An Incomplete History of My Body

fat

Grade school, maybe grade six or seven. Sitting in a circle with my girlfriends at recess. We go around the circle in turns: “My thighs are so fat. I hate them” “Your thighs are not fat! They’re so skinny! Look at my stomach. It’s flabby.” “Your stomach isn’t flabby, look at mine!” Around and around like that. I have a brief realization that none of us are fat, that this is ridiculous. I try not to feel bad about my body.

I am twelve, maybe thirteen. I’m playing at the school yard. A boy tells me I look good. I’m wearing a bit of makeup that I got for my birthday, a hairband, a brown corduroy collared shirt and khakis. I am pleased. Aware that I am noticed. I sense power in that, but don’t understand it. Won’t understand it for many years to come.

All through my young adult life, the women around me are on and off Weight Watchers. My mother, my aunts, my sister, my friends, all struggle with their weight, with their bodies. I subscribe to YM magazine, and read articles instructing me how to dress for my body type, what bathing suit I should be wearing, how to work out. For a while, I do workouts in my bedroom, push-ups and sit-ups on my dusty-pink carpet. I notice muscles growing, and I like it. I feel strong. It doesn’t last long, though. I know that I should care more.

Any time my dad’s family gets together, we eat all day long: cookies, squares, potato chips and dip, cheese trays, veggies and dip, and then we have dinner and then we have dessert. It is normal to eat to the point of feeling ill: that’s what the Borin girls do. In preparation for holidays, we are “good”,  we save our calories for an all-day binge. One Christmas eve, I vomit when we get home from my grandma’s, because I’ve eaten so much.

Throughout my late teen years, my twenties, I continue to spend the currency that is my body. I start waitressing in a bar, and the combination of attention and cash is intoxicating. I am so powerful. A low cut shirt, a push-up bra, pants that hug my ass: it’s so easy. These guys are so easy, so dumb. It feels like power, but in retrospect, I’m not sure it is. I go with it, though. Careening just a little bit, like going downhill on a bike and you’re on the edge of losing control, the handle bars wrenching back and forth in your hands.

Twenty-seven. Pregnant and keeping it. My body swells. I am the epitome of Earth Mother. All of the cliches: glowing, fertile, goddess. I birth my baby in the backseat of the car because I didn’t understand that I’d already started pushing at the house. Afterwards, I wonder how I could be so unaware of my body. Childbirth is different, though. I was in a different head space, I was out of my body and yet so firmly in it, of course I didn’t know. It was my first time. Pushing is feet in stirrups, doctor yelling instructions at you. Pushing is not in the dark of the bathroom against a washing machine. Bearing down is maybe a better descriptor.

Through the next two pregnancies, my weight fluctuates. Just before I become pregnant with Colm, I’m at my lowest weight ever. People tell me how good I look. What have you been doing? You look great, they tell me. I’ve lost enough weight that I need new bras, new pants, new shirts. My jaw, my cheek bones, are more pronounced. What have I been doing? I’ve been anxious about food, entire food groups or tiny molecular portions of them. Sugar and gluten are suspect: I try to avoid both with spotty success. I don’t want to eat things that come from far away, and this is partly a good thing and partly concerning because eventually I’m not sure what to eat. I am obsessed with “real” food. With toxins. I fall for pseudo-science and charismatic Internet food bloggers.

During my second pregnancy, my midwife encourages me to eat more, to put on more weight, as insurance. It’s not until my third pregnancy that I do. I eat with abandon and now, two years post-partum, I continue to do so. I eat oatmeal for breakfast, and then after Paul and Aedan leave for the day, I eat the rice leftover from dinner, with hot sauce. Then I find a chocolate bar stashed somewhere and I eat that, too. The kids want a snack so I eat a half a dozen crackers with them. A few cookies when they’re not looking. I finish their toast crusts. Then we make lunch and I eat mine plus what they don’t. We go to the grocery store and I buy a big bag of potato chips and then it’s empty before I realize it. I eat more crackers while I cook dinner, and then I eat seconds at dinner, too. I pay no attention to my body as I eat, as I go through my day, and then suddenly I can’t help but pay attention to it because I think I might throw up. Shame sets in. What the fuck is wrong with me?

