Monday, June 25, 2007

One of my piano student's mothers decided to take lessons from me as a means of keeping up her mental alertness and concentration. I tried valiantly to convince her to buy a Sudoku book... a much cheaper and ultimately less humiliating option...but she insisted and has been showing up in my studio without fail every week since January. I'm very glad for her company, and I like that I have a student who can discuss the latest episode of Big Love and swear when she misses a note and who doesn't come in dressed in all manners of Hello Kitty kid couture, but teaching her is a painful experience completely unique to the awkwardness of teaching kids how to learn a new skill.

She's progressing quite rapidly, actually, and apparently has had some fine arts training in the past because she approaches each song with a fairly musical sensibility, listening for nuances in phrasing and always being careful of "making it flow", even though a student of her ability level really does well just to pound out notes and rhythms. The frustration in our lessons doesn't stem from whether or not she hits a black key or a white key, or whether "On Top of Old Smokey" retains a modicum of recognizability; I think the real tediousness in her lessons lies with how fearful she is to actually just sit down and play.

Every weekend there is a different excuse for why things aren't perfect, or why she doesn't feel ready to really "perform" for me. There's tendonitis, and the in-laws are visiting, and the husband is out of town, and it's Purim...each and every reason accompanied with a resigned sigh and effusive apologies for having to listen to her playing. But the thing she doesn't realize is, I LIKE to hear her play. I love to hear how she's progressing and learning and I like weeding out the little bad habits she has so I have something to actually teach and refine in her musicianship. I get paid to do it, and the only thing I mind about her as a student is her relentless self-doubt and toxic perfectionism that keeps her from just messing up gloriously and then fixing the problem later. Kids don't have that problem; if they screw it up, they'll either admit they had a brainfart or they simply didn't practice and then they'll correct the problem and we'll move on.

I wonder how adults become so fearful, so guarded against acknowledging that there may indeed be a deficiency, but that it can be made up by charging ahead and trying again. I wonder at what point we start to shrink away from taking chances, and being uncomfortable, and even being a little bit in pain as we journey down the path towards something we want. I am, of course, being an utter hypocrite, because I do it in my own way every day just like any other adult: "I just can't pass up chocolate!" "I try to exercise, but I'm just so worn out and sick all the time!" And it's pathetic, because those excuses are flimsy at best, and yet I'm using them as the absolute truth for why I can't accomplish any of my own personal goals.

This weekend I stopped at bookstore to see if I could find a copy of Passing for Thin or When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, since both had come highly recommended to me and I was worried that the last thing I remember actually reading this month was the back of my new shampoo bottle. Of course, my local Borders is lame and probably stopped stocking those books in order to make room for their FOURTEEN KIOSKS of Harry Potter merchandise, so I ended up with Erin Shea's Tales from the Scale and a book I'd never seen before, entitled Skinny Bitches. I, of course, started with the latter, because the 12 year old boy in me reasoned that a book with curse words on the cover could only get better inside the pages. I wasn't disappointed.

The book is written by a former model cum holistic medicine expert and a former Ford Modeling agent who are, in fact, "skinny bitches". The difference between them and your run-of-the-mill Nicole Richie or Olsen twin is that these women are glowingly healthy on top of their stunning looks. I was immediately hooked by chapter titles like "Don't Be a Pussy" and "Sugar is the Devil". It's like reading a note from your mean, pushy best friend who knows where all the good parties and the best shoes sales are and calls you a "whore" affectionately and you let her because you know there's a really kind heart beating behind her bullying facade. Their basic premise is that if you want to be thin, you have to be healthy, and if you want to be healthy you have to stop eating crap.

Well, duh. Obviously. But the book presses on to explain that you can't eat meat, can't eat dairy, can't eat sugar, can't drink coffee or non-organic alcohol, can't eat processed, refined, artifical foods and ever expect to REALLY be healthy in your life. And I definitely agree...a pure vegan lifestyle is probably what nature intended for us, and my friends who are vegan are basically glowing with vitality. I've read books on the vegan/whole foods/holistic lifestyle before and I've slammed them shut with an enthusiastic vow to replace Cheetos with quinoa, mozzarella with tofu, and I do great and feel amazing for a week or so until unplanned hunger hits, or I smell barbecue smoking in a pit, or I'm just too tired to deal with processing ANOTHER fruit smoothie for breakfast and then I fold and start my inevitable backslide to the Land of Egg McMuffins and Curly Fries.

