Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Not Fat Enough

This weight loss scheme of mine has been working tremendously well—for my husband. He has lost all of the weight he gained during my pregnancy and has delighted in being able to wear all his slim fitting shirts again. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t working for me also, but I’ve become frustrated by how long it’s taking for me to lose the weight I want to lose. There are a couple of bits of denial I’d like to own here:

1. I did gain fifty-seven pounds during my pregnancy and no amount of earnest wishing is going to take them away overnight, though somehow I believed that’s how quickly it would happen.

2. I started out so diligent with counting and tracking my Weight Watchers points daily—a key element to success in the program, in my experience—but have of late allowed for some slacking in this area.

3. Walking to the park, the store, and the farmer’s market from the Bahn station probably doesn’t constitute a proper workout, something I’ve been wanting to believe since I moved to Berlin.

Probably the most shocking of all my lapses of reality lately was believing that I don’t look as large as my actual weight—which, if you’ve ever met me or any other woman, you’ll know never to ask me about the specifics of that number. I went to the theatre last week and found myself in the front row. The production included multimedia elements and during several moments, a live camera was focused on the audience. The feed was then played on several TV monitors on the stage, facing outward. When I located myself on the monitors I was horrified to discover that the actual width and roundness of my body was in great contrast to the cute, petite thing I was sure I had admired in the mirror just hours before. I realize the camera adds ten pounds or so, but this was well beyond lens fluffiness. What was particularly unnerving was that I was wearing the outfit I wore when I wanted to look trim and fit. I truly believed that in those garments, no one could tell that I was thirty pounds overweight. What I saw on that monitor, however, told such a dramatically different story that I went into a bit of a sweaty, panic. The camera was still on me (so clever of me to sit in the front row, eh?) and of course I had to continue to smile—my full, ballooning cheeks turning bright red. Thankfully and surprisingly, my stopgap here was to remind myself that I’d given birth a mere six months ago. Yes, some women lose all of their baby weight within the first couple months of breastfeeding, but I’d heard that there was this other lot who only ever lost weight after breastfeeding ceased. I suppose I am in that contingency, and seeing as I’m still breastfeeding, it’s no wonder the weight is still on! For all my kindness, though, I left the theatre feeling small—in self-esteem only.

But as I mentioned above, my weight loss scheme is working, even with breastfeeding. I have lost weight and continue to lose or maintain what I’ve lost each week. As of last Friday, I’ve lost nearly twelve pounds since early January. That’s not such a grand number for going on three months of dieting, but for nursing mothers (and casual walkers,) Weight Watchers will have you lose it slowly. So what’s my damage, you may ask? Here it is:

I really miss my pre-pregnancy body.

I’d worked really hard in the past few years, pre-pregnancy, to concoct a healthy eating plan that allowed me to maintain my weight. I’d also started running and had gotten into the best shape of my life—something that I really let slide during my pregnancy. In my pre-pregnancy body, I’d always claimed that I was ten pounds away from my ‘ideal’ weight, but truly, I was happy with myself. I miss the clothes that were worn on that body, now tucked away in suitcases under my bed and sullenly hanging in my closet next to dreary maternity-wear. I’m ready to put my ‘full-panel’ stretch jeans away and am saddened by the prospect that I’m not even close to doing so. It all makes me want to eat some chocolate. But of course, I cannot. Well, I can, actually, just not the self-medicating portion I would prefer.

Where to go from here: Let me assure you that I’ve been here before—on a diet, trying to lose weight—many a time. Perseverance is the only solution. This week, I’m attempting count and record every point of food I eat. As far as exercise is concerned, I’m using the start of spring to begin running again (by the way—it’s not spring yet, no matter what the temperatures say—spring starts when we get back from vacation mid-April, thank you very much!) Tonight I had just two pieces of dark chocolate instead of four, the self-medication equivalent of a Flintstone vitamin.

My husband is the biggest supporter of my efforts in every single way imaginable. He often makes dinner and weighs all of our food on the kitchen scale so I can calculate the points. Without even asking him, he portions out things like butter and oil in his cooking so it’s easier for me to keep track of what we’re eating. Probably the most valuable thing he does is let me know that there is someone that thinks I’m beautiful even if I have my serious doubts. He’s militant, in fact, about not letting me bemoan my proportions.

