Makin’ Food My Bitch

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January 2017: Week One: Cut dairy out of my life. I’ve bagged up all the butter, gorgonzola, parmesan, Asiago, and cream cheese. I gave up real cows milk long ago, and now I’ve given up the “just a little half & half” in my coffee and switched to tea. No mac & cheese, no grilled cheese, no more bagel with a schmear. I’m giving myself a full year to get things right (and figure out what dinner will look like when I give up my go-to popcorn-is-a-vegetarian-meal stance), but the goal is to come off all my medications. And I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this coming year I’m going to want to be in fighting shape.

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with food. I know, how surprising, a single middle-aged Jewish cat lady with food issues.

My family was a Jewish/Italian mixed breed, meaning we were Jews who married Italians, so anything that happened in anyone’s house happened around the kitchen table. The good, the bad, and the casseroles with canned fried onions on top.

Despite always being worried I will not have enough food (Depression-era parents), that I will go hungry, I have never gone hungry a day in my life. For us, food was love. If we didn’t offer you food, we didn’t love you. If you didn’t take it, you didn’t love us. Maybe it’s not complicated after all. I eat my feelings.

I never thought I had food issues, I’ve been happy to eat the same thing, every night, night after night. If there is a box of doughnuts in the house, I’m happy to eat them, all. One at a time. If there is only one doughnut in the house, I’m equally happy.

I’ve been a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescatarian, and a locavore. For years I was off beef, but ate poultry. Turkey burgers were a softer, kinder world. But, the more I knew the less I would eat: I stopped eating any factory farmed foods at all. Until I craved salted meat and ate it like it was the air I needed to breathe.

I eat secretly, refusing chocolate or bread in your presence then stuffing myself in my car when I leave. Sometimes the decisions were based on health choices, sometimes on moral issues, other times, childhood issues (that’s the complicated part, best left for another time).

I was a junkie AND a vegetarian for a short while.
There was a suicidal eating disorder that consisted solely of Cheese Doodles and Guldenbergs Peanut Chews. Another that consisted of only soup and ice cream.

I fasted.
I cleansed.
There were literally years when I ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Three Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, two slices of Kraft American Cheese – appropriately placed to completely cover the crackers, with no overlap, no blank spaces, and no leftover cheese – and a glass of diet iced tea. Also, gallons of wine, vodka, Kahlua, etc., but not even a single bar peanut to eat.

When I was premenstrual I craved raw meat, which I’d season to make hamburgers, but easily half never made it past my mouth to the frying pan.

I am probably lactose intolerant. Cheese is my favorite thing in the world. The night I ate the cheese equivalent of a human foot (or a shoebox, if that visual disturbs you) and wound up doubled over in the bathroom for hours is when I had to finally accept this lactose intolerance thing. What my version of acceptance looks like: I take pills and continue to eat shoeboxes full of cheese.

I am probably gluten intolerant as well, and have a deep and loving relationship with all things bread and bread like (with the single exception of the body of Christ cracker), from muffins and rolls to bagels and bialys, matzoh and arepas; from fresh warm bread from the oven to packaged off the shelf grocery store bread; and challah, scones, corn bread, noodles, waffles, pancakes, toast, English muffins, Italian bread, French bread, focaccia, crackers, Naan, sourdough, rye, pumpernickel, biscuits, dumplings, pita, pretzels, the leftover pizza crust you don’t want, croissants, or brioche, to the pièce de résistance – the thing you make from leftover bread (as if) –bread pudding. Me and bread, we have history.

Family and friends have gone out of their way to accommodate my various food jaunts by providing a seafood option, buying humanely raised poultry, or asking me each time, “Are you still not eating (fill in the blank)?”

I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds, gone from a size 8 (hospitalized shortly afterward) to a size 16 and bounced around in between.

I have gone from a woman who made her living showing off her body to one who cannot tie her shoes without unzipping her pants.