And so, until I got to the "Don't Be a Pussy" chapter, I read this with the same amount of skepticism I reserve for any crunchy hippy diet book and figured there was just no way to deal with it. But those final chapters really resonated with me...what are we so AFRAID of, that we can't let go of the junk food and the overeating? I know that while I was researching vegan recipes this morning I was also staring longingly at the recipes that featured feta, or monterey jack, or sour cream in their ingredients list. Did you know you can actually get addicted to cheese? I know I definitely am, because the idea of living in a dairy-free existence sends me into such a dither...I get shaky and anxious, like somehow just THINKING about a world without muenster means that grocery stockboys are actually pulling it off the shelf even as I type.

It's just ridiculous. If you asked the average person if they would like to start taking illegal drugs so they can feel the effects...the highs as well as the lows and all the side effects...they would probably say it wasn't worth it, don't you agree? But that's because they're not addicted, obviously. So WHY is the notion of not having cake, of not having Oreos, of not having nachos so emotionally upsetting? The only thing I can figure out is that we're addicted to the foods we love, because otherwise we'd all be clamoring to buy tempeh and broccoli because we know that ultimately they're tons better for our bodies. And why are we so terrified to feel hunger? Humans endure sunburns, menstrual cramps, broken bones, kidney stones, childbirth, the flu, strep, migraines...all of these things with a fairly stiff upper lip, but when our stomach starts feeling empty and we have a little light-headedness why do we act like someone just amputated our thumbs? A blogger I read regularly, and I'm sorry I can't remember who, reminded us a few weeks ago that Gandhi fasted for weeks, and most of us can't make it through the evening without a Fourthmeal now...what the fuck?

I spend so much of my time making excuses for why I can't do my very best, even though the resources are all laid out in front of me every day. The research has been done, the friendly neighborhood Whole Foods and the Wild Oats have been constructed, the trashcan is waiting for me to dump my bags of crap food and to move on with my life. What am I so afraid of? That the detoxing is going to hurt? That I'll be boring if I prefer salads and spring water to brats and beer? That it'll be hard work and it won't be any fun? Puhleeze.

We have all accomplished much, much more difficult feats in our lives, and probably for a much smaller payout. Why are we so scared to actually challenge our bodies to do the same?


Grumpy Chair said...

Because our bodies are our "shields". If we let down the shield, we expose ourselves and feel even more vulnerable. My mind might be saying don't eat that, it's not good for you - but I think shoveling food in, will quiet the "common sense" voice.

I have two children, but dieting is tougher than giving birth.

Abba said...

We have gotten lazy. Technology has a big part in this, along with so many freakin choices in the world. I mean, how many types of cheese are there? Too freakin many. If technology was the same as it was back in the day, we wouldn't have all of these things to tempt us. I shouldn't blame it on that. It really boils down to willpower and self worth. We don't really want to stop shoveling the taco bell into our mouths, even though we will try to blog it out of our system later. I only say taco bell because that is what I had for dinner.

Erin said...

And because you know Taco Bell is the great love of my life. :)

Lori said...

My name is Lori and I'm addicted to cheese.

It's very tough to let down the shield like Alicia says.

I don't know if it's willpower -- Abba is right in that we have so many things out there to eat that we never had before. So this is a new generation faced with a lot of things. Willpower may not just cut it. Perhaps it's the retraining of our brains to find other things to quiet and calm ourselves. I don't know. You're talking to someone who spent her afternoon/early evening listening to her food voice.

VeggieB! said...

i feel like it is my duty here, as the representative of Switzerland--aka CHEESE CENTRAL--to remind that CHEESE is actually not entirely to blame. The Swiss are a culture built almost entirely around fresh, local cheese, fresh, local bread, and delicious chocolate. All made with whole, natural ingredients. Believe it or not, there are LOTS of skinny, beautiful, GLOWING Swiss people! All of the meat is free-range, as is the milk, and although one should not binge or eat entire blocks of cheese, a little every day is a very good thing. The trick is not slathering it on top of EVERYTHING. Pick your meal to enjoy it with and enjoy it. They don't eat a trough at every meal, and they walk EVERYWHERE. I'm sad to leave...

But cheetos don't count as cheese. :p

Lauren said...

Ahhhh cheese, the great love of my life, the numero uno..the other white meat. Wait, I might be getting that wrong. When I first joined OA, and considered giving up chocolate, I cried I was so anxious and panicked, and that's just ridiculous. Ok, get nervous about not having ANY food or any way to get food, but chocolate, not one of the daily necessities.

Lauren said...

oh and if it's possible for a straight woman to fall in love with another woman just by reading their blog, it's happened here. lol.

Melissa said...

Fantastic post - I think it's because I use food as comfort and as a way to numb my feelings when I get stressed or overwhelmed. For me, it's like taking a security blanket away from a baby.