage for hours. It was pricey but worth it, since I tend, in situations like this, to get past my anxiety over money by picturing myself in the future, after Andy is gone, thinking about how I will feel if I don’t spend the extra money to keep him out of a cage & get his teeth x-rayed, & it becomes a no-brainer. The day I brought Andy home from the shelter I vowed to him that he would never be in a cage again & I simply cannot go back on that. So instead of him waiting in a cage for the pre-anesthesia drugs to take  effect, I sat on the floor in one of the little exam rooms with him while he barfed a couple of times. Jenna was there for moral support. He went in for the procedure & they let me go in & see how he was doing, & he was lying on his back under a warming blanket with an ET tube sticking out of his mouth. He came out with gleaming white movie-star chiclets & was so loopy he could barely stand up. He did not like it, I could tell. Andy is very into reality. I told him Honey, that’s why I quit smoking pot. It always made me paranoid. Years later someone gave me a little bag of dope, which sat in a drawer in my house for like 10 years. Once I took a hit of it but it certainly wasn’t like the Cheech & Chong dime bags I had smoked when I was a kid. I was immediately utterly removed, & I decided it was not worth not sharing my dog Noni’s reality, not being together in time with her, for even a single moment. Their lives are already short enough. I wondered why I had ever wanted to not be in reality, but that’s another blog. Anyway, a friend’s dog ran away once & he was so freaked he came over to be reassured & smoked the rest of it & felt better. So I considered it dope well spent. The dog came back.

After the dentist appointment, there we were in Irvine at 3 pm & it was useless to get on the freeway for at least another 4 hours, so I zig-zagged across the LA basin like a pinball, banging up against metered freeway on-ramps with 30 cars lined up waiting for more punishment. We got on PCH & drove next to the ocean. I took the fur-kids to Huntington Dog Beach. Jenna loved the smell & really wanted to go, but Andy was still stoned in the back & didn’t want to get out of the car. Another time.

While I was driving around I kept going through areas & neighborhoods where I’d lived & hung out. Memory Lane. I had the strong sense of saying good-bye, I’m not sure why. The traffic was loud, it was hot & stank of exhaust & I was racked with anxiety about not being able to Go Home Again, about the sadness of the very tired Dress-Rehearsal attitude toward life & about the feeling I knew I harbored that this was Groundhog Day & I’d wake up knowing what I know now & being able to re-do everything. Today I realized that the places were all still there & relatively unchanged, that’s the trick of this kind of thinking, but I was of course a different person & the Home I wanted to go back to was myself, only earlier. I sat in that steaming concrete jungle with my car ready to overheat, overwhelmed with anxiety & dread, Andy still loopy & taking up the entire back doggie-suite in my car & making Jenna have to squeeze into a corner, & this wild panic at life being like musical chairs where the music had stopped & everyone had sat down but me. Just a nightmare.

It got a little better when the traffic picked up & we started going east, toward home, although lately I have wanted to drive in any direction but toward my house, being away feels like a day pass out of the asylum & more & more I dread going back. On this day, though, it was certainly better than what I’d been sitting in for the past 4 hours. But when I got back I sent off an email that’s been sitting in my draft folder for two weeks, one responding to an ad I’d seen on craigslist from someone who was looking for a rental & who sounded pretty ideal. Years ago I ate at a Chinese restaurant & my fortune cookie had three identical fortunes in it. They all said Decisions Terminate Panic. I was so stunned at the universe going so out of its way to get my attention that I kept those fortunes for many years & probably still have them somewhere, not that the physical paper matters anymore.

For awhile now I’ve been putting off this decision. Trying to put one foot in front of the other toward it, but avoiding it all the same. Knowing that the moment when I would simply have to make my break, like in Shawshank Redemption, carving away at that thick wall with a teaspoon & waiting for the moment when the universe would carry me out. In the movie he lived in a real prison that had started to feel like home & I live in a real home that has started to feel like prison, so it’s the same story.

I’ve definitely done a lot of geographics in my life. Usually because my environment becomes intolerable in some way or another, but I’ve never had the difficulty picking up & leaving that I’m having now. Maybe it’s my age, maybe the rootedness I’ve come to feel in this place, maybe just fear of change, maybe all three. I’ve mentioned before how it’s come to feel like a bad marriage, my relationship with my house, & I remember that feeling well. How safe it felt to stay in a bad relationship that was getting worse by the minute but that felt better than the prospect of leaving. I did it, of course, but the fear & anxiety leading up to it was so crazy-making, just as it is now. I mentioned that those bad relationships start out like toothaches, mild, something to check out but not critical. But as I’ve also mentioned, waiting does not fix it. Things don’t self-resolve. It keeps getting worse & worse until you are tolerating something light-years from what you thought you’d ever be able to handle because the change from bad to worse was slow & incremental, & suddenly you realize your mouth is a bloody, pus-y, gaping mess & the entire side of your head is throbbing. Only then you are compelled to give it, as Judy Davis says in that Woody Allen movie about the divorcing couple, “a good clean yank.”