And now, at almost 60 years old, I’m taking another food stance. Auto-immunes are the original clusterfuck. Like nuns, if you see one, there are probably more lurking around. Recently, I was diagnosed with my second auto-immune disorder. One medication was recommended, and another for a pre-diabetic condition which I’ve had for years and years. Taking the new meds would mean changing the old meds and starting from scratch on things I knew worked. Someone said the word biologics. Biologics are good stock investments, but I don’t want them in my body.

This all makes me sound sick, which I’m not. I’m…fat & sassy. But, my morning regime is a healthy handful of pills and I just can’t anymore. I can’t go forward with the mindset that my body is betraying me. Granted, I was not exactly kind to this body for its first thirty-five years and it has every right to be pissed off, but this all smacks of treason.

I won’t view my body as an enemy.

I met a traveler once, named Elijah. He told me he walked all over the country, slept outdoors, and never got sick or cold. The secret, he said, was that the earth gives you what you need for where you were. The way root vegetables are fall harvests, and they digest slowly and keep you warm. Citrus in Florida where it’s hot, to cool you down. Eat with the place and season, he said. Elijah was barefoot, dirty, with matted hair, he had no shirt and his pants had eroded down to little more than a denim loincloth. I get it. I know he was a homeless guy. And possibly crazy. Or maybe he was just free, because it made sense to me.

Healing yourself by eating the right foods at the right place and time.

The Auto Immune Protocol diet claims to be the key to getting your body back on track, and there are a million websites you can check out if you’re interested in learning more. It’s extreme, but I’ve done tougher stuff in my life (see earlier reference to the first thirty-five years). If I could live off of nine crackers a day with the military discipline with which I did it, I can do this.

The plan is to give myself one to two weeks on each “give up” to get used to it, have a proper mourning period (this week we are mourning the gorgonzola, but glorying in bread) and get myself ready for the next step. All of these will have to go before I can live a full 30 days “clean” and attempt to bring things back a little at a time. So, no gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. No nightshade vegetables like peppers, eggplants or tomatoes. Eggs, gone. Artificial sweeteners will be history (goodbye Crystal Light!). Nuts and seeds, although what is the point of a sesame seed if it is not sitting atop a bagel? No additives, which will mean reading labels. I’ve already eliminated the booze. Eventually, I will get myself down to the basics: meats and vegetables.

The good news is sugar snap peas, wild caught fish, bacon, asparagus, beets, sweet (but not white) potatoes, fruit, meats of all kinds, avocados. It means planning and thinking ahead and no more dollar pizza. But you did hear me say bacon, right?

Praying for the Enemy

I spent a good part of dinner talking about a person who irritated me, who set my teeth on edge, a person whose head I wanted to smack upside until it bounced like a bobble. I was completely justified in my irritation, but that didn’t make me any more fun to be around. I was annoying myself—I can only imagine how annoying I was to everyone else who doesn’t love me as much as I love me.

Someone said, “Have you tried praying for them?”

I thought: No. Really? Maybe. Really?

I thought about praying this person got the life I thought they deserved because I was, at that moment (honestly, there have probably been way too many of these moments) auditioning for the parts of both judge and jury of the whole wide world (which is different than the World Wide Web in several ways, the most important of which is the capitalization*). I’d already elected myself the Diva of the DMV, (Too slow to merge? Afraid of changing lanes? Not signaling when you turn? Not turning your signal off after you do? No driver’s license for you! Doomed to a life of public transportation.) so judge and jury of the known universe was not exactly a stretch

I thought a little bit more. I wanted this person to know how much they irritated me and why. So, I tried it. I prayed for their life to be filled with compassion, kindness, and awareness of their effect on others. I’ve done it for a few days in a row now.

I don’t know if they’ve changed at all. I don’t know if prayer works that way— changing other people or events or things at all. What I do know is that the chip on my shoulder slipped off somewhere along the line.

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*There will be grammar. There will be Oxford commas. I cannot guarantee there will not be pop quizzes.

Stand Up.

Every day I wake up, scan the news, Twitter and Facebook and every day there are new stories of:

Every day I see the rights and lives and safety of women and people of color disregarded and crushed by white men in uniforms and white men of influence and white men with academic *futures*

Our police system is broken. Our justice system is broken. Our prison system is broken. Our education system is broken.

White non-Hispanics make up only 63% of this country, down from 80% in 1980. Folks of color are on their way to becoming the majority.  There are already more women than men here. Standing together we can fix what is broken, alone we become targets in ways we have not seen for decades.

I don’t know how this gets fixed, but I believe it can be.
And I know that answer isn’t silence.
Or protest votes.
Or looking the other way.
It is in action, not reaction.
It is standing up for what you believe in.
Standing for what is right for the world, not just for myself.
Standing for what is right, not just what is easier.
And standing up for the rights and lives of total strangers.

You must stand for something! It does not have to be grand, but it must be a positive that brings light to someone else’s darkness. – Anthony Carmona, President of Trinidad and Tobago

#911Memory

505428_holding_handsFifteen years ago I was on the phone with my then boyfriend, when he said, “Hold on, I think the boiler just exploded,” and put the phone down. After a few moments, he picked up again. “I gotta go. There’s body parts and plane parts all over. I gotta go.” I was still saying What they hell are you talking about when the phone went dead. He worked at the Marriott Hotel opposite the World Trade Center and it was early and the story hadn’t hit the news yet.

Then we heard. And it still didn’t make sense.

Then we heard that a plane had crashed at the Pentagon, and I didn’t believe it.

When the towers started coming down, crumbling, and imploding everyone started leaving work. Everyone in the whole city was leaving work and going home or leaving their homes and going somewhere else. Everyone was just leaving. People had barely started their day when they left.

Except me. I stayed. I didn’t want to be on the streets with thousands of frightened people. I didn’t want to be trapped underground, crushed in a subway car filled with people who were panicking. I stayed and listened to and watched to report sand videos online, all day. I sat in an empty office for seven or eight hours and when I finally walked out at 5:30 pm I walked out into an empty city.

I walked across midtown Manhattan via 34th Street, up Broadway through Times Square, into Hells Kitchen. Like an abandoned movie set of NYC, traffic lights still blinked red, yellow, and green; walk or don’t walk. And there were no cars to care. The light of neon signs already starting to be obscured by ash. I don’t remember seeing anyone on the street at all, although I’m sure were a few.

I walked until I got to the west side men’s shelter where I had a speaking commitment for the 12-step group I was in. It had never occurred to me not to go – I had nowhere else TO go. Here was a room full of men waiting to welcome me, to listen to my experience and hope and my fears, and then to share theirs. And I did, and they did, and I don’t think we talked about the attack at all, we talked about ourselves because no matter what was happening we all wanted to keep whatever sobriety we had. We held hands and I walked out into the empty streets and down into the now empty subway and rode home.

A Lesson in Loss: On the Death of a Friend

A friend of mine died this week. The older I get, the more often I’m going to find myself saying that. It’s sad to lose someone you cared about. To realize a child will grow up without a parent. To watch a parent lose their child, a friend lose a friend. But there’s more than that, more than loss and grieving. There’s the lesson.

In everything you experience, every single thing–good, bad, or somewhere in-between (where most of life falls) is a lesson. The trick is to get the lesson the first time it comes around, to find the opportunity in the chaos. Broken hearts. Death of a friend. Lost job. Major illness. There are lessons in there, and we each have to figure it out for ourselves.