For five years, almost six, my breasts have been on demand. My body constantly stimulated by little hands patting, reaching, clinging, wanting to be carried. I am adept at distancing myself from this body. I look in the mirror, naked, at my lopsided breasts hanging down towards my stomach. My stomach that could pass for six months pregnant. (People ask me, occasionally, if I’m pregnant again). None of my clothes fit right. My feet have gone up a half shoe size in the last couple of years and I wish that clothes came in half-sizes, too. Everything is either a bit too loose, or a bit too tight. I want to live in leggings. I want to cut my breasts off. I am a stranger in this body. This body that has climbed mountains, has hiked fifty two kilometers on the Chilkoot Trail. This body that can dance, and run, and grow and birth and nourish new humans. This body that was once my currency and that now feels like a crumpled bill in the bottom of a pocket. My body the afterthought, my body the inconvenience.

Still, though. It’s a woman’s body. I no longer wear low cut tops to work, but just this past Sunday, a man who once threatened to kill me because I cut him off told me if he were a bit younger, he’d take me home. As if that’s a compliment. In the summer I wear a red dress because it makes me happy and a man buys me a drink, expects conversation, is disappointed when he sees my wedding ring. I try to be invisible, wear jeans and a sports bra under a loose band t-shirt, and still they notice, tell me I look good. I’d like to tell them to fuck off, but I smile, I fumble, I walk away.

This body is mine and not mine. I’d like to come to a place of acceptance. Of some measure of gratitude. A truce, even. I try. I’d like to offer you more than this disjointed collection, had intended to, but it turns out I’m not there yet.

Home Fire

IMG_6207

It’s been a little over a week since we moved back into our Dempster house. It feels good to be home. It feels right. And that surprises me.

Living out here, forty kilometers from town, with no close neighbours, limited running water and off-grid is not easy. Over the years here, I’ve struggled with the isolation of it, which is only exacerbated by the isolation of new motherhood. I’ve cursed the hoops I have to jump through to do something as simple as wash my hair or bathe my kids or pee in the night in the middle of winter.

But of all the houses I’ve lived in over the last few years, this one feels like home.

Immediately, as soon as I step through the door, I feel home. The woodsmoke smell, the sunny south facing windows, the creaks in the floors. Even the pair of whiskey jacks have come back, never far, swooping in to pick over the scrapings of the oatmeal or rice pot that we cast over the front porch before washing the dishes. My familiars.

Our yard is full of snow still. It melts more every day, and the usual mini lakes and streams open up: there’s one by the woodpile that we must cross to start the generator, and another conveniently located right in front of the outhouse. We cut channels in the ice to help the meltwater drain away.

Tomorrow we’re off to Whitehorse for a few days, and starting next week my day off to write will be Thursday, rather than Tuesday, so that’s when I’ll be updating my blog (until things change again!)

Book Review: The Translation of Love

translationoflove-220

The book: The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

What it’s about: In post-WWII Japan, under the U.S. occupation led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Japanese people struggle to find their footing in a changing political climate. A Japanese girl named Fumi is desperately seeking her missing older sister, Sumiko. With the help of her friend, Aya, a recently repatriated Japanese Canadian girl, she writes a letter to General MacArthur, imploring him to help her find her sister.

What I thought: I really enjoyed this book, from the characters to the story to the way Kutsukake structured the book. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, and these intertwining threads serve to pull the reader along in the book, making it hard to put down at times. Through the characters, we get a sense of a wide range of experiences for people of Japanese decent during this period of history. From Japanese Canadians living in interment camps, to Japanese families who lived through the war, to Japanese Americans working in Japan for the U.S. military, I really enjoyed reading so many different angles. Starting this book, I knew about interment camps (another excellent novel about Canadian interment camps is Obasan by Joy Kogawa), but it was eye-opening to get these other perspectives. Another theme throughout the book that I really loved was the subtle commentary on translation and language. There are essentially three different translators in this story, working to help the characters pass along deeply personal and important messages.

