Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are You Afraid?

Really, all things considered, its best that my middle name isn't adventure.  Not living up to one's own name would be such an awful let down, after all.  For the outsider, realizing that I'm not naturally gung-ho might be a bit shocking, since I've sampled quite a wide swath of life in my 30ish years atop the twirling globe.

Despite my frustrations with and sometime disgust for, Sigmund and the Psycho(Analyst) Bunch, I think they got it right when it comes to fear. Childhood is the usual petri dish that brings forth our later inexplicable terror of unrelated items like the ocean, airplanes and inflatable boats.  Yes, I said dinghies. 

Rubber rafts, inflatable rowboat, dinghy, no matter its name, I'm not a fan.  In the early years of the 1980s, when I was still a solitary child in a world of adults, my Mama, Mema and Papa took me to the Gulf Coast for a week of surf and sand and most likely, sunburn.  With delightful intentions my Papa purchased for my amusement a small raft that could be rowed out beyond the surf zone.  Early in the visit, early in the morning, Mema, Papa and I headed out, raft in tow, to launch ourselves into the great blue yonder.

Despite being a remarkably intelligent, mechanically oriented man, my Papa seriously miscalculated the physics of getting my little 30 pound self, Mema and himself safely aboard our vessel.  I'm sure the formula is weight X distance X frequency / seaweed squared - Aqua-net.  His math may have been a tad off, or Mema had forgotten her hairspray that day, but ultimately all I got was slammed into the sandy beach by a rogue wave.  Bad enough that the red mark stung for the rest of the trip, poor Papa was so upset he took that dinghy back home and gave it to some random guy for his kids to use as a kiddie pool. I don't doubt that a part of him seriously considered dinghycide.

I developed a fear of the ocean, or more specifically whats in it, after I saw Jaws on late night satellite at a friend's house sometime around the tender age of 8. No, my mother didn't know and no, she wouldn't have been okay with that.  Late night satellite TV in the 1980s was actually a treasure trove of adult knowledge that hastened my learning along quicker than my mama realized. Maybe it still is, or maybe the high tech craze just lets little tykes download that stuff right to their very own mobile devices. Isn't progress grand?

Anyway, so there I am in 1989ish, a cemented fear of inflatables, nursing a growing obsession with sharks, and contemplating what infinity actually means.  (For the record I don't recommend that last activity, at any age, as its bound to lead to a hankering for strong drink and mournful country songs. Trust me.)  My next fear acquisition would be of my own making, persistent and frankly, the largest impediment to a normal 21st century style life. I'm talking, of course, about my fear of flying.

No doubt it comes as quite a shock to y'all that I was a tad precocious in my youth and tended to read several grade levels ahead of schedule. I pilfered anything and everything off my Mama's bookshelf, secreting them back to their spots before she could notice. One of these illicit novels, Judith Michaels maybe, featured a heroine who becomes a pilot at a young age, and I was smitten.  Flying would be my thing, my adventure, my skill. Unfortunately, I also chose that time to start reading Lewis Grizzard while visiting my summer home (Mema and Papa in Atlanta that is).

Lewis Grizzard was my very first literary hero. He was from Georgia (like me!), loved baseball (like me!) and loved to put pen to paper (totally like me!).  I tore through every book of his I could get my hands on.  All would have been fine had I simply not picked up on one of the prevailing themes of his work : flying terrified him.  The specifics he shared gave way to my own dread of the aeroplane; a dread that only became cemented as time went by without my experiencing flight.

Now, I have flown and I will continue to do so, but no amount of nerve pills have been able to stop the vapors from sneaking up on me at 37,000 feet. No, I've had to combat my terror using the one thing that's ever had the power to change my mind: the printed word. 

The more I fly, the more aeronautical info I digest.  Going zip-lining? Better check out those accident stats.  Headed out to SCUBA, sail, rock climb, spelunk, whitewater kayak, or ride the Chicago El?  My info cup runneth over. Ultimately, Google saved my life. For some ignorance is bliss, but not me. The more I know about how the airplane stays up, the less likely I live in terror of it coming down. Additional knowledge about triple and quadruple safety features on elevators just makes me willing to head up the Sears Tower. 