When Adam died, there was something vaguely familiar about it. Not because it was the same “rare” cancer that killed the love of my life three years ago. That just reminded me how fast it would happen, that will-to-live meant nothing to this cancer and there is no way around this one. No, it was the turn-out of support, the mass of people who contributed on the GoFundMe page to raise money for a last-ditch I’ll-try-anything-cure. Collecting almost three times what they’d asked in less than a month. The flood of posts and well-wishes that filled the Facebook feeds, the Twittersphere.

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Everyone always says “Oh, she was so special,” or “There will never be anyone like him,” but the truth is in the pudding. It’s in who shows up, who speaks up, what’s said and why.

And that was what was familiar.

A few years ago another friend died. No one saw it coming, no one was prepared. Is one easier than the other? Losing someone suddenly or having time to prepare? Can you really prepare? I think all you can really do is use that time to say a proper goodbye. Big Daddy Addy was lucky that way. His friends and family were too, even though it didn’t feel like luck at all.

Chloe Dzubilo died suddenly at 50. Violently. She died alone.
Adam Roth died slowly, peacefully, and surrounded by friends. He was 57.

10608786_10152817636030625_8912646138906773135_oThey were both performers, musicians, and stylistas. He went through dozens of hair styles, colors (oh, that frosted stage…). So did she, leaning more towards the peacock colors.  East Village icons and stalwarts. First generation Punks. He was dapper, a mod, a rocker, always dressed with intention. She, identified warmly by a friend as the “trans Courtney Love,” wore vintage lingerie and silks mixed with rock t-shirts and tight pants.  Both had struggled with addiction and gotten past it. One battled anxiety, the other, depression. And both were met with an ear-splitting roar into the abyss when they passed. A roar from the huge crowd that loved them. Huge. Crowd.

A sign-up sheet had to be created for visitors when Adam went into hospice at his parent’s home. Without it, the room was swamped, his family overwhelmed, himself, drained.

Judson Church overflowed with Chloe’s memorial and it felt like we were hundreds who marched in her honor down to the Hudson River.

Adam brought his sober-and-wicked-cool musician-funny-as-fuckness with him to work with at-risk kids via Road Recovery.
Chloe took her HIV+ transgender fierceness to help with the first HIV prevention programs for transgender sex workers.

And that’s the thing. The thing that made them each so special. That attracted crowds. The lives they lived. The love in their heart and their ability to open that heart, not just in the doing, but in their daily lives.The impact of their lives spreading like a pebble dropped in still water, they radiated outwards.

Adam was a high-energy, rapid-fire, snappy-dressing dynamo who could get a party started or be that guest you wanted there that kept it going. And he was your biggest fan.
Chloe tended more toward the soft-spoken, sometimes raunchy, often Southern-belle-ish delicate flower,  and earth mother. She was your tender and constant support.

They  made you feel seen. Heard.

She  spoke in a  Monroe-like whisper and you leaned forward to hear, and suddenly the two of you were in a silver bubble, an intimate conversation in the center of a chaotic city. And you felt beautiful, important, trusted. She shared her heart with you.
He drew you in, dragged you along wherever the party was, was sincerely happy to see you. Sincerely. He made you feel special–like you were the funniest, prettiest, smartest, somethingest. He shared his light with you.

They knew there was enough for everyone. Enough love, enough light. Like a moon reflecting the light of the stars and suns, sometimes you were the moon, sometimes you were the star.

So, the lesson? They were so loved because of who they were. Because of how they saw you, opened themselves to you, stood aside to make room for you. They were loved because in all their frenetic activity, talent, insecurities, battles, human-ness they made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. Big open hearts. Hearts that were honest. That wanted love, wanted to love and be loved.

I was out with my “brother” (family of choice, related by hair) the other night, and we talked about how we are, he and I. How we are not that kind of people. We are the kind of people who don’t allow you to get close to us. We are afraid we will be crushed by all that love, that it will break us.

The lesson?  My lesson in the death of my friend? Love doesn’t break you. Love makes you larger than life.

Photo of Adam Roth courtesy: Jeff Smith~ReflectionsNYC