Spiritual Housekeeping: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Bares All

Before I married my husband, there were two things I was hesitant to tell him. I didn’t see the need to mention that my collection of childhood stuffed animals would be accompanying us to our new home, or that I’d been known to waste more than one perfectly good Saturday watching Murder, She Wrote reruns. Those idiosyncrasies I assumed he could handle, even if he didn’t share my affection for teddy bears or Angela Lansbury. Read more here…

In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Steps on the Scale and Weighs Her Options

from istockphoto.com

And so today I looked at the scale in the doctor’s office and found out I weigh more than I have ever weighed in my life. Ever. For years now I have avoided the number, telling the nurse I didn’t want to know. I would take off my shoes and shut my eyes, waiting to hear her say, “Okay, you can step off now.” I’d make sure not to look down at my chart while talking with the doctor, so as to avoid glimpsing the truth. But today, in this year that marks my fiftieth birthday, I decided it was time to stop kidding myself: I’m overweight.

This is not a news flash for me, of course. I’ve known for a while now, even though I’ve managed to kid myself into thinking I look okay and feel pretty good. Neither of those things is true. Photographs show my full face, wide hips, and soft belly. My knees ache, I snore (Precious describes this, lovingly, as “fog horn like”), and my cravings lean more and more toward sugar and carbs.

One of my friends, a woman I met just three years ago but feel I have known for decades, lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers. I thought she looked fine before, and she did. But now, she’s just about the best-looking sixty-something woman I know. And she’s way cool to boot. I would like to be her when I’m 63, that’s how fabulous she is. She says she was never driven by vanity; it was her creaky knees that made her lose weight. That’s the way it is for me, I think. I don’t seem to scare small children when I go to the mall, and Precious loves me as I am, about 20 pounds heavier than when we married in 2002. But now I make moaning noises when I get up from the couch, which isn’t often, because that’s become my favorite place to park myself. I complain about back pain, low energy, and blue moods. My cholesterol is through the roof. Can you say put down the cheese doodles?

Another friend says she lost weight by eating only on alternate Tuesdays, and yet another swears by the hCG diet, which seems to involve injections and possibly urine from pregnant women. As it is with most meaningful undertakings, I will have to find my own way to better health. I suspect my path will involve smaller portions and more workouts, but I’ll keep you posted.

In college, I thought I was too heavy. Pictures from those days make me teary-eyed with envy, as I see now that I was “normal” back then, back when I weighed 40 pounds less. Today, though, my weight is not the only thing I’m paying close attention to as I plod toward the big five-oh in August. I’ve taken up yoga, and I like how it’s putting me in touch with my body in new ways, making me aware of moves I didn’t even know were possible and affording me a sense of calm (thanks Hilary and ALIGN!) Also in my arsenal are a therapist (no website!), a personal trainer (thanks Stephanie!), and an acupuncturist (thanks Eden!). A supportive husband, a loyal dog, and plenty of women who have gone before me.

“It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.”

What’s a Middle-Aged Goober Doing at Blissdom?

I don’t really know from blogging. As a professional writer and editor who has worked in the publishing world for 25 years, I know about words. As a woman nearing fifty, I know about marrying late, burying my father (the first love of my life), caring for my elderly mother, and wondering if I’ll get it all done before my time is up. As a retreat leader and workshop facilitator, I know it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us. And here I’m talking about the tough stories, the ones about loss, and grief, and regrets, and dreams denied that all too often our society/family/religion/ego wants us to keep to ourselves.

But this whole blogging thing has me a bit stymied: Do I need a catchy theme, with a title that enhances SEO? (I do actually know what that stands for, thanks to Randy Elrod.) Do I have to be a “mommy blogger”? If so, I’m screwed, because I blog under my own name and I do not have children. So where does that leave me, a middle-aged goober who encourages women to write their hearts out?