From the first pages: “Ever since her sister had gone away, Fumi looked forward to the democracy lunches with a special, ravenous hunger. The American soldiers came to her school once a week with deliveries, and though she never knew what they would bring, it didn’t matter. She wanted it all, whatever it was. Sometimes it was powdered milk and soft white bread as fluffy as cake. Sometimes it was peanut butter, a sticky brown paste whose unusual flavor–somehow sweet and salty at the same time–was surprisingly addictive. The lunch supplements supplied by the Occupation forces reminded her of the kind of presents her older sister, Sumiko, used to bring in the days when she still came home. Fumi’s hunger was insatiable, and although she couldn’t have put it in so many words, some part of her sensed that her craving was inseparable from her longing for her sister’s return.”

Spring Fever

 

crocus

After almost 12 years of living in Dawson City, Spring’s arrival still manages to take me by surprise. It’s the daylight, I think, that gets me the most. I become so accustomed to hibernation, to hunkering down in the long dark hours with the kids. The cold, brief days are the perfect excuse to never leave the house. But then, suddenly, the equinox passes. We adjust the clocks an hour forward, and the brilliant sunlight bouncing off the hillsides blares in through the windows like a reproach: get your kids dressed and get outside! As a concession, I open a window and let the fresh air inside after months of being cloistered.

Eventually, though, I recalibrate. Last night after dinner, with at least 2 hours of daylight still ahead of us, I dressed the kids up and took them to an empty lot with a huge snow pile at one end. They climbed up and slid down as I watched the sun slip behind the hillside across the river.

The snow buntings are back, too. They arrive every year at the same time: the weekend of the The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race. They love to browse in the litter of straw left from one of the games that takes place over our spring carnival weekend, in the same empty lot where the kids played last night. I watched the birds land and take off as one, their stark black and white plumage flashing. I took a deep breath, looked up to the dark spruce trees, free of snow now: we made it.

This weekend we move back to our Dempster house. The interior has been finished after many years of sitting unfinished. I’m eager to settle, to stop moving. I look forward to unpacking the books and clothes and toys and kitchen things and then not packing them again any time soon. I want to start basil in our sunny south facing windows, and maybe a couple tomato plants (though I’m the only tomato eater in the house, so I can’t get too crazy.) I’m a bit nervous about the challenges we face living 40 kilometers from town, but I’m feeling stronger, confident we can tackle them. I’ve gotten better at asking for what I need. I just have to keep doing that.

Outside my office window, a strong wind blows hard pellets of snow down the street. Just last night I was thinking I’d need to get rubber boots for everyone soon–I am always unprepared for the seasons changing. I never seem to have the right gear at hand. But today, it looks like we’ll be wearing our winter boots just a little bit longer. One more month until bare ground, until the crocuses bloom, until sunset at 11 pm.

I can feel the energy gathering inside of me, can see it in my kids and in the folks I serve in the bar. We’re restless: the miners trickle back in, removing snow from their sites, getting ready for another season of pulling gold from the ground. People are ready to shrug off their parkas, put their heavy winter boots away. The kids are hard to settle come bedtime; I have to pull all the curtains to convince them it’s night. Summer is almost here, the manic time of fitting it all into that brief window of 24 hour light.

The change of season is so pronounced up here, but I wonder, do you feel it, too, where you are? Are you ready?

A Poem for World Poetry Day

IMG_0858

I thought I’d share a poem today from a collection I’m making my way through, Witness, I am, by Gregory Scofield. The poems deal with the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, amoung other things.

She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars
(nikâwi’s song)

She is spitting a mouthful of stars
She is laughing more than the men who beat her
She is ten horses breaking open the day
She is new to her bones
She is holy in the dust

She is spitting a mouthful of stars
She is singing louder than the men who raped her
She is waking beyond the Milky Way
She is new to her breath
She is sacred in this breathing

She is spitting a mouthful of stars
She is holding the light more than those who despised her
She is folding clouds in her movement
She is new to this sound
She is unbroken flesh

She is spitting a mouthful of stars
She is laughing more than those who shamed her
She is ten horses breaking open the day
She is new to these bones
She is holy in their dust