Luckily Andy did not have any cavities. I guess I’ve been doing a better job with his teeth than I gave myself credit for. The dentist wanted to put Ora-Vet on his teeth, this waxy stuff that is supposed to keep plaque from forming, but I’ve never trusted that stuff. For one thing, the picture on the front of the box is of a woman next to her dog. They are both smiling & you can see the woman’s teeth all pearly white, but you can’t see the dog’s teeth at all. I have always found that so strange it makes me downright uncomfortable, like Hazel Motes staring at the word MVSEVM and trying to figure out what on earth it means. Plus I figured, it will just rub off the first time I brush his teeth, there would go $65 down the drain. So I declined, but I did vow to up his brushing schedule.

We made it home, whatever that means. No, wait. I do know what that means. Home is where Andy & Jenna are. Home for them is where I am. So I think it will be possible to make the transition from thinking of  the physical structure as home, start thinking of it as a house, let someone else live there, keep trying, at this late date that is making me feel I am running out of time, to seek my fortune.

Walking across the US

moocow

You can’t imagine how much I want to do this. I actually know someone who did. A friend of mine who had been a CO in the Viet Nam war & who didn’t try to go to Canada but instead did official service in a mental hospital in New York.  This was my banjo-playing friend from my hitchhiking days, the one I talked about in Oh That Magic Feeling. He used to sing this song he wrote called “Mary Ann,” I still know it, which was about one of the inmates, who, he told me, looked fairly normal but was one of the craziest people he had ever met, she would be going along &  suddenly would get a weird tic & start screaming obscenities, but it wasn’t just Tourette’s, she actually believed the stuff she was saying. Anyway he put in his time at the mental hospital & when he was released from duty he felt like he had been one of the inmates himself & to clear his head he started putting one foot in front of the other & didn’t stop until he got to Santa Monica.

Although Mark was a hitchhiker, this time he didn’t want to have to keep turning down rides, so he walked on the other side. It took him around 4 months walking 25 or 30 or so miles a day. He got to be a mini celebrity,  someone wrote an article & there he was in the picture, with his RedWings & his bindle, somewhere in the middle of the country on some dusty road.

I feel like I need something like this. I’ve put in my time living in this house, which started driving me insane about 5 years ago when the neighborhood started to change, starting with crazy house across the street. I’ve been waiting for a good time to sell, but I ask myself every day, WTF are you waiting for? Well, it’s going to be hard enough to leave without ending up feeling ripped off besides, so I keep waiting until I can get my money back, which won’t be long now.  I can’t get back the heart & soul I put into this place, but no one ever does. I’m willing to exchange it for a bunch of expensive & hard-earned lessons.

First lesson: If you wait long enough, not only will things not change, they will get worse. I mean this in the most Buddhist sense. Anyone who has ever gotten out of a bad marriage knows that it never starts out like a gaping bleeding hole in your jaw. It starts out as a mild pain that seems totally tolerable. You never get it yanked at that point; you wait & wait until, well, you get the picture.

I remember the day they all showed up ready to break ground on that house. I was looking out the window watching them all milling around the property. That was the day I should have stuck a For Sale sign in my yard, but I thought waiting would fix something; at this point, I’m not even sure what or how long that might take.

Second lesson: Actually, there is no second lesson. The above was the only one, but I’m getting a lot of mileage out of it. I’ll say it again: Waiting solves nothing.

I keep asking myself: What did I think was going to change? Well, I guess I thought some nice neighbors would move in, ones who would be friendly & have more than 3 teeth & want to be part of the neighborhood. I never did get my wish. The current owner has, from what I can tell, more than 3 teeth, but has proceeded to treat the neighborhood like some kind of charging station for his bank account, just I’m An Arrogant Prick & I Have Paid to Be Here. His sidekick waxes rhapsodic about how there is “Too much beauty not to share” back home in Hawaii, & yet the two of them have left what amounts to a large steaming pile in front of my house. Thanks a million, you fucking assholes. So glad that gleaming white-sands- beaches thing worked out for you, & so glad no one showed up & took a crap right in the middle of it. Glad we could be of service.

Lately when I’m out hiking with my dogs the impulse to keep walking & never turn around is so strong I have to stop & breathe. How tantalizing that silence would be,  dry empty air, darkness at night, nothing but the sound of my own footsteps & my dogs next to me, no choices to make, not even direction, just keep going east until there’s no more land.

Gram Weenie

lemmings

The idea that the body is inherently dirty and incapable of cleansing itself is a vestige of puritanism that New Agers have embraced wholeheartedly. I call it “the original-sin syndrome”–the notion that the body has basic flaws that somehow have not resolved over millions of years of evolution, like lordosis, which your neighborhood chiropractor will be happy to absolve you of, & various other deficits that your local health food store professional has the answers to. For awhile lactic acid was even considered a “toxin,” & there were people who thought lactate actually stuck around in your system for days, weeks, & months (I guess it got stuck in little out-pouchings in your blood vessels?) and you needed some special concoction to flush it out (actually, breathing works really well for this, & it works in minutes, not months). If fasting gives you some kind of spiritual focus or feeling of relief after overindulging, great. For awhile it was suspected that caloric restriction increased longevity, but now even that’s been replaced by the idea that it’s periodic fasting, not just “fewer” calories, but “no” calories, that may have an effect on lifespan, but it’s still just a theory & I imagine it would have to be a way of life, not just something you do on the day after Thanksgiving.

This all reminds me of the days when I was a distance cyclist. There were what I loved to call “gram weenies” — people who insisted on buying a $5000 bike made of un-obtanium because it weighed a couple of pounds less, & yet they themselves were packing an extra 20 or 40 pounds, plus the 5 pounds of Gu they carried in case they got hungry between Starbucks scone pit stops. I mean, come on.

These are the kinds of people who are, IMHO, gram-weenie-ing about health. There are evidence-based approaches to improving your health & reducing the risks of heart disease & cancer, like quitting smoking, slow & permanent weight loss, & eliminating trans fats. Compared to these, the benefits of juice fasting once or twice a year are psychological at best. If you think your nails grow like crazy whenever you fast, it is most likely because you are so frikking bored you have nothing better to do but stare at them. As usual, people just want a quick fix. This is MTV-land. People can only do something for days, not make permanent changes that last a lifetime. This whole thing just speaks to how pathetic & juvenile our culture is. It’s an expression of “other”–that is, the need to name & attack something “outside” of ourselves as the reason for all our problems & to scapegoat that thing like there is no tomorrow. New Agers have adopted “toxin” as their “other” and proceeded, in Alice-in-Wonderland fashion, to define “toxin”as “just what [they] choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” One minute it’s sugar, the next it’s fat, the next it’s carbs. & no, I’m not saying we should embrace arsenic or VOCs. I’m saying, use your head, for heaven’s sake. Stop running like lemmings to the next quick fix.

Roth v. Spinardi: Review of “How to Have Your Cake and Your Skinny Jeans Too…”

aclk

This is a review of How to Have Your Cake and Your Skinny Jeans Too: Stop Binge Eating, Overeating and Dieting For Good Get the Naturally Thin Body You Crave From the Inside Out (Binge Eating Solution) by Josie Spinardi.

I’ve read most of what’s been published on this subject, starting with (to name a few) Kim Chernin (The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity and The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness) and Marion Woodman (The Owl Was a Bakers Daughter), up through Geneen Roth (Feeding the Hungry Heart) & Caroline Knapp (Appetites: Why Women Want), & now this. The emphasis on thinness here is disturbing. It feels like the same carrot (no pun) that’s been dangled in front of chronic dieters since the beginning of time, so in this sense it feels manipulative. A come-on to buy the book. Certainly the best possible outcome is to stop bingeing, but using the promise of thinness to achieve that? Seems unscrupulous, & more than a little dishonest, to me. This from someone who repeatedly disses the advertising industry, which is in fact greatly responsible for planting & reinforcing & & exploiting & capitalizing on women’s need to be thin. Exactly as this book does. Enticing buyers with the promise of thinness is the reason diet & fashion are multi-billion-dollar industries, & I haven’t noticed a decline in the rates of eating disorders in this country because of any get-thin-quick scam. Quite the contrary, which Spinardi actually describes in some detail in terms of the effect dieting has on craving & food obsession, but which she fails to mention is her own M.O. & which you would never suspect because, hey. A woman would never do that to another woman, right? & the diet-mongers & ad execs? They’re laughing all the way to the bank; getting rich, as they do, on women’s failure to achieve the impossible.

And many women are, let’s face it, never going to go from being Oprah A to Oprah B, but so what? That shouldn’t be the point, anyway. The book did get good reviews, marginally better on Amazon than Geneen Roth’s original book, Feeding the Hungry Heart, so I decided to give it a try. I thought maybe someone had a newer & fresher approach to the same message.

