19 August 2017

Tracking


With all my different eccentricities and madnesses about weight and health, a natural product for me to own would be a fitness tracker, a Fitbit. A Fitbit could tell me how many steps I had walked, and a more expensive one might also tell me my heart rate. I have avoided getting one, mostly because they cost money and I feel like it is an unnecessary purchase, particularly this year given the house and the trip to Sweden and the children needing whatever they need. I had made rumblings though that I wanted one, not a Fitbit, but a Garmin GPS watch (a running watch, not a fitness tracker, to be clear) for my birthday, my 35th, which passed this summer. Living on one income as a family means my money is both my money and not my money and I showed these watches to Yoko, like I wanted some sort of absolution for buying one. This was, of course, an illogical and opaque desire, one I didn't ever communicate, but when a package came from Yoko's parents, including some cash for me for my birthday, I had exactly the cover I needed to buy the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ with an accent on one of the vowels, on sale at Curry's. The + is for the GPS, making it running kit. Not a fitness tracker.

When you see someone with a fitness tracker, you recognise a shared madness and feel an instant sense of camaraderie. You're counting calories and steps too, I see. My Garmin, however, is a running watch, so I'm a better kind of crazy. I make sure to point this out to people as a way of virtue signalling. I'm a runner and I run more than you do, probably. This pride will quickly turn to shame when I burn out on running in October and I start to gain weight again, showing myself to be the fraud and imposter that I am. For now though, I can show the Garmin to people — an interested acquaintance at a conference, for example — and as I clip through the features of the device, I can use it as a foil for bragging about my health. This shows your resting heart rate which is 32, remarkably low, I know, this shows your latest run, Yes, I ran 26 kilometres this morning before breakfast at this conference. My fastest half marathon and 10k are very fast in your opinion, I assume, but you need to realise that running is like anything else, there's always somebody faster than you (and I go into this story about my daughter's friend's dad who runs much faster than me and is 45).

As an instrument, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ with an accent on one of the vowels is fine enough. It celebrates my 10,000th step every day with a buzz and some animated fireworks on the display, which I like. But it's slow connecting to the GPS and has failed me on several occasions not logging the last half of a run, for example, and rendering that run non-existent in my apps. I feel like I am lying as I insert it manually, like the machine doesn't believe me that I went 10 kilometres instead of 7.3. Or that I earned an additional 150 kilocalories so drinking this beer is fine. You have a kind of internal dialogue with it, and the app that comes along, which also tells you how well and long you sleep.

I put it on Tuesday morning for a run, the last day of our holiday in a caravan park outside of Bruges. I looked online for a running route and decided I should just go all the way into town 10 kilometers in and 10 out, from the weird suburban landscape of Jabbake with a manmade lake, to the beautiful old market town. I left a little after six and as the kilometeres ticked off, I wondered if I was going the right way, certainly the town would be there now. It didn't appear after 7 or 8, but then there it was, in the morning sun. I went through a gate and was transported into the past the way old European towns do. Dance clubs and convenience stores in centuries old buildings. People coming home from the clubs too, loud and drunk, and then, as I turned the corner towards the cathedral, the men getting ready to do construction work in a square. The Garmin ticked up to 11 kilometers, buzzing on my wrist and I thought it was time to turn back, to find the right cobblestone street, and go home, to England or Birmingham or wherever it was I needed to go.

18 August 2017

Making weight

Stephen loses at life

I've been fat my whole life — I was in fact born fat. Ten pounds, zero ounces. The doctor said he needed help holding me when I came out. I remember looking in the mirror as a kid and seeing pouches of fat at my armpits that other kids didn't have. I was fat, other kids called me fat. My uncle who is a doctor once told me it was good that I had fat on my legs because he said I would use it if I got sick. That memory sticks out like a bent nail, like the time Sandy Sleck said to me I was insecure. Why do I remember this. I was fat through junior high school, but then there were other kids who were fatter. When I played football that one dreadful year, my fatness was between a defensive guard and a linebacker. Being a linebacker is a good fat. I wasn't fat enough to be on the line. After that, I don't remember thinking that I was fat. I was fat, sure, but other people were fatter so it didn't matter.

I don't remember a number getting associated with my weight until I applied for a passport when I was sixteen. I wrote 201 pounds, but I don't remember why that was the number. I must have been to the doctor in the last year. I don't remember thinking that number was fat, but I think I lied and the number might have been higher. It feels like something I did, or thought about doing so much that I might as well have done. I don't remember caring one way or another after a year because I got a girlfriend who was not fat and much prettier than I thought I deserved, but it all made sense. I could be funny and intelligent and fat and it wouldn't matter. And everyone else was getting fatter anyway, particularly in college. I drank eight cokes a day, what did it matter — I was growing my hair out and serving God. I was fat in Japan, but of course, that was just being American. All Americans are fat, right, you're just another one. I eat a lot, yes, lots on my plate. I eat peanut butter and pop tarts and pasta. Yes, sure, yakiniku, beef on a stick, I love it all. It was a kind of a joke — everyone was going to stare, what did it matter what you ate.

Neal got me to work out for the first time, in Niigata, the same month that I met Yoko and I started thinking about wearing sport coats. I weighed myself there at the sports centre for the first time and did the thing I learned you weren't supposed to do: kept my shoes on. It was 89 kilograms. Not over 90. I kept a food diary for the first time, and realised that when I drank 5 cappuccinos at Saizeriya in Ogata — while I was studying kanji for the Japanese proficiency test — they were making me fat. Or better, I could just control what I ate and be whatever weight I wanted. All I had to do was stop. It was easy enough. Yoko and I got engaged — my mother said she didn't recognise me in the pictures. I rode my bike after I got a couple speeding tickets and lost weight. The fat started to come off, particularly in my face and I had a jawline and then a wife and a daughter and I wasn't fat, but healthy. I was running too, up and down the Agano River for 10, 20, 30 kilometers. Alone and quiet and the sun coming up while my wife and daughter slept in Matsuhama.

And then I was fat again, in England this time, starting my PhD in a tiny apartment with Yoko, pregnant, and Naomi. It was Tiger bread and butter — again, I remember. I thought, there are so many calories in this. I know there are. There's a picture of me that I remember, a picture of me fat that I saw and thought, I'm fat. Mei was born and I started running again and I took the weight off, like a cycle that I repeat and repeat. Gain from November until May, lose from June to September.

When Mia was born, I was thin for the first time. Not just not fat, but thin. Thinner than I had ever been. I was meticulous about numbers, what I was eating and how much. I weighed everything. I weighed cereal and milk. I counted everything I ate, a carrot, some celery. I hit 69.9 kgs one day, the lowest I had ever been since I was... I thought a long time about that, how long ago I had been that weight: 154 pounds. It must have been junior high school. I was thin, but I was still fat. I thought about the whole thing like it was a tight rope I could fall off of at any moment. If I just had one bad day it would be over. And then I had a bad day and it was over. We went to Malaysia and I gave up. I remember the precise moment I gave up. I was trudging through the sun and humidity trying to find some furniture while Yoko and the girls were sick in the hotel. I was at a convenience store and I bought some ice cream. I remember exactly what it was: a Nestle crunch bar. It was so cheap and I felt I needed it. I was fat anyway, what did it matter.

In my thirties, I have been fat and then thin and then fat and then thin and then fat for a year and now thin again. My 30th birthday I was thin — I ran in Washington Square Park, but then I had red velvet cake in a box and a beer and I was fat on a plane back to the UK. Being fat tracks with rejection and depression and running and and happiness and mania and obsession. Am I depressed? I might be fat or thin as a result. Am I running a lot? I might be fat or thin. Someone asked me, 'Have you lost weight?' and I didn't know what to answer. I have and I haven't. It depends on the last time you saw me. When was the last time you saw me.

I may be thin again, but not as thin as I have been at my thinnest. I put on a thin t-shirt today, the aspirational ones I bought last year. Small and snug. I still feel fat though, still look in the mirror and feel fat. In Sweden I ran and ran and ate and ate. I sat and talked to Chris after running 26 kilometers and put my hand around my wrist like anorexic people do, I'm told. It felt thin, but I was eating so I was going to feel fat in an hour.

