today’s track features synthesizer by Lucas Knapp
I got the first vaccine shot last week. I'm embarrassed to talk about it. My girlfriend and I drove to Utica and parked at the university and I walked past volunteers and national guard soldiers and showed a line of people my various forms of paperwork. It was efficient and quick-moving, so much so that everyone there seemed a little bored, like it was the most usual thing in the world. Nobody really asked me why I was there, or under what pretense I qualified for the vaccine. Not until just moments before they were about to give me a shot, plastic tip of the needle removed, point gleaming in the fitness center. "And why do you qualify?" And I said what I have been struggling to comfortably accept my entire life: I'm obese.
As long as I can remember, my body has been relegated to extremes, corners, and the very end of the clothing rack. I was a husky boy and wore special sizes of jeans accordingly. Every doctor I ever visited as a kid marked a spot far off of the standardized height-weight-growth curve. My body looked and physically fit into the world differently than everyone else I knew (how could my personality *not* be affected?). Perpetually afraid to take my shirt off, gulping deep at the beach. Standing or sitting in certain ways, holding in my stomach, trying as hard as I possibly could to conceal the fact that the vessel I was blessed with was remarkably and unapologetically other. Obscuring with a certain way of dressing (wearing an open flannel shirt on top of a t-shirt every single day for twelve years, I thought it helped to slim). Running or exerting myself in front of others always physically painful shame, asthmatic little roundy, once I locked myself in my bedroom to avoid playing some very light basketball with my dad. He took the knob off the door with a screwdriver and asked me why I had refused to open but I absolutely couldn't bring myself to say it out loud because saying it out loud would make the being other real.
(I know what you're thinking: if you hate being seen or perceived physically by others, how did you become a performer and someone who is constantly wreaking attention upon themselves? It's a complex and valid question. The truth is that I allow myself to be beheld in spite of - in direct opposition to - thirty years of deeply wanting to live in a hole. It's not that I don't feel it, it's that I leap through that burning ring every single time)
I was at my fattest the year I was at my lowest: beyond broke, too depressed to ever make anything good, working a job that embarrassed and enraged me right down to my bones, and absolutely put through the wringer by a partner who was, among other things, erratically and aggressively drinking. I'd get yelled out of the overly expensive one room apartment often and I hardly ever slept through the night. But I found physical comfort and a sense of agency and nourishment approaching something sensual in eating. I wasn't getting any of that from any other aspect of my life, but a few times a day I could feel actual, physical, corporeal moments of peace. There was exactly one need I could fulfill for myself and it's no surprise to me looking back that I drank deep from that well. Ironically, at the same time, I found myself actually not able to fit at the tiny cramped tables of the bars and restaurants of New York. I grew larger and larger, and my sense of self diminished, and the rage and embarrassment swelled, and so did I.
But then I moved out of the one room apartment and I exited that orbit of beer-soaked chaos and eventually I got to swap the horribly embarrassing job for a less embarrassing one. I got proper health insurance for the first time in my adult life, so I got my teeth cleaned and went for a physical. I hadn't been to a doctor for a checkup in probably six years, maybe longer, too scared to be told what I already knew. So when the very nice doctor told me, "hey, you know what, you probably ought to lose a little weight - it'd be good for you," I flipped out. Felt suddenly like I was on a cliff, or more accurately like I was a cartoon character who had run straight off a cliff but hadn't yet realized it, and so was still suspended in air. This doctor saying that was me realizing I was about to plunge into the canyon below. Felt like I needed to scramble, run in place held in the air back toward the earth, and so I got on the treadmill.
I started tracking cardio miles obsessively, always updating my little spreadsheets, and to better do my cardio I started eating differently, then I started tracking every single thing that I ate. Everything got boiled down to these little spreadsheet boxes and it worked remarkably well. In the span of a year I went from probably over 300 pounds (too afraid to actually weigh myself at my biggest) to hovering around the 240 mark. I went from not being able to keep a jogging pace for more than two minutes to running a 5k in under half an hour. I logged 1,000 miles of cardio in a year. Amazingly, about ten months after my first physical, I went for another, and I heard the nurse practitioner say the most incredible thing when she weighed me, "no, wait, this can't be right." She thought it had to be a mistake. But that smaller number was right, I had just burned my body for it. It was a deep and surreal transformation, an intoxicating if not necessarily a happy one.
But even at my lowest weight since I was a teenager, I'm still considered firmly obese, according to medical standards. Most BMI calculators tell me that I need to be under 200 pounds in order to be considered otherwise, and if I were to lose another forty pounds I truly don't think I'd recognize myself. I truly would become a different person. Because being fat my entire life is an inherent and essential part of my identity and my lived experience.
A funny and lightly horrifying moment: when I texted a friend to let him know I had been scheduled for a vaccination appointment, sheepishly divulging that it was because I was obese, his response was, "what, still?" Still, yes, in spite of the life-changing loss of weight. But the numbers are arbitrary, and the calculations are flawed, and even if I were to be the svelte and muscled hardcore punk band frontman I dream of becoming one day I will still be a fat person, it's irrevocably buried in there, in my total person if not in my actual body.
I've tried very hard in the last few years to mitigate how strongly being fat defines me, both in who I am and my mortality. But this past year, as my weight has bounced around wildly between global stresses, another day job turned horribly embarrassing, and a run-ending ankle injury, it has once again become something I think about all the time, something inherent to how the world sees me and - crucially - how I *imagine* the world sees me. And for months, as I gained back pound after pound, I tried to ignore the fact that fat people are more at risk of dying or getting super sick when they come down with COVID. Fat people are more at risk of dying or getting super sick in general, and I've also seen firsthand how one's weight is sometimes the only thing that medical professionals can see, meaning that care and diagnosis is often cruelly skewed. I've seen people arguing that obese people brought their untimely COVID deaths upon themselves because they didn't take care of their bodies. It's been a very scary time to be a big fat guy.
And it feels like a funny twist. When I read in the local newspaper that people who were considered obese were now eligible for vaccine appointments in New York state, I felt - almost certainly for the first time in my life - relieved to have this body, almost excited. I've had this conversation with a surprising number of friends, something along the lines of "thank god I'm fat" or "bless this chub." Which is funny, sure, and getting the first shot is a tremendous relief, but what I wouldn't give to feel that way all the time, thankful for the vessel.
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good morning -
I’m lightly terrified to have sent this to you, but leaping through flaming hoops is good for you.
I’ve had a lot of really productive conversations with people about this and related topics lately, so I hope reading about it is as helpful for you as it is for me to write it. And please feel free to engage with me on it. And get yourself a goddamn vaccine appointment if you can!
Speaking of leaping through flaming hoops - I recently put the entire live stream show from this past Sunday on YouTube, if you wanna check it out or ~relive the magic~
Also - - I hope you check out the new music this week, I love the weird, lightly sinister synth bubbler that Lucas sent me to play over.
That’s it for me this week, I will do my best to stay out of the hole.
But what about you? What cliffs are you running right off of?