But this author’s message is nothing like Roth’s, whose books are about stopping bingeing AND about becoming comfortable in the body you have, not continuing to chase some body shape that is going to be unattainable for many. This does not mean some women aren’t going to lose weight after reading Josie’s book. But for someone who has been obese, a goal of 150, 160, 170 pounds might be a huge achievement and an ultimate goal, since it is way healthier than a much lower weight if it can be achieved and maintained without bingeing and yo-yo-ing, not to mention how crazy-making those behaviors are. But “skinny”? I think this just sets up women who may not end up “lean” or in “skinny jeans” for a feeling of failure because they haven’t achieved that, when they may well have achieved something amazing by stopping a crippling behavior, & I’m sure not going to throw my larger sisters under the bus by saying this book is anything other than what it is: in the end, it’s just another diet book; another telling of the same old same old, & if you are thinking “Oh, skinny is just a word, it doesn’t mean anything,” I can tell you that words & numbers are how this battle is waged & that they mean everything, & no one who says she is on your side should be using them against you. I can just hear it now: “I meant, whatever skinny is for you.” Ya right.

So now I think that the reason Roth gets worse Amazon reviews than Spinardi is that in the 30 or so years since Roth was first published, her message of self-acceptance has lost favor with a female population that had 3 more decades to be worked over by the advertising industry and is more obsessed than ever with being thin. This saddens me greatly.

Before anyone goes un-helpful-ing this review (I notice that the people who provide less than glowing reviews of this book get flamed [originally this review was on Amazon]), I’d suggest you look at what your expectations are & how much you are going to blame your collision with reality on this reviewer. That is, are you angry because I’m telling you it’s okay to give up the idea of looking like Kate Moss? Because someone should be telling you that, but unfortunately, Josie is not. Believe me when I tell you that trading one lofty set of expectations for another is not going to help you if both are ultimately unattainable, & however successful you may be at losing weight with this approach, if the whole thing is couched in a false or leading promise & you have not learned, or at least started to learn, self-acceptance on a much deeper level than “skinny jeans” can provide, ultimately you are going to be no better off. Maybe worse.

So overall I would say that the difference between Geneen Roth and Josie Spinardi is that with Spinardi, changing your approach to food is a means to an end; namely, “thinness.” With Roth, changing your approach to food is the end, & whatever happens weight-wise as a result of that change is completely secondary. Which is as it should be.

I was sorely disappointed that, for all the homage Josie pays to Geneen Roth, naming & quoting her in various sections, the places where it would be appropriate (i.e., ethical) to name her, like where entire sections seem lifted directly from her books (one small example, the section “The Two Satisfaction-Boosting Questions/What Do I Want?”), are glaringly absent. She’s not quoting directly, so quotation marks aren’t required, but neither does she provide a reference to any of Geneen’s books as the source. Which they very obviously are. So a footnote is required.

This is relatively minor, but I found the “like, totally” dialect in which the book is written to be mildly irritating. A lot of women reading this have been trapped in this behavior since before the author was born & probably don’t want to feel like they are reading something out of Teen Magazine. And please, look up the word “expedient” & use it correctly next time. It may sound like “ex-speedy-ent,” but it isn’t a synonym for “fast.” Cripes.

To me, any good that might come from the book’s exploration and description of some behaviors (as Geneen Roth did WAY before this book or any other on the subject) is negated by the fact that “thinness”–rather than losing your fear of food–is the reward for any changes you make. How to Have Your Cake is written in a rather simplistic way, and in my mind at a questionable emotional cost to readers. If you are bent on reading this, be very clear on exactly what you are trying to achieve & create your own context, because the only context you will get from Josie is “becoming skinny,” which, because it’s just a Band-Aid for bigger issues, has absolutely nothing to do with becoming happier with yourself. Roth will help you to create that context, so as soon as you are finished reading this review, go read everything Geneen Roth has ever written. 

Don’t eat yellow snow and DON’T get in a pool with infants.

poopy-diaper

Ick. I think “Lil’ Swimmers” may have edged out infants in general for first place in the “all-time worst gross-outs.” If there is anything an infant can be trusted to do, it’s shit. And yet this summer, at a pool near you, millions of parents will blithely place you at risk for giardia and crypto because it’s way more important that their kid have a good time than that the rest of the world stay healthy. They may think “Lil Swimmers” are protecting you, but don’t be fooled. If you have ever swum in a pool with infants, chances are you have swum in a vat of simmering E. coli, giardia, E. coli O157:H7, Hepatitis A, Giardia Parasite, and rarely, Crypto Parasite. I mean, how often does little Johnny crap, and when was the last time you ever witnessed a pool closure (legal minimum of 45 minutes) due to a “fecal incident.” Probably never, & trust me, it’s not because there haven’t been any incidents; it’s because closing the pool will hurt business, & hey. What you don’t see can’t hurt you, right?  Wait. Make that “what you CAN see can get in your eyes.” eeeuww.

So get ready. Parents, who are inured to the sights, smells, and sounds of  their spawn, are bringing their 10-pound poop factory to a pool near you.

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