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The End of the Endless Bookstore?

I was in the symbolic space of what was once Brand Books last night in my dreams but instead of it leading to the Endless Bookstore - a place I've visted in separate dreams over the years, truly wondrous, rambling, impossible and filled with books, antiques, and more - I couldn't get beyond the parts of it that had been cleared out.  This is the first time I've had my dream mind acknowledge that the place is indeed gone in real life, though it is not gone in my own mind.  I haven't even approached the front of the space where it used to be yet but even when I do, nothing will replace that storefront in my mind.

There was a bit left over, some shelves, some odds and ends, but the store was bare.  I raised a curtain to look into the back area and though there were some antiques there and some titanic rugs, there were hardly any books.  I know I cried at intervals and was explaining to friends of friends that I'd basically grown up in that bookstore.

We'd had to get there on a particular bus, like it was very far away (strangely, it seemed to be close to if not on top of Forest Lawn cemetery, of all places).  The bus back was a hoverbus with a driver I didn't know, and it was raining.  I was a little uncomfortable at first but he got us back down from the hill (so yes, my mind put it at the top of the hill where the great museum is in Forest Lawn).  I apparently had already scooped up what memorabilia I could on a previous visit, but after I got back home, a guy from the store came to reclaim a lamp I'd been allowed to take; turns out, it was a real antique piece and they needed it.

I dearly hope that this isn't the end of the endless bookstore, even if it's the end of Brand Books in some part of my subconscious mind.  The dreams in which I'd found passageways into a grander space with wild arrangements of books and increasingly more interesting people and the sense that you could find almost anything there - I have never wanted them to end.  And there will always be a cozy, warm place in my heart for that bookstore, and its owner and his son who ran it so well for so many years.

erome Joseph, the face of Brand Books and bookstores for me forever, and his son and regular fixture at Brand, Noriaki Nakano.

And another cute one I found with them:

The front windows were like the rocks that sirens sang from. Just when you thought you'd find only drivel in them, something would catch your eye and make you stop and then you'd find something else...

The front entry was always a passageway with a cool breeze.

This was the open archway to the left of the entrance, past the register and its counters. It led to hardcover books, the records display you can see starting there, as well as bios, plays, literature from other countries, erotica, travel, and other things besides.

Just seeing one of their old markers makes me glad this morning.

I tried to take some pictures on my last visit but I was so upset that they were uniformly blurry. Still, I want to share a place in my psyche with you as best I can, and I found these pictures.


An Awesome New Year's Note

This morning, I woke up to this note from a former student:

"I was unable to get a English 1A class last semester that fit in my schedule. This last semester I, seeing that English is not my favorite or best subject, hesitantly took an English class. Unfortunately and fortunately it was an extremely hard class. Mostly because he was a hard grader that enjoyed politics, controversial topics, and current events. Important yes, but a very large gap in my knowledge and interests. Before he gave the first paper back, which was a pass/no pass on education, taxation and the union, he announced that only half of us passed. With shaking hands I looked to see that I pass; however I knew that I would take a lot of stress, tears, and most of all perseverance to get though this class. Before each paper he returned, he would lecture to the class of how we were underachieving. So with each heavy paper that came I would try harder, pouring everything I had into it. I just got my grade back yesterday and I got an A. I know I would have not been able to do it without your class. I would often turn to my old English 100 notes for reference. Every time I wrote I would recall your lectures. I thank you for that Now, if all goes according to plan, I will graduate this next semester with my AA and be transferring to a four-year. As the year ends I look back at my time at PCC. I had some pretty...interesting professors and, I swear this is not just flattery, you were one of the best. I leaned so much in your class, but most of all, I could tell that you truly cared about your students. Thank you for hard work and caring spirit. I can't wait to usher in the New Year. Happy 2014!"

I think my heart just grew three sizes.  =D


Elegy for a Student

I had a new experience as a teacher today that nobody thought to warn me about, and while I understand why, that doesn't make it any easier.

This afternoon I was talking with my mom about my inspiring former student, Gail, and since I was home I decided to check in on her Facebook page - only to discover that Gail passed away this summer.  Gail was my student in early 2010 and I have carried her with me ever since, sharing what she taught me with others and fondly remembering her bravery.

Let me tell you why I will always remember Gail.

She was one of my older students, older than me by just over twenty years, and she brought her experience, confidence, and professionalism to every session with her.  Like many of my students who are returning to school, she knew the value of her education and was determined to get the very most out of it, and she made that clear early on.

Gail stood out from the start for several other reasons, as well.  The first was her polished exterior.  Not a day went by that she didn't show up in her best suits, almost like she was heading to church instead of English class.  I admit, at times she made me feel underdressed in a delightful way, and her presence encouraged me to make regular use my best gear instead of saving it for later.

Her alert, direct, and inquisitive nature was another pleasure.  Her mind never seemed to wander from the lesson at hand; even when she was having trouble understanding something, her eyes were always on me or whoever else was talking.  She asked refreshingly straightforward questions and was not afraid to do so, which I hope helped set the example for her fellow students.  She was honest when she was stumped by something and she kept at it until she got somewhere.

One day, during an everyday sort of lesson, we were talking about body image and gender expectations regarding appearance.  Makeup, hair, weight, dimensions - you know the drill.  Students usually have a lot to say about such things because many of them feel such pressures keenly.  But Gail spoke up in a way I could have never anticipated.

"I don't want to look glamorous," she insisted starkly, and much to everyone's immediate disbelief, given her perfect presentation just then.  "I just want to look like myself.  I just want to look normal."  She went on to explain that she had been wrestling with lupus for some time and that every day was a struggle to make herself appear the way she had before the disease had taken its toll.  She wore wigs because she'd lost her hair, she revealed (in a way that was more informational than ashamed I'm proud to say), and I think everyone expressed present their amazement.  None of us could tell, and all of us had admired her hair.

But Gail wasn't finished.  She said she worked extra hard every day to make herself at least look healthy again, and that it was one of her ongoing goals.  She went to it with makeup, her best clothes, and everything she had, and she was sure many others were struggling to do the same, whether anyone else knew or not.  We had to keep in mind that other people's struggles weren't just with society, or some fake media standard, or with some internal feeling of not being good enough.  There was so much more than that.

And that was also why she made sure to come to every class she could, no matter how bad she was feeling or how her symptoms were acting up.  She was bound and determined to finish what she'd started and to let nothing get in her way, and I had tears in my eyes well before she got to that part, but I was so proud and grateful for her testimony, which was not done to impress me or anybody else.  She had things to teach us that day, myself included, and the eyes of much younger people were on her, round, wide open, and amazed - admiring, aspiring, and impressed, as they should have been.

I was not the only one who learned immensely valuable things that day.
Others took a part of her away with them from that room, I assure you.

I am often humbled by the things students deign share with me and the class - the accomplishments, the tragedies, the struggles - but I was more than humbled then.  The worst of vanity died out in me that day.  I had a whole new way to look at myself in the mirror, and to look at everyone else as they passed, silently bearing their own crosses through their lives and keeping the worst to themselves.

I have kept Gail with me ever since.  I have told other classes her story and shared my continued amazement at her courage and strength.  She was kind enough to friend me on Facebook and though she didn't update much, I was glad to know she was there, still living and loving and fighting.  I see loving messages left by family and friends on her page now, and pictures, usually in large groups, of that woman I briefly knew.  And I feel sorry I didn't know her more, and that I didn't find out about her death until almost six months after the fact.

But more than that, I feel grateful to have known her at all, and for the profession that has brought me this new type of grief.  "But this is part of why I wanted to teach," I told my mom through tears.  "I wanted more than a job.  I wanted an experience."

I look forward to finding many more ways to continue to enrich others with what Gail Tate-Jackson taught me.


Fighting My Way to Health With Fight Club

"People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden" (11).

Anyone who knows me knows how I am about Fight Club, and anyone who's found about about my weight loss in recent years has asked how I did it.  Since I first encountered the movie and then the book, Fight Club has become a part of my common parlance, applicable to too many situations in my life and the greater world.  But it wasn't until I started teaching it that I started to trace its subtle influences on me over the years, and it wasn't until today that I realized how much of my weight loss regimen and health philosophy can be tied to it.  And I think that the next time someone asks me how I lost 110 pounds in just over a year without pills or surgery or starving, I'll point them here so they can learn something essential about the method I've devised for myself.

I know that probably sounds strange to anyone familiar with the material.  So much of Fight Club is about the virtues of self-destruction as the beginning of rebirth and enlightenment, after all, and is a reaction against the dogma of mindless (or worse yet, media-driven) self-improvement.  I know this.  But when I topped out the scale at 250 pounds on my 5'2" frame, I felt like I'd spiraled so far out of control that there was no way to rein myself back in.  I got to where I was unable to recognize my own face in the mirror and had started to suspect that there was ultimately no one else to hold responsible for all the damage and restrictions my weight had begun to impose on me.  But I didn't want to face up to any of that, so for a time I avoided scales and mirrors and just gave up on ever losing a single pound or feeling better physically.

"I hated my life.  I was tired and bored with my job and my furniture, and I couldn't see any way to change things" (172).

Sound familiar?  The narrator didn't know what else to do to start changing his life, so he created Tyler Durden to do it for him.  I didn't know what to do and couldn't be anyone but myself, so I waited, as the narrator had, for something to happen.

"Three weeks without sleep, and everything becomes an out-of-body experience" (19).

I finally broke down and decided to give exercise a real try while I was wrestling with a bad patch of insomnia, something I've suffered from off and on pretty much my whole life.  It's not like moving around was the first thing I tried, though; after waking up feeling half-dead for days on end, exerting myself was the last thing I wanted to do.  So I went through all the old protocols I had ready for just such an occasion: I adjusted my caffeine intake (both dosage and timing), feng-shuied my sleeping space, and tried meditating myself into the mini coma I needed to make up for all the sleep I'd lost, all to no avail.  I eventually determined that it wasn't a physical problem, but any psychological issues were going to be pending for a while.

Maybe it was because I was between jobs.  Maybe it was all the other issues I was handling or avoiding during my waking hours.  Either way, none of that was going to be fixed overnight, and the days began to fly by without relief and without the energy needed to do much of anything.  So one night as I stared at my clock in the wee hours of the morning, when it was still dark as night, I made a promise to myself.  I didn't care how low I felt when I climbed out of bed that morning.  If I met the break of dawn wide awake, I was going to throw on some duds and hike my ass up the hill behind my house as far as I dared.  I wasn't going to hurt myself.  I would take breaks if I had to.  But I would be damned before I wasted another day moving only between the bed, the computer chair, and the couch.

When my bedroom walls took on the delicate eggshell blue of sunbreak, I did just what I told myself I would.  I picked the best shoes I had for it.  I didn't care how I dressed.  I grabbed a bottle of water, but damn it, I went.  And no, it didn't feel great at first, but it didn't feel as bad as I feared it would.  The little aches and pains were within normal parameters and none of them stood out as dangerous or show-stopping.  I felt like, "What I'm feeling is premature enlightenment" (70).  And I knew that "Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing."

I stopped a few times to catch my breath and I took my time rather than rushing up the hill as though I did it every day, and eventually I came to a point where I knew I couldn't go any further.  But I marked that place in my mind because my next goal was to get there again and go a little further, even if it was only a few steps.  I rattled my way down the hillside with care and listened to my body the rest of the day, eating as best I could and tending my muscles.  I had a promise to keep, after all, and not just in the event that I couldn't sleep again; since I'd ultimately enjoyed my walk I extended my promise to cover the next day, whether I had insomnia or not.  Every day I would do something truly physical, and sweat and looks be damned - because I wanted and I needed to.  I wanted to hold myself to it, for myself and my health and strength and nobody else.

Nobody else could do it for me, and nothing would happen if I didn't really try.  All my excuses and evasions had left me with nothing, and no amount of self-love had changed how bad my extra weight physically made me feel, nor did it put a dent in all the activities I had trouble doing because of my bulk.  I couldn't sugar-coat my situation any further or count on anyone or anything else to save me.

"This was freedom.  Losing all hope was freedom" (22).

Indeed it was.  Instead of flimsy, ephemeral hopes, I embraced some new rules and routes of action - which were actually old rules I'd seen in Fight Club.

"The third rule of Project Mayhem is no excuses" (122).
"The fourth rule is no lies."

Without having looked at the rules of Project Mayhem in a while, I started fully embracing them and applying them in new ways.  Honesty became my first rule.  I'd lied to myself long enough.  No excuses followed quickly after; while I might have had to compromise about the type or amount of exercise in a day, or I might have had to do it the next day at the latest, I would not relent and give up.  No excuse could ever be good enough because I had something Tyler Durden didn't - I had myself.

And I wanted myself.

And you should want yourself, too.

The Luxury of Whining

When most of your life is going well, you get to have first world problems.  My number one ongoing first world struggle is with space, or lack thereof, and that has been the case whether I've been living with someone else or living alone.  I love my apartment, my neighbors, and my neighborhood, and I've had to admit that I am not up for a move, even if that is the only way to truly increase my square footage.  But the dimensions, layout, and limitations of this place start to crowd in on me every few months, it seems, until I get off my ass and make something happen.

Usually, it starts and ends with cleaning and organizing.  This year alone I have gone through the contents of every box, drawer, and corner of my place, throwing old things away, donating things I've been able to part with, and rearranging the rest.  And to be fair, I've done some good work, whether you can tell the difference when you walking in or not.  The amount of excess crap I've thrown out with no greater use is one thing, but the number of things I've donated or given away is even more impressive.  It's been difficult to teach myself to be honest about my stuff.  I mean, I am an American and something of a sentimentalist; I have loved stuff all my life and I used to feel comforted by a certain profusion of things in my orbit.  I haven't been a hoarder, but I have been a limited collector.

But as I've gotten older and wanted to have more room to maneuver, as I've wanted to be able to find things without hours of searching, and as I've become less attached to many items, I've started to teach myself how to filter through my things.  I do it at least once a year.  Losing massive amounts of weight only helped point out the need for such ritual shedding, since I shrank out of clothes and was thankful to know I'd never need them again.  Favorite shirts, gone.  Old but loved pants?  Out.  I'm still trying to get to the point where if I don't wear it once in a year's time, it's gone. 

And it's still an uphill battle against decades of habit.  Just lately I've found that I can part with books that I love but will likely never read again (but books that will also be easy to reacquire).  I'm still struggling with myself to let go of the books I studied so intensely for my Master's exam; though they are undoubtedly excellent, I've left that six months of time well behind me.  They're not collector's editions or anything. Some other student of English could probably use them.  But they've lived with me too long...

The real problem that I might be able to fix in the upcoming year is furniture.  Most of my pieces are still hand-me-downs I obtained out of need, and I've been grateful for every one of them.  But they tend to be shorter and wider, taking up floor space I can't afford and not using the upward space that I actually have in some abundance.  Toward the end of last year, I gave myself the task of finding a set of dishes I love and teaching myself how to be good to them.  I also used Christmas gifts to obtain my first real set of matching towels, picked just how I liked them (and even if they do shed still, their colors are lovely and they're still happily soft!).  And I set myself the chore of reviewing everything I owned.  It worked out pretty damned well.

I think this end of the year will involve the search for new furniture, measured and perhaps even brand new, as a way to make my home even more comfortable for me, my love, my cats, and my friends.  Because this is the first world and I might finally have the luxury of doing such a thing.

My weight loss tracking, 2010 - 2011

I didn't weigh in at the very start of my diet/exercise regimen or for the first few months.  I'd hit 250 and gotten disgusted with scales some time before, however; that was my maximum weight.  I started counting calories, reducing my intake, changing my diet, and exercising in earnest in June.
October 9: 216
November 10: 210
December 10: 199
December 20: 194
January 10: 191
January 21: 187
February 10: 184.5
March 10: 174
April 10: 170
May 12: 163
June 10: 158
July: ?
August 10: 145
I quit writing down my weigh-ins for the rest of the year; I got too busy and forgot.  December 10 I believe I was at 140.

105 and counting

Today, it becomes official: I have lost over 100 pounds since I changed my life last summer.  I weighed in at 145 this morning and I'm still in the process of imbibing enough coffee to believe it.  Even though I normally take my measurements every few months, I took them today for the hell of it.  So I'm posting this here so I can come back to it when I'm fully awake and gawp at it - and be even more glad than I am now.  =)

On June 25th, my measurements were:

Top of bust: 36 inches
Mid bust: 40 inches
Bottom of bust: 33 inches
Waist: 30.5 inches
Hip: 44.5 inches

Today they are:

Top of bust: 34 inches
Mid bust: 39 inches
Bottom of bust: 30 1/2 inches
Waist: 30 inches
Hip: 42 inches

Graduation Day, Redux

My mom called me this morning and played a round of "guess that tune" with me, until it was clear that I was hearing a pattering of the graduation march in the background. It turned out that she was watching the DVD of my MA graduation ceremony on her new, bigger screen - and then she started getting teary-eyed about it.

I couldn't help but be amused. "Ma," I said, "that was three years ago."

But for her, right then, it might as well have been that very moment all over again. It was a curious sensation, to listen to her relive that day like an announcer caught up in the action of a game. I sat on the other end of the phone and marveled at the play-by-play.

She said that it was beautiful, and admonished me to be kind whenever I had the chance to watch it myself. (She knows how I felt about the pictures I took for the occasion; it was deeply disturbing not to recognize myself in them. I gave her the DVD without even looking at it.) "You were beautiful then and you're beautiful now," she said, and paused a section taken up by my smile. I had no idea how I might feel by the time I faced the full-color, full-motion image of myself in 2008, worn down by months of intense study and swathed in some 250 pounds of flesh. But her focus on my smile made me think that I could certainly afford to be kind.

She told me she was so proud, as though I had just gotten done with finals and was standing there in my cap and gown. She reminded me that I should be proud, probably because she remembers how deeply ambivalent I felt about it for some time. "You worked really hard and you earned this." The edge to her voice echoed across the ether and made me feel it.

And suddenly I felt bad about the haphazard way I slapped my degrees up on the wall, mostly to quiet her insistence that I do so. To this day they are not quite straight in their frames and maybe the frames are a little off center, too (which I originally took as yet another sign of how off-kilter that whole period of my life became, so I gave up any hope of fixing them).

I was bemused by a flash of tender-hearted affection for those slips of paper and all that they represented - not just knowledge or struggles or student loan payments, but entire years of my life. They weren't the highest or most expensive recommendations and they didn't make me a rocket scientist, but they would always be mine. And as sure as spouses exchange rings, I would always be theirs. I gave myself to my education as wholeheartedly as I knew how and its mark is seared in me. I feel it every day - and I don't regret it.

Only later did I realize that it has indeed been three years almost to the day of my graduation and though that particular anniversary has passed uncelebrated since then, it will not go without some recognition this year.

For what it's worth three years later, I am proud. I think, to my mother, at least, that is worth a great deal.


The Bottom Line

 I knew that I shouldn't have weighed myself today, the second day of my period, but it's the appointed time. Normally, the two things don't coincide and I get to weigh myself in relative peace, without all the horrible hormones swirling around the outcome. I wish I had listened to myself earlier today and left it alone but I had to do it if I was going to keep to the schedule.

I didn't want to wait until it was all over and mess up my record keeping; for the first months I weighed in on the 9th, but since then it's consistently been the 10th. I've even requisitioned a doctor's scale on the days I was at appointments with my mother on the 10th. And I only visit a scale once a month because the last thing I need is to be obsessive about what I find there.

So today, after waking up utterly dragged out but dragging myself to my workout, I got on the scale. I tried mine, and I usually ask my neighbors if I can use theirs, as well. Between the two, I get a decent idea of where I'm at. Last month, I discovered I'd lost 10 pounds, which was more than my usual 7. I was thrilled. This month, I've discovered that I've lost between 4 and 5 pounds, which is less than my usual 7 - and I'm not so thrilled, but I can't afford to be too critical.

The sheer fact of the matter is that I can point to my period, or to the days I've eaten a little more than my normal allottment (though not much more), or the days I worked out for 45 minutes instead of an hour, and it's all going to come to the same conclusion. I'm enjoying what I'm doing and feeling better and stronger because of it, so no matter what the scale says, I'm not stopping. Or slowing down. Or beating myself up.

No matter what my hormones tell me.
1. I'd missed seeing my friends. I was happy the moment Niki and Richard picked me up and I was glad to get out for a while. It wouldn't have mattered too much where we went as long as it was out. At the same time, I found myself wishing there was more centrality to the event so that I could have seen Melody more, and I missed the big group we used to gather for the trip.

2. I don't need Faire as an excuse to get dressed up any more. Since I've been dropping weight and changing out my old clothes for newer ones, every day feels like a costume opportunity.

3. I don't need Faire to feel pretty or young or flirty, either. Honestly, the whole vibe of the place has changed so much that it couldn't really provide those things for me. It's not as carefree any more (and I suppose neither am I). I get as much notice (if not more) walking down the street nowdays.

4. The food is still savory and different enough from standard fare. It's interesting to attend Faire now that I'm counting calories, but I did pretty well overall. If anything, it's tempting to spend all your calories on the various yummy brews they have at the various booths.

5. There's plenty of good food outside of Faire, too. We had a great closing meal elsewhere because it got way too cold to sit outside on the picnic tables. An amazing rack of lamb will make me deliriously joyful to be alive at any rate, but paired with good company, it leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy. And full.Read more...Collapse )