Pandemic Diary: Helplessness tastes like sand; eat chocolate instead

I feel fat, which means I am very unwell and about to stop eating. My mouth feels full of yesterday’s food and I feel layers of fat and flesh obfuscating my soul. My belly–I grimace at it in the mirror–looks large and swollen.

I feel shame.

It is possible that I’ve put on a few pounds over quarantine. I’m drinking too much, people who love me are feeding me a lot of chocolate and ice cream—and chocolate croissants, with chocolate and ice cream on the side—and the other day, Cinder made lasagna, delicious, poisonous cheese and gluten, and I devoured it, gastrointestinal discomfort be damned.

So it is possible that I’m heavier. Fatter. Flabbier. But that I am having these thoughts, drowning in these thoughts? It has nothing to do with my actual weight or body shape. And everything to do with my mental health, which is, at best, shitty.

Yours, too? Yeah. I’m not well and neither are you. Nor is she. He. Them. Not to mention our therapists.

Flora’s medical team, notably her psychologist and our family therapist, fuck up big time last week. I lose it with them in a pretty spectacular way. Hang up in a fire of righteous anger that has still not burnt out.

Later, while not letting go of the anger—it’s still burning, hot—I recognize that everything I’m feeling? They’re feeling too. They’re not well either. Nobody is. So how can we help each other?


Over the weekend, we hold the first YYC Queer Writers meet-up since COVID. Via Zoom, still, cause half of us are waiting on post-protest COVID-19 tests (we are a cohort of socially responsible anti-racists and anarchists) and the other half don’t have the energy or will to leave the house or couch. We love each other and hold space for each other… and almost all of us break down.

I remember thinking, writing, when all of this started that the fact of this being a communal, global crisis rather than my personal tragedy helped. It kept me from navel-gazing and drowning in personal sorrow as I had the year we were trying to save Flora’s life.

I lied.

This is worse. Broken people helping broken people, mutual salvation stories? It’s the stuff of films and fantasies. Empty people attempting to fill their wells from other empty people end up drinking sand.

Yesterday’s meal, coats my gums, tongue, saliva even though I’ve brushed my teeth, once, twice, thrice. It tastes like sand.


The sun is out and it’s a beautiful day. Yesterday, there was rain, hail, flash flooding and a tornado warning. I looked at the pictures from around the city on my phone and then, the rising level of water in our alley—“Are we going to have to evacuate again?” Ender asked., “We need to go clear the drain, Mom, now, hurry,” and there we were, in the alley, clearing debris off the storm drain so the torrents of rain would have a place to go.

And I thought—no more. Seriously, you throw one more thing at me this year—I fucking quit, no more, no more.

We don’t flood or suffer hail damage, but other parts of the city aren’t as lucky.

I think about them, helpless. What if they felt like me—no more, one more thing, and I fucking quit—and then, one more thing, fist-size hail stones breaking house windows?

No more. I’ve got nothing left to deal with this. I quit.

I know you feel this too. And many of you are going through much worse things than I am. I have work—not stable work, mind you, thanks, Jason Kenney, for delivering on all your election promises to eviscerate education, appreciate it—but still. For now, work. And, despite the incompetence of her therapists, Flora is doing well. Cinder is working and thriving. Ender is love. The call just came—I don’t have COVID-19, so there’s that. Also, even if I ever get it—I have a robust immune system and I’ll probably just have the sniffles. Of course, I did just see the other day that obesity is one of the contributing risk factors to complications and death. And I am now fat—need to stop eating. On the other hand, a few weeks in a hospital bed—I could use the rest. Death? I probably wouldn’t die and if I did—honestly, kitten, right now, it’s difficult to get motivated about living, so, you know. We must all die sometime.

This is bad. Right? You do not want mothers, people with responsibilities—the normally resilient people who get shit done, who keep calm and carry on and do all the things to think like that, do you?

I think about this, a lot: if things are this hard for me right now, how hard must they be for people with no house security, no food security? For those families who have lost family members to COVID-19—run-of-the-mill cancers—police violence—domestic violence?

What I don’t think about, much: the future. Do you ? Can you visualize it? It eludes me, and that’s frightening. So I turn my attention to what I can control.

I feel fat. I feel the flesh on my belly, my ass and it repulses me. I can control that, make that disappear.

I can stop eating.

My form of self-violence, self-harm.

Deep breath.

An act of immense will: I eat some chocolate as if it were a Communion wafer and take the dogs and Flora for a walk in the sunshine instead.




Poisonous Volvo, Redux

We were uber-heavy on Tuesday, weren’t we? Today, you need to laugh, as do I. Actually–a little secret–as you read this, I’m locked in a hotel room in Banff with my laptop. Wrestling with existential angst. And winning. Meanwhile, for you, from Life’s Archives (December 9, 2006, and first appearing on Nothing By The Book on May 22, 2012), I present… Poisonous Volvo. Flora’s 2.5 and Cinder is five (Ender is still undreamt-of cosmic dust). They’re in the tub. And, cue action:

WAIT! Stop! Warning: yes, this is one of those penis stories. I have warned you, have I not, I am never profound and wise on Fridays? OK. Penis warning completed.  Read on.

Cinder: Flora, stop trying to grab my penis. Flora! No! Stop!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It’s poisonous. Poisonous! Like the giant red milipedes in the
South American rainforest!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It will bite you!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: OK, Flora, I know you want to play with it. But you can’t. Only I can play with it. Play with your own.

Flora: Oh… no pee pee!! Brother! No pee pee?

Cinder: Oh, I forgot, you don’t have one. Well, maybe one day, if you are very good, I’ll let you borrow mine. If I can. Mom! (I’m in the next room) Can I borrow my penis to Flora for a while?

Jane: Um… no. It doesn’t work like that.

Cinder: I didn’t think so. Well, sorry, Flora.

Flora: No pee pee? Why?

Cinder: Don’t worry, Flora. I’m sure we can think of something fun to do with your… Mom! What’s Flora’s not-a-penis called?

Jane: Um… (Still haven’t decided if Flora should have a Volvo or a Gavina… OK, I know she has BOTH, but you know what I mean. Go for the Volvo today) A vulva.

Cinder: We can think of something fun to do with your vulva. Hmm. Let me think. Maybe we could attach something to it?

Flora: Yeaah!

Cinder: Or… we could stick something in it.

Flora: Nooooo.

That’s right, sweetie. You should keep on thinking that for another 15 years, okay ma-baby? Twenty, if you want to make your Daddy happy…

But wait. It’s not over yet. The next day…

Cinder: Flora! I will smite you with my poisonous penis!

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

You might think this is the punch line. But it’s not.

Sean: Well, if Flora turns out to be gay, we’ll know why.

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? I think it would make the teen years a lot easier, don’t you?

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? All I’m saying is, if she ends up a lesbian, being chased by her brother’s poisonous penis may be one of the reasons. And don’t you think you’d worry less about boys and teen pregnancy and all that?

Jane: What are you…

The punchline is coming… NOW:

Cinder: Ok, Flora. Now it’s your turn to smite me with your poisonous volvo.

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis bee...

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis beetle. It is covered in spines from base to tip. Referenced in Rönn, J., Katvala, M. & Arnqvist, G. 2007. Coevolution between harmful male genitalia and female resistance in seed beetles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, 10921-1092. and Hotzy, C. & Arnqvist, G. 2009. Sperm competition favors harmful males in seed beetles. Current Biology 19, 404-407. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note: you are none of you allowed to make any kinds of connections between this post and Tuesday’s body image post. NONE. Thank you.

But speaking of which…

As you may have noticed,  Nothing By The Book’s Tuesday post  “Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. Yes, you will…”  set off a bit of an maelstrom. If you haven’t read it yet, and you’ve got a girl… or a body… give it a read. And if you do, spend some time on the comments, especially that by Tirzah Duncan of The Inkcaster.

And if you’ve got daughters and body image issues weigh heavily on your mind, check out these posts the commentators wrote/forwarded to me in the resulting discussion:

Introduction to Eating Disorders by Urban Moo Cow — Deb didn’t have any issues with her body… until her encounter with this whacked teacher

Body Image by Tao of Poop — Rachel’s daughter still loves her belly. For how much longer?

and, wow, this one:

My body is amazing from Villainy Loveless — this one arrived in my in-box via Tarot by Janine the day I was being ripped to shreds for my body image post on Reddit. Thanks, Villainy. Much love and appreciation.

And a big thank you for those of you who defended the post–and by extension me, Flora, and little girls everywhere–in the various fora where it was ripped apart. I have no stomach for such battles, but I appreciate your passion and indignation on my behalf very much.

Fight on. And love those girls.



“Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will…”

2011. Flora is six and lives in a bit of a bubble. There’s no TV—and thus commercials—in the house. No glossy magazines. The meme videos she watches on Youtube are big brother-tested and, while generally in poor taste, rarely an assault on the self-worth and identity of a young woman. She chooses her clothes among her favourite friends’ hand-me downs, and loves them because of who they came from. “Designer jeans,” to her, are an ethically troubling line of scientific research.*

She eats real food—and lots of delicious, sweet things. She never has to clear her plate. She can eat dessert first. Or never. For breakfast or in the middle of the day. She eats when she’s hungry, and does not eat when she’s not.

She loves herself.

And then, that stupid bastard, he tries to wreck it. When she’s six.

He’s not a bad man, you know. Just a guy. With a TV and without a daughter. I think he was just trying to be nice, make conversation.

This is what he said:

You’re eating a second ice cream? You are going to get so fat.

To my six-year-old daughter.

He moved on. Forgot. The effect on her? That evening, as she comes out of the bath, my six-year-old daughter looks at herself in the mirror—for the first time in her life, critically. She thrusts out her belly. And asks me:

Mom? Am I fat?

And I, who have spent much of my adult life struggling against the eating disorder and body image damage inflicted on my teenage self, I freak. But manage to hold it in, for her. And hear the story, what’s prompting this. And engage in a little bit of deprogramming. And tell her, that the next time I see him, I will explain to him why what he said was inappropriate and wrong and ensure he will never say that to another little girl again.

I figure by the time I see him, I will be… less angry. Because, you know, I know he’s not a bad man. Just a guy. With a TV. And no daughter.

But I’m still furious, seething. And so, what comