21 March 2022

Making Weight

Since January, I have been suffering again from the knowledge of good and evil I uncovered by accident when I first tried to lose weight in 2005, around the time I met Yoko and thought I might be able to get her to like me if I cleaned up a bit and lost some weight. That autumn, I had begun running in a Japanese city gym on a treadmill, before realising that I could also run outside when the weather was nice, and that if I just kept a simple ledger of what I ate, I could become thinner than I thought I ever could be, that Fat Stephen, the jovial and annoyed and loud figure of my youth, could become vaguely attractive, could have a jawline and could maybe get with this kind, beautiful Japanese woman seven years older than me, with a car and nice apartment and full-time job and a seemingly endless well of patience. It was all very simple, I just had to pay a bit more attention to what I ate and like magic, in three months, I would no longer be fat. 

On Saturday morning, this Saturday morning some fifteen or twenty years later, the same story I've told like a founding myth, only now with apps and running schedules, and fitness trackers, that same story that I was so proud to tell the first time, got told again: I woke up and stripped off my clothes and weighed myself, having been in a caloric deficit now for something like eleven weeks. The Japanese scale we bought around the time we got married and which we still have leaned against the toilet wall in the house on Victoria Road beeped and calculated and came back one-tenth of a point too high. Seventy-six even. I shut it off and climbed on again and then I did it again, and then it was magically the right number, the number of success, the obsessive goal accomplished. The first time this happened in 2005, I was elated: I had done it, I had made it happen, against the empirical reality that I was a sloppy, disgusting child with no self-control, but who had somehow started on the path to maturity. This wasn't, of course, true in any way, and now, with every subsequent retelling, the whole process feels less and less like a success, and more like the inevitable event at the end of a chain of other events that take over my life for a time and give me a sad purpose. The scale screen went blank and I put the number into the calorie tracker and the running app and the spreadsheet and had a cup of coffee.

At least this round of pursuit of the number was markedly uneventful, healthy even. My worst impulses stayed a bay. I ate more-or-less what I wanted and did avoid, more than I have in the past, the sort of weird obsessive things I have found myself doing in other retellings. Going for a walk at nine-thirty to burn another hundred and fifty calories for example. Or eating two thousand calories before eight am and then trying to make it through the rest of the day eating nothing. Or saying no when offered some cake at work and hiding the real reason you were saying no with the most unbelievable lie that I wasn't actually hungry like that was even possible. I didn't do any of that. 

Instead, I did more acceptable obsessive activities, ones that can be found in charts about how to run a sub-three-hour marathon. The charts don't say it, but I knew there was one clear, ugly truth: I can't run a sub-three-hour marathon if I'm eighty-six kilos, even if I'd trained as hard as I possibly could. It's just a simple calculation. You run faster if you have less you to drag around the course. I motivated myself with the thought of how pathetic I felt at mile twenty-three of the Chester marathon when I almost started to cry. You shouldn't hate yourself, or hate your body, but if I'm honest, I never hated myself more than I did in that moment, my body failing me and having no choice but to keep going. 

When I first lost weight, I did it for a lie about love, essentially: some spurious thought that I could accomplish a series of tasks that would result in Yoko loving me. This was silly, the way that many thoughts I had as an American twenty-three-year-old Evangelical Christian about relationships and marriage and sex were silly: they had no real attachment to reality, particularly in a Japanese context. The weight loss this year honed in on a much more real and tangible and empirical lie about love, a love that can be attained through effort. On Sunday, I ran with this love in mind, the way a thin man nearing forty runs fast in a slow way, the perfection of a marathon strategy that requires running well below your ability for some ten miles and then easing into a marathon pace. It's a counter-intuitive love: you have to be patient, to fall behind, to let your body find the pace rather than tell it what the pace is, and then at some point to let it overtake you and to run with everything you have, with all the energy you have saved up, with passion, with abandon. This sort of love. 

I thought the obsession with my weight would stop at some point. I've been told that the older you get, the less concerned you become with the things that you were concerned with while you were younger. That you come to accept yourself as you are, and whatever you lose in ambition, you gain back in peace of mind. You become easier to live with, even if you become less sexually attractive, and for anyone hoping to make it in a long-term relationship, the sort of relationship that leads on to the two of you sitting in some new coffee shop on the high street, pleasantly chatting despite forty years of each other's insufferability, staying sexually attractive is the least of your concern. In fact, the loss of sexual attractiveness does you more and more good the older you get. You should welcome it, you should stop trying to lose weight and wear the jeans you wore when you were thirty and the thinnest you ever were. You're not thirty anymore, now you eat cake and laugh and fall asleep. 

But here I am again, naked on a scale early on a Saturday morning trying to be thin. I dreamt I died last night and I woke up at a party and a woman I didn't know, a woman who was younger than me, but not young, had a dog and asked me to go for a walk with her and I said I would, surprised even in my dream I had shed my Evangelical guilt which has been always present in my subconscious. I'd gone with her without being afraid that I would get caught, that somehow my parents would appear and look at me and I would know I had done something wrong. I woke up before the alarm and made coffee and planned another run, twenty days now from another marathon on the Welsh coastline when I either will or will not run in less than three hours. But I will love it, even if I'm not sure what it is. I will be alone and the night before, I will look at my thin body and touch my stomach the way I do when I've lost weight and I can't seem to believe that I, the boy who has always been fat, am thin now. Maybe just for a moment, but really, everything is just a moment, every love is transient, both coming and going at the same time.