You can look in the mirror and feel fat or thin. You can weigh yourself several times in row. You should do it first thing in the morning, after you use the toilet, and are completely naked. Don't drink any water first, of course. The weight can be up, or it can be down, it can differ each time, even if you just shut it off, move it, and turn it on again. The fat percentage is probably not accurate, you know that, but you can track it and it goes down if you are healthy. The weight can be up, but the fat percentage down. Or the fat percentage up and the weight down. You can eat too much or too little, but it will catch up with you, one way or another, you know it will. You'll eat and drink too much in a couple of weeks at that party that you are planning for. You can try to eat well at it, or you can let yourself go — neither will feel good. You can weigh yourself or not weigh yourself. You can count calories or not, count macros or not. Avoid sugar or not. Eat meat, not eat meat. Eat only meat, eat 7 eggs and nothing else. You can do it all, and still be fat, regardless of how thin you are.

14 August 2017

The itch


The smell of motorbikes and diesel fuel in the city attaches to a whole knot of memories. At first it is Malaysia and then it is Rome and then it is Berlin, where we landed on the end of this longest holiday the Pihlajas of Harborne have managed. The trip started as an idea, in January, when I went out to Växjö to teach Discourse Analysis to some MA students. That idea managed to percolate through all the other things that have happened this year, the house buying and visa we almost lost. I said at one point in May that it would be one or the other – the trip or the house, but then it became both and I was looking at ferries to cross from Rostock to Trelleborg and then back, perhaps through Berlin.

The idea of driving through Europe incubated in me for years, a kind of holdover of whatever bit of American culture I still want to be associated with. Jack Kerouac, On the Road, the Beats. After fighting through the Swedish and German websites for three nights, every time giving up when I couldn't get my credit card to work or the website made the room I wanted disappear, I finally booked it all and showed Yoko the e-mails like it was some kind of promise. Yoko didn't respond in any way I could recognise, and none of it felt real, not for a month at least. After the last conference of the summer season, I bought all the things I needed for the car, a plate to tell everyone I am from Great Britain and the stickers to keep the headlights of the UK car from blinding the French and German drivers. I didn't buy additional car insurance until we were sitting in the waiting area in Dover, checked in for the ferry to Calais, like it was finally happening. It was happening, wasn't it.

Sweden, for whatever bit of American culture I am trying to keep smoldering in me, is old world nostalgia by the ton. The old woman who lives in Björnamo 1 – just in view of Chris' cabin and the pine grove clearing where you shower naked outside – is 85 and gave the girls some muffins she baked. She said one night when we drank wine and whisky by candlelight, that they had relatives who emigrated to the US, to Duluth. She said this through her son who spoke English like a Minnesotan, and I lit up like this was the thing I had been waiting to hear. Yes, Duluth, that's where my family is from, from that area. Chris brought out an atlas and I pointed emphatically. It looks the same there, the trees and the glacial rocks that were sledged into the forest moss and then left when the ice sheet receded some tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago. Yes, it's all the same, isn't it.

And then Berlin, when we we came out of Friedrichstraße, there was the smell of the city and another memory from our honeymoon and coming out of the Termini in Rome on some warm October night, Yoko somewhere behind me as I was trying to get our bearings. It's that smell of a small Vespa, the one that you imagine you have in some alternate universe where you studied abroad, and learned a Romance language, or German, and then found some way to make money here. Not the version of your life where you go to Japan as a missionary. The sky is electric blue in the same way as it was in Rome. There are so many alternate universes.

The forest, in Sweden, in Japan, in Ely, Minnesota, is heaving with spirits – the fairies and gods and ancestors. When I ran in the morning, on the roads around Björnamo, I could feel them in the way I felt God when I was a teenager. I willed their existence. I ran without my shirt, and ran ticking off kilometres like there was nothing to think about. I tried to relax when I wasn't running, here and there, but we kept moving, the way you do when you have three kids, 6, 8, and 10. There is always so much to do. But when I ran, that was all I needed. I ran down to the main road to the south and on the way back, it was still before eight and I turned down a dirt road, thinking there would be a lake. There was a lake, a lake bigger now in my memory than it is in real life, with no one around. I peeled off my shoes and running kit and waded and fell in naked, quiet and freezing cold. I swam out, 10 metres, 20 metres. I looked back at the shore, thinking of a dream Chris had where I died of a heart attack swimming alone in the lake after running. I swam out further, rolled onto my back and looked up before closing my eyes.

29 July 2017

An incidental silence

The house of Victoria Road is not yet legally our's. This hasn't stopped us from beginning the work that we have planned for it. The surveyor came, and looked at everything in a quiet, disinterested way, making notes and wandering around. When he was done, he asked me some questions about the house, about double-glazing and water damage. And then he said he was done and there was a pause. I said, Can I ask some questions? and he said, What do you want to know? I wasn't sure what I wanted to know, I thought — I wanted to know if he thought I should buy it, if I was getting a good price. If he would buy it, in the same circumstances as me. If he could tell me that I would be able to get a visa without too much trouble. I want him to tell me it was okay.

When he left, I looked at Yoko and we started pulling up the carpets to see the floorboards, to start making the house what we wanted. I spent a day and half breaking through the ones in the entryway — sanding and painting and cleaning and then doing some other small things, like changing the curtain for a blind in the living room. They are nothing, completely negligible, but have started to make the house feel less like just a place we live and more like a place that is our home. We can get rid of some sofas next and start to have nice things. Or nicer things.

23 June 2017

The House on Victoria Road

March 2014

What can I say about the house on Victoria Road that I haven't already said. I've told the story again and again of landing here in Harborne, in the middle of the British winter. The girls were sleeping somewhere outside of Milton Keynes, and I came up here alone to find a place to live. I rented this house — it was sufficient, that's really all you could say about it. It was dirty, but sufficient, which seems like a metaphor as I think about it. I'm not sure what analogy I would like to draw though, as I think about it. Compared to the house in Malaysia, it was damper, with no tile. Parts of it were rotting. The linoleum, the walls in the cupboard where the washing machine has been kept.

All that has been pulled up and out now. The whole place is cleaner and after a year or two, it started to feel like home and then now, after three years and half, after a scare with my visa this spring, and a visit from a builder and conversations with all the British people I know who make money on properties, I decided we would buy it. I say I because I mean I. Yoko has felt strongly about the house for a long time, wanting to stay here, close to St Peters Church where she climbs the hill three or four times a week towards the ringing bells. But I needed to decide, to make the machinery actually work. So with more white hair, and sitting with a man who is putting numbers into a computer, I start the process. We talk and we talk and we talk and then at one point, I finally give a credit card number. There it is. It has started, hasn't it. I look at him for some sort of assurance, like I have done. You're almost old enough to be my father, I want to say. Tell me it's okay. Tell me this is the right thing to do.

To decide while at the same time not having an opinion: these two opposing things are, I feel, expected of me the older I get and the more ensconced I am in the apparatus of a family. I am a kind of necessary internal organ that one thinks about only when it is causing problems. The father who appreciates a bottle of whisky added to the trolley, that he still must buy, but must buy for himself as a gift to himself — one must also provide for gestures of kindness to oneself. And one must not draw attention to this. You think about Foucault in this situation, speaking French and seeing the whole of the system perpetuating itself. You want to point to him; Foucault can explain this.
I will judge you according to your conduct
and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;
I will not spare you.
You don't unchain yourself from ideology. The talk about letting the horse out on the lead and letting it run without feeling the pull of the lead. It is still on the lead, even when it doesn't feel the pull. I am the horse always at the end of the lead, always it digging in my neck and telling everyone else, There is a lead here, don't you see it. And everyone shrugs to remind me that if you don't pull on it, you can't feel it. That's not the point, I want to say.

I sign a couple of papers and there it is. It's started, like you have pushed off from the shore now in your own little boat. You orient yourself towards the deeper water. I'll be 35 on Tuesday — I started late, I think. I'll catch up though. Don't worry. It's worked out better than we all imagined.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...