When I came home from the theatre last week with concerned questions about the figure flattering capabilities of my alleged ‘skinny’ outfit, I asked Nicholas a question most men would shudder to answer:

“Does this top make me look fat?”

With a loving smile and without hesitation, he turned to me and said,

“Not fat enough”

Photo: Me, River City Half Marathon, Sacramento, California, 2010, Pre-pregnancy.

Monday, March 12, 2012


When I come against an obstacle I find that there’s a pattern of steps I follow to find resolution. Shamefully, the most important of these seems to be one where I behave badly. I throw a fit. Once that phase is over, however, I accept my fate with aplomb and move forward. It’s necessary, however, for me to resist, like antibodies fighting a virus, in order to emerge stronger and healthier on the other side.

I performed an embarrassing, new mom tantrum a few weeks after Lennon was born. We were struggling with breastfeeding and he wasn’t gaining the recommended amount of weight. I was nursing for what seemed like every second of the day and yet it had little affect. The diagnosis was that my milk supply was low and I would need to start using a breast milk pump if breastfeeding was to continue. To increase my supply, I was meant to pump milk from my breasts several times a day for about ten minutes a session. This would provide extra milk for Lennon and fool my body into producing more milk to meet the increased, albeit manufactured, demand. I was already thoroughly exhausted and the idea of nursing this other, mechanical baby in addition to my newborn brought me to tears. This exhaustion was compounded by the new, overwhelming responsibility of trying to provide my baby with the healthiest and highest quality of everything. I was beholden to go forward with whatever it would take to make breastfeeding work even though every molecule of my sleep deprived self wanted to scream, “This is not what I signed up for! I want a refund!” I nearly said those exact words to my very patient midwife, asking her,

“Do nursing mothers just never leave the house? Do they never leave the couch? Do they live their lives as nursing machines? How in the hell do they do this?”

What I wanted and naively expected to hear from her were cushioned words allowing me to give up, saying that it wasn’t all that important to breast feed, and that no one would ever expect anyone to go through anything approaching such burdensome nonsense. Instead, she calmly answered, “We just do it.”


The next day, I rented a breast milk pump and began the process of increasing my supply and feeding my baby so he would gain the weight he needed. I really fought against the difficulty of it all, though. I fought until I didn’t recognize what I was fighting against. I fought until I looked foolish—until there was nothing left to do but the hard thing itself and be happy about it.

Last week I wrote about how I had buoyed myself up from having suffered the rejection of not being awarded the DAAD scholarship. Tragically, I failed to take my own advice. The next day I discovered that the wound was deeper than three days time and a pep talk could heal. I sat in the kitchen and explained to Nicholas all the reasons why not getting the DAAD scholarship meant that I should not pursue a PhD:

Firstly, I’m not a real academic. I attended a conference last May with other Performance Studies PhDs and discovered that I was way out of my league. They all seemed so well read in Performance theory where I’m primarily a practitioner, still learning how to slog through academic language. What business have I writing a dissertation? Twice now my project has not been awarded funding. Maybe this is a sign. Also, wouldn’t it just be so much easier, nice-n-tidy, and generally more leisurely to go back to the familiar ground of teaching theatre in a K-8th grade environment? I could leave behind the uncomfortable, knee-deep discussions of Performance theory and elevator-pitch explanations of my dissertation. Teaching grade school would also be a more Lennon-gentle route, being able to maintain clear, daytime hours with a family friendly vacation schedule. But the most penultimate reason to throw in the towel, I explained, was that I had tried to call my advisor that day and her secretary said she was very busy and would not be able to meet with me for a while. She’d be happy to send me some other funding opportunities via email, but a one-on-one would not be possible right now. I knew I was on my own with my research, that’s how PhDs are done in Germany, but at this moment I really needed my advisor—a woman of great importance in the Performance Studies world—to bolster my confidence. She hadn’t the time. Bad timing, woman of great importance. Having presented my case, I asked my husband how I could ever overcome such incredible odds? How could I continue with this PhD scheme and its difficult trajectory? The path of least resistance was surely a more sensible route. Certainly there are many who would agree with me that I just don’t have what it takes to be an academic. Nicholas listened and then said, “You can do it, Schatz.”