Eventually my fear of sharks and planes, serial killers and snakes in a toilet will all be a memory, but no way am I gettin' in that damn rubber boat again. And handily, I won't really fit in one anymore anyway.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fat is the New Black

I am not fat. Oh no.  Down south, I'm plump, out of shape, big-boned, solid and (my favorite) well-fed.  Clinicians refer to this condition as obesity, which just sounds rude and is evidently an epidemic. Advertising execs opt for a more neutral tone with plus-size, women's (so if you're skinny, you clearly aren't a real woman) and queen sized.  I've always thought I was Candis; descendant of some people that tended to run on the large side of life, and a sizable minority of people that tend toward litheness. 

In my lifetime I've learned the secret to why I (and the other pandemic of obeseites) are the way we are.  It's because we're lazy and stupid, at least according to pop culture. One person, a relative by marriage, not blood (thank the Lord), told me that fat people lack discipline.  Researchers have, at various times, said obesity is caused by: pasta, eggs, fat content, lack of exercise, red meat, fried foods, butter, cheese, and soda.  Newer studies have suggested it is diet soda, an evolutionary response to modern food sources, a food addiction, a virus and the BPA content of canned foods and water bottles that causes weight challenges.

Considering the millions of people that struggle with weight, I'm sure there are a million reasons.  Here are mine: I truly am big-boned, with a shoulder measurement that some high school linebackers would like to have.  I have huge feet, too (sorry, I'm married) for what its worth.  My diet has yo-yoed with the best of them.  When I was young and unaware of the wider world, I ate what Mama made, tons of vegetables, cornbread and chicken, and spent hours on my bike, trampoline or in the pool.  I was still solid.  Middle school found me on Slim-Fast, which strangely enough made me feel like I was starving constantly and caused me to gain 5 pounds.  Then there was high school, when at my insistence, Mama took me to a nutritionist who instructed me to eat no more than 900 calories a day. I did, faithfully, enduring chronic hunger and migraines, until the day when I developed an unstoppable nosebleed that required a doctor to pack my nose. That was the end of that.

In my 20s I became very active, spending my time kayaking, canoeing, swimming, hiking, even caving and rock climbing. I also ate like a very hungry horse. All the time. I lost around 55 pounds and was very close to ripped. That upside down heart on your calf? I had that.  This lasted a while before I headed off to Alabama and moved in with my now spouse.  They say love makes you plump; I say love can double the fun pretty fast. So now I'm 30, and 50 pounds heavier than I was in high school, almost 90 more than I was at 25. 

What's the point?  Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes, for one. I have a 50 year old friend who competes in triathlons, but will never stop being a "big" woman.  I have family members that have never been more than 10 pounds or so above "perfect" weight and take blood pressure and cholesterol medicine.  I've got perfect clinical numbers, despite my weight putting me in "grave danger." 

The South tends to produce obese folks at a higher rate than a lot of regions. Plenty of people would assume that this is because we're lazy and stupid, which of course just makes them lazy and stupid.  We live in a region where nothing says "I love you" like food, in a region where poverty has been taking a toll (especially on minorities) for approximately 150 years, and where more and more convenience, processed food is taking the place of technical know-how in the kitchen. This is clearly a perfect storm, a complex event, something to address with creative, realistic solutions. What the "obesity epidemic" is not: an opportunity for ridicule, patronization, and condemnation.  It is not the forum to assume you know everything about someone based on the size of their shirt. 

Dr. Oz, who I rarely read, wrote in an O Magazine  article last year that one of the myths of health is that you must be a certain BMI or weight.  Not true, he says. The real deal? Everyone should eat the healthiest food they can, like lean meat, whole grains and fruits/vegetables; get plenty of exercise; let your body find your perfect weight. Common sense is often missing from the great weight debate, but this is it and I couldn't agree more.

 For years I've listened to people comment on my size, my sister's size, my spouse's size; to be real honest: I'm done with that. To the person who once made a comment about  a dress ordered in a size that was too small  ("it's an opportunity to lose weight"), the one who commented on the fattiness of fried food while staring at me ("that'll make you obese"), the one who feigns concern ("I'm worried about your health") and the one of has spent years calling herself fat despite being half my size : Be on notice. This is your only warning.  I'm a nice person, but if you continue with the comments both overt and passive-aggressive, I'll have no choice but to bless your heart just before I make you cry. Try me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Parade Route of My Life

People sure love to parade.  They like to watch them, be in them, read about em and listen to the marching bands play from blocks away. There's something awfully fun about a bunch of folks getting together to celebrate, almost anything, and go walking down a street.  Being a person, I love to parade, too, though it must be acknowledged that my parade history has been fraught with both excitement and a little disaster, at times. 

My earliest parade memory stems from 1984ish, when my Mama and Mema took me to watch the Pecan Festival Parade in Albany, GA.  Chief Knock-a-Homa was scheduled to be the Grand Marshal and my all-time favorite Atlanta Brave, Dale Murphy, was said to be making an appearance.  Like plenty of small Southerners, I was a Braves fan through the rotten years, which, truthfully, was the beginning third of my life.

Excited is not a strong enough word to describe my level of energy for this Pecan Festival parade, as I longed to see the Chief with my own two eyes, but destiny sent us down a detour path.  Somehow, somewhere, between Mema's house and the parade route, I managed to be attacked by fire ants.  Unfortunately, this was not the first time and to add further misery, I was a tad allergic to them.  Most people I know get a small bump when they get stung, but I always developed these quarter sized lumps.  No doubt if I had been coming of age in the 90s or 00s, they would've kitted my family out with all the Epi-Pens they could carry.

But there I was, 4 years old, tore up by fireants, and sick over the thought of missing my Braves at the parade.  As usual Mema saved the day, making a mad dash into a downtown pharmacy, finding the little green Camphophenique bottle that meant sweet relief, and managing to get me all doctored up in time to see the Chief, catch some candy and ogle at the (perceived) millions of folks in Albany.

Just a few years later, maybe 1988, while in attendance at the Worth County Peanut Festival parade, I managed to have yet another, shall we say, memorable experience. This was a classic small town parade, with candy raining down on the crowd like tiny shrapnel and plenty of bass from the drum line.  The very last float, a bit of an homage to the hillbilly type folks, had an animated dog that lifted his leg every few seconds, causing quite the laughing fits among my little group of attendees.  Approaching slowly, the float moved into my peripheral vision, just as the dog lifted his leg, and peed all over my face. Astonished would be too kind of a word. I was infuriated and not a little embarrassed, despite realizing that it was just a little water, and a little prank.  In following years, I stood well back from that float, determined never to be that kid again.

As a perk of being in 4-H in a small town, I got the privilege of being in a parade or two during the early 90s. I'd never realized that being on the float, a momentary (if cosmically insignificant) star, would be exponentially more enjoyable than watching a parade. Riding on a truck bed covered in crepe paper and farm animal cutouts, being cheered by a whole county, remains high on my list of all time greatest things. 

Leaving small town life in 92 and heading off to the big city (that'd be Atlanta), put my parading on  hold for a bit. I'm sure we went to the occasional celebration, but I didn't get to participate again til 97, when I drove the float for my Y-Club.  Truth be told, driving in a parade ain't that much fun, although I'm sure the Shriners with the tiny cars would disagree.

Throughout my early twenties I attended Christmas parades in North Georgia, watched Thanksgiving parades on TV and even traveled down to Savannah, GA to see the spectacle of St Patrick's Day, celebrated by actual Irish folks.  I stood with my Dad, in what passed for cold weather in Montgomery, AL, to watch a Christmas parade, which was made ten times better by the Mayfield people handing out ice cream sandwiches. That's something worth catching.  Despite my love of festivity, in all its guises, I yearned to be in a parade and eventually, I got my chance.

One of my best friends in this world hails from a parading family in Pensacola, FL.  Down there they celebrate Mardi Gras , with actual Krewes and everything. My first Mardi Gras parade was a revelation (you can read about it here: http://paradepeople.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/a-first-time-for-everything/), creating an instant addict. 

Since 2007, I've watched dozens of hours of parading, floated in ten or so, and joined a Krewe myself.  Riding along on a bouncing float, music  blasting, drinking a cocktail while making it rain with beads, moonpies, stuffed animals and more, is one of the best experiences of my life. Unfortunately, there's been some collateral damage and I'd like to take a moment to remember those that've fallen: the old man I hit in the face with a Double Decker Chocolate Moon Pie; the little kid who got a face full of beads; the snowbirds who were standing way back and looking away when the bouncy balls took em out; and lastly, the woman who begged for the tomahawk, only to have me go all Native American on her, and got it right in the forehead.  Just know that your sacrifices have not been in vain; you've made parading possible with this noble gift of yourself; well, mostly of your face.

So continues my love affair with a sprawling celebration, particularly if it involves music, costumes and sweets. In just a few short weeks, you'll once again find me drifting through historic Pensacola, dressed in a shiny tutu and feather boa, having the time of my life. Come on out: I'll throw ya something good.