For starters, it leaves me looking for all the guidance I can lap up. So last week I headed out to Gaylord Opryland Hotel and attended the Blissdom Conference. (I was miffed last year when I heard about it after the fact, and couldn’t believe I was so out of the loop in my own town.)

I walked in knowing I would see at least one familiar face, because we’d promised one another we’d take turns rescuing whichever one of us was feeling more vulnerable, as we were both stepping outside our comfort zone. I ended up knowing several folks, and even ran across a co-worker from Her Nashville. But mostly I interacted with women I had never met or even heard of.

And here’s what I learned:
There are women—women just like you and me—doing amazing things online: advocating for charitable causes, exposing issues surrounding small farms and raw foods, inspiring better parenting, making all sorts of crafty items, cooking healthy food, finding their way through addiction. The list goes on, and that list can be both freeing, “there’s room for everyone,” and intimidating, “who do I think I am.” What the Blissdom panelists and speakers modeled for me is that there is still plenty of room, and that if I think I’m the one to tell a certain story in a certain way, then I am. Funny, that’s exactly how I advise the women in my writing workshops: you’re the only one who can tell your story and yes, the world has room for it. Let’s write it, and then we’ll worry about what to do with it.

But there was more: conversations with women from all over the country that I never would have met otherwise; time for socializing in an environment free from competition for who has the most Twitter followers (not me); great swag, really, the best conference happies ever; delicious food; and the playing of “Party in America,” “Party in the USA,” which made the menopausal me burst into tears (in a good way). On top of all that, I heard Brene Brown, whose book The Gifts of Imperfection is already informing my work; and Scott Stratten, on whom I think I have developed a crush. (Please don’t tell Precious.) I think I even made a few new friends.

In the end, there were women there who’ve been blogging longer than I have, and women who have just started; women who have confidence in themselves, and their words, and women who wonder if they’ll ever bring themselves to hit “publish”; women who are younger and thinner, and women who share my creaky knees and desire to lose weight. But our common denominator remains: we all have stories worth telling.

“Do you work?”

Clark Gable: “Oh, Mr. Faulkner, do you write?”

William Faulkner: “Yes, I do, Mr. Gable. And what do you do?”

It’s a simple enough question, posed to me by the office manager at my dentist’s office this morning while I’m paying my bill. (I’m not really dressed to be out in public, so this may be one reason she’s wondering. Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn’t run around town in their sweats. Without makeup.) This, after just being told that one day my gum may separate from my teeth, bottom left, thereby allowing “stuff” to accumulate in the resulting pocket.

“What happens then?” I ask, not really wanting to know. I am still gripping the sides of the dental chair, even though the examination and cleaning are over.

“We send you to a gum specialist,” says the smiling dentist. Man does he have nice teeth.

“But let’s not worry about that just yet. For today, everything is fine.”

Obviously the smiling dentist does not know me as well as, say, Precious or my therapist. For worrying about instances that might never happen is my favorite hobby. Right up there with borrowing trouble and catastrophizing about events that statistically occur once every gazillion years if you live in the Outback and don’t have insurance. At least that is what the old me would do; the new, 2011-me is going to be laid back, carefree, a go-with-the-flow kind of middle-aged goober. So I smile back at the smiling dentist with the perfect teeth and sort through the basket of free toothbrushes looking for one with a purple handle. I have just read, in Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness (Karen Rauch Carter, Fireside, 2000) that purple is a color of prosperity. I can’t find a purple toothbrush, so I throw caution to the wind and go with red. The old me would have never done that. I’ll have to look up what red means asap. I’m hoping it indicates “bold” and “confident.” “Published.”

“Yes,” I say to the woman behind the counter. “I work. I’m a writer.”

I am terribly pleased with myself for answering her so directly, free of excuses about not being in the New York Times or not having been an Oprah Book Club pick when there was still time to be an Oprah Book Club pick.

“Do you enjoy your work?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I do.”

“Then you’re lucky.”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I am.”