10 March 2022

Light where there was no light

After all the internal turmoil I felt taking down the trampoline, another storm blew in and the girls remarked coming home from school last week that someone else's, some friend's trampoline had ended up in a neighbour's back garden and it was good that I took ours down when I did. James and the lad who was not quite a lad showed up unannounced as I was heading out on a Monday morning, and I did my best to hide my annoyance at not being told they were coming because I had been worried that they had done a runner with my deposit — indeed, earlier that very morning I had said as much to my neighbour. I quickly threw everything we had onto the grass and moved the metal shed that I had cut myself badly on when I put it up so four years ago and by the time I was finished clearing things, James was already pulling up concrete slabs. I got a call after I finally went to work that they were going to need another £150 to fill in a hole underneath the old slabs, and this sounded reasonable to both Yoko and me. I came back and James told me it had likely been a bomb shelter, there were many of them built along these terrace houses and I, full of videos of bombing in Ukraine and crying families, felt the terrible collapsing of history that you feel at times in these old houses.

After four days of work, some more men came with the new pressure-treated wood shed and put it up, and Yoko got the cash out of the bank. When James counted it, I nervously watched, making him nervous, and it was £20 short. He assured me that he must have miscounted, and I assured him it was right, although I really had no idea, it was just the money they'd given us at the bank. I held back saying something about this being the problem with paying in cash because that wasn't the point. They did an amazing job and when they left, I pulled apart the old metal shed in the rain and put it out front for a guy from Facebook to come and take away. He showed up with a small Corsa and a wireless drill and when I went outside to tell him it was all there, he said it seemed flimsy, and I said, it will be more rigid when you put it together when I actually wanted to say, JR, you're picking up a shed for free from a guy that you met on Facebook — let's watch the attitude. I gave him the thumbs up and went back to a meeting I had on Zoom about school governance and he was gone when I had finished. 

Having settled this part of the restoration of the house at Victoria Rd, there is nothing left on my spreadsheet of things to rennovate. Now, I have to start fixing all the things that have deteriorated from the first renovation, like the drawer that broke off on Pancake Day because there was too much weight in it and which I scolded my daughter about, before realising mid-scolding that she had nothing to do with it being too full in the first place, what was wrong with me, and that my frustration was really with some other person who annoyed me, and not even with them, but with myself. I apologised and made a sudden deliberate shift in my mood: it's Pancake Day, goddammit, you're right, it should be happy, I'm ruining it. Afterwards, I replaced some screws and refitted the drawer, showing it to Yoko like a boy showing his mother he had managed to put his trousers on the right way round: praise me for my basic competence.

In the midst of all this, insomnia came around again and the dark passenger reappeared, the one that I recognise only when I'm eating hummus at three in the morning and pacing back and forth waiting to run. When I went to give platelets and was giving my health stats, the nurse said, eighty-two kilos, is that right, and I said, no, uh, I'm more like seventy-eight now, and she looked at me concerned and asked if that was on purpose. Yes, I said, I'm training for a marathon and I need to drop my Christmas weig- but she had stopped listening and gone to talk to the proper nurse, the one who had the nametag with Sister on it, the nurse that I dread because she always makes me feel like I've done something wrong. Sister Nurse came over and said, Have you lost weight? and I said, Yes, I'm training for- and she had stopped listening, and said, Do you get the tingling sensation ever when you give blood? and I lied and said no, and she said, It will take longer now, like it was something I could change at the moment, like I could say, Oh, nevermind, I'll put the weight back on. I said, fine, and she looked at the other nurse: Just write, he's on a diet, and she walked off. But I'm not, I wanted to say, I'm training for a marathon. I ran remarkably fast yesterday and it was because I've lost weight. There was another trade-off and the first nurse passed my chart to the next nurse and briefly talked about me, with the phrase, He's on a diet, being said again and me sitting there awkwardly, like some voiceless seventy-eight-kilo body that had only a month ago been eighty-two kilos.

The blood donation went smoothly and I didn't have any tingling, but I felt unsettled the whole time, having listened to other people talk about my body in front of me and knowing of course, as a woke, feminist white man trying to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, that women are subjected to this sort of public talk about their bodies all the time. Really feeling it is obviously a different thing. I remembered being seventeen and having to go to the doctor for a hernia check and after dropping my pants, the doctor remarked, Well, your first problem is that you have a small penis, followed by an awkward silence that felt like a year, followed by him saying, I'm joking, but it wasn't a joke, it can never be a joke, I want to say back to him as an almost forty-year-old man. It's not just a diet, I'm not dieting, I'm trying to run faster. Please let me define what it is I'm doing.

Of course I'm on a diet. Why lie to myself. I feel amazing. I've been running faster than I ever have. The winter has passed and now, I am on the canal at six in the morning, the sun is coming up, and there is no one but me, running faster than I have ever run. I have suddenly begun to believe that I can actually run a three-hour marathon, that my body can actually do it. I come home before seven and there are a myriad of things that need to be done, excruciatingly carefully worded emails to write, or kids to help, or soaring energy prices to mull over, or dishes to wash, or compost that needs to be rummaged through, looking for a flask gasket that has gone missing and inexplicably costs £22 to replace. All of those things are what they are, but I ran five kilometres in eighteen minutes and forty-nine seconds this morning. Do you have any idea how that feels.