I opened a book of performance theory, grabbed my highlighter, and began reading. I bought a ticket for a play by a company I’d wanted to investigate. I started to do it. Later that day, I visited the little bowl on my desk filled with fifty curled strips of paper. On each strip is one of Nancy Sathre-Vogel’s ‘50 Lessons I Wish I had Learned Earlier.’ If you’ve read more than one of my posts, you may have noted my passion for lists. About a month ago, I had printed out Ms. Sathre-Vogel’s list, cut each item from the page, and placed them in a bowl on my desk to pull from if I needed guidance. The Tao of My Desk, if you will. I glanced at the snow-white curls on top and decided to sink my hand deep to collect my fortune. The lesson I fished that day said:

47. If it were easy everyone would do it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

There are two things that always bring the sad: Rejection and The Oscars. Rejection comes knocking any old time and often. Oscar night is mercifully only once a year. Imagine my dismay when they both came the same week.

Working in the theater over the years, I’ve made the disappointing discovery that I’m not a star. I’m not the most gifted person in the talent pool, but that’s not the reason I’m not a star. I could work harder at honing my chops. What makes me not a star is that I care more about the artistic vision than the artist. When you are a star, other people worry about the big picture so you can concentrate your efforts on character, a practice that left me wanting more as a performer. It was a troubling transition to make at first, having spent the first half of my life only being concerned with me on the stage. I had to quiet my ego a bit in order to make the work that was really important to me. Since then, the ‘why’ of what I do is so much clearer and the process more fulfilling.


The Oscars always awakens that childhood voice that whispers with glitter and sparkle, “Be a star!” Nothing makes stardom look so good as award ceremonies, partly because you don’t have to see the behind the scenes work that got them to the Hollywood and Highland Center in the first place. When the awardees talk about how much they’ve sacrificed for their craft, the sentiment is a little dulled by the luster of their Lanvin. All I can see on Oscar night is the glory. No matter how I remind myself that such ends wouldn’t justify the means it’d take for me to get there, I’m still starry eyed—then flooded with ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys.’ Living in a different time zone, I read about the results after the fact. I watched Meryl’s and Octavia’s acceptance speeches online. I spent the whole day in a dull, aching funk: a precursory taste of what I had coming.

That Friday, I received an email stating that I was not awarded the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) Scholarship to pursue my PhD research. My PhD program in Germany is cost-free so the scholarship would only be used toward living expenses. I’m in the fortunate position of not needing to quit a job in order to pursue a PhD and the funds would instead be used for enhancing my academic pursuits in the way of books and travel and theatre tickets. Hence, I wasn’t so attached to receiving this money. The PhD can still happen elegantly without it. Also, my research topic has been rejected before and by the much more prestigious Fulbright Grant. Folks are just not terribly anxious to fund a project about German Expressionism and avant-garde theatre, opting instead to give their money to more obviously life altering research. I was prepared to not get this one.


What I could only realize after I’d been rejected was that I’d silently viewed being awarded this scholarship as bonafide validation of my work. The DAAD scholarship is not quite the Performance Studies equivalent of an Oscar, but it would’ve made me feel like a star. My husband tried fruitlessly to cheer me by saying that I’d won the LACF Scholarship (Lennon August Cole Farrell,) making me yearn for a stiff drink. But each day is new and as ill timed as my husband’s attempt, thinking of it now warms me. As far as the Oscars are concerned, listening to Woody Guthrie over a deep pot of coffee reminded me that there is nobility in being scrappy. How full of grace to be a working class hero—a righteous and worthy path.

I don’t want to give the impression that these conundrums have been resolved here, but when I came across the list below, my wounds received some salve. It’s a list of guidelines for how to create appealing stories from Pixar story artist, Emma Coats and it did, in fact, show me how to make my own story appealing—to myself. If I can gaze upon my journey as one extended piece of poetry, disappointments begin to look more like catapults than walls. Of course life is messier than a manicured Pixar storyline and doesn’t always provide a sensible ending, but I never enjoyed spoon-fed, tidy drama anyway.

"Pixar Story Rules (one version)

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about till you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there."

Photo credit found here.
Emma Coats's list source found here.