The Care & Feeding of Friends(hip)

I believe it was Descartes who said: “I think, therefore, I am.” I could say, or certainly in the past could say, “I feed, therefore, I am.” This is (has been), obviously, not always a good thing. Particularly when used against myself, as in “My worthiness is determined by my service to others… i.e. feeding them.” But that is the shadow side. There is so much that gives me pleasure about feeding others. I am proud of my knowledge and my skills and I love to share them, as well as the resulting food for consumption. Random associations include:

  • long time friend JR saying: “Cathy used to bake all the time… ” which recalls the years when I worked as a baker and constantly baked sweets at home for my friends;
  • talking with a young mother about ways to put together quick, easy, nutritious and varied pureed food for her baby;
  • making a Key Lime pie for my elderly grandmother every Christmas for 15 years;
  • cooking up large batches of Guatemalan black beans and rice for family and friends;
  • trying new recipes and food/flavor combinations;
  • playing with fresh produce or herbs from my own garden or a farmers market…

Many happy memories. I am quite sure that I could continue adding to this list for a long time and that it would more than out weigh [sic] the ‘cooking as a responsibility and burden’ occasions that are also a part of my history. And I do want to share my thoughts about the subject line: The Care and Feeding of Friends and Friendship.

Nurturing is what makes a friendship strengthen and grow, just as feeding a child is essential for its growth and development. Sharing food is an elemental manner of nurturing; preparing the food adds another layer to the connection. In virtually every culture, the act of eating together represents an essential bond for family and community. There is some powerful magic that can happen when humans focus on their food, setting aside, even briefly, the contentious stresses of everyday life. Sitting together to eat or drink can bring forth the conversational sharing that solidifies relationships. I’m not saying that people must share meals in order to have healthy meaningful friendships, but it doesn’t hurt, does it?

Alright, I am going to move away from this warm fuzziness for a bit, because I need to share something from Caitlin Moran’s book, which I mentioned yesterday, How To Be a Woman. I’m just going to put the raw material out there, which for some reason I’ve avoided doing in this blog, thus far. I think that I’ve begun to understand why I shied away from putting it out there.  When I first read it, it knocked the wind out of me, in both a good way and a terrifying way. Good, because she put into words something that had been my experience, but I could never have articulated. Terrifying, well, for the same reason, I guess. It explains a piece of my personal psychology and experience, in part by placing it in a larger cultural context, which is devastating in its simplicity, obviousness and outrageousness.

from How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

[The fact is that]… people overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, serially f**k around or take drugs.  In this trancelike state, you can find welcome, temporary relief from thinking [and feeling]… Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction and self-obliteration. You get all the temporary release of drinking, f**king or taking drugs, but without… ever being left in a state where you can’t remain responsible and cogent.

In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug… you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, pop in on your mum and then stay up all night with an ill five-year-old… something that is not an option if you are [shooting/snorting drugs] or… knocking back quarts of Scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of f**king yourself up while still remaining functional, because you have to.

Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead they are self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.     [Emphasis is mine.]

Well, it happened again. Every time I read this, I am struck dumb by the truth of it and the power of it. In one fell swoop it deconstructs so much for me about addiction (of all kinds) and women, food, care-taking and responsibility.

I encourage you to check out the whole book, which is, as stated by the reviewer I quoted yesterday “… as much attitude as analysis. … in equal measure, intellectual, rebel[lious] and goof[y].”  Or at least to take a look at this article about the chapter from which these lines are drawn: I Am Fat. Moran describes a visit to a friend in a British rehab center who reveals to her the ‘ranking’ of addictions being treated there. And Moran plays out a pointed and hysterical tale about dysfunctional and beloved rock and roll musicians, whose behavior and unreliability are forgiven and somewhat glorified.   What if they used food instead of drugs? They would show up for every performance, but how would their fans react to the fact that they look not wasted, but fat?

In closing, a comment about an editorial in today’s Boston Globe. It expresses a very sensible opinion, with reference to some very interesting research about food labeling. You can find the full text here.  But…

Can someone please tell me why the editorial writers or staff decided to include a photograph of two XXXL women, taken from behind, which emphasizes their XXXL butts? The headline is One soda = a five mile walk. The research tracked the behavior of black teenagers. So, is this choice of image perhaps playing to the basest responses of the reader? Is it about shaming? Misogyny? Shock value? Comedy?

It is cruel and wrong, wrong, wrong. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, for furthering erroneous stereotypes.  It makes me so mad.

Friends don’t let friends…

‘Friends don’t let friends… ’ This phrase is perhaps most associated with the crusade against drunk driving. Which is a very basic way of underscoring another critical element to a good friendship. A friend is drunk… you take their car keys and drive them home (or put them in a cab, if you are also under the influence.) They may not express their appreciation for your concern at the time, but that is part of the deal. As a friend you are willing to get in their face, tell them something that maybe makes them mad, maybe even belligerent, but you step up and speak up, because it is about their safety.

Another way to say this is that a good friend ‘has your back’. A somewhat contemporary expression, but the imagery is quite clear, I think. A friend stands behind you when you need support. A friend watches your back, alerting you to things you may not see on your own. A friend will speak up and defend you, if it is called for, when you are not there. And all of this is reciprocal – they know that you ‘have their back’ as well.

Thinking about my discouraged and self-doubting post a few days ago, I am aware of the friends who have and are supporting me in my writing. They encourage me – give me courage – when I don’t know if what I am trying to say makes sense. They hang in there with me, telling me what they ‘hear’ me saying and help me to refine my thinking and my writing. So, when I slip into that ‘slough of despond’, I only need to look up and there’s a friend, reaching to help me out. Thank you, readers and friends.

There was one particular section in Caitlin Moran’s book, How to be a Woman, which really popped my eyes open regarding women, body size and addiction. I thought that I had posted about that eye-opener last year, but when I searched for it, I see that although I wrote it, I did not share it. Still too close to the bone for me, I guess. So I will offer you a link to her website and return to that piece of writing another time.  In addition to her wacky site, here’s a link to a review of the book, written by Peggy Orenstein and posted on slate.com.  Orenstein quite accurately states:  “Moran’s feminism is as much attitude as analysis. She is, in equal measure, intellectual, rebel and goofball…”

Moran was interviewed recently by Lorraine Berry in the online magazine, Talking Writing. Here’s a bit of that interview. They are discussing publication, which is not my issue, but it speaks to the self-doubt experienced by many women writers.

Berry: Do you think male editors and publishers are oblivious to who they’re publishing? They really don’t notice they’ve wound up hiring all these men? Or do they think men are inherently better writers?

Moran: When people say, “Men are inherently better writers,” they mean that men appear to be more “normal” writers—because the people making that judgment are other men.  So, when they read men writing these things, it’s like, “Yes, yes, yes. That’s generally my experience. That’s how I feel.”

Whereas when a woman writes about what she feels or her experience, suddenly they’re like, [imitating a male voice with a posh Oxbridge accent] “No! That’s weird. She’s gone a bit mad there.”

When they say “better,” they just mean less startling or less weird. Any clever entity will realize that startling and weird are good.

In so many ways, the Internet is great, because now women can blog. They don’t have to wait to be approved by a man to get their voices out there.

Berry: I’ve heard one more explanation for why women don’t get published as often as men. The editor of a very left-leaning magazine said the problem is that women don’t write about serious issues

Moran: Often, women are too scared to put themselves forward to write about serious things… when we were younger… we thought we should just write about women’s issues because that’s something we know about—and we wouldn’t write about war and diplomacy because we didn’t know that much about it.

But when I… talked to male columnists… they said, “You know, we write about politics and war, but we don’t know that much about it, either.” Men just have that confidence to say, “Well! I’m not an expert on it, but I’ll give it a go. I’ll just bring my common sense to it, do a bit of research, and I’ll do it.”

I now write about these big subjects because—you know what? – its me having a bit of a thought about this, and it’s equal to what anybody else is going to write, I reckon. You just need to have that swaggering confidence to do it.

You may think that I’ve drifted off topic, but the truth is that when Caitlin Moran goes ahead and writes things that seem ‘crazy and weird’ she is very much a friend to me. She articulates my concerns about writing honestly about feelings and experience. That’s what was choking me the other day; the fear was cutting off my voice. I love the way she says: “… it’s me having a bit of thought about this…”.

Yes, that’s exactly what I want to be doing here, just as if I were in a conversation with a good friend.  Having a bit of thought. I like that.

And your thoughts about what… friends don’t (or DO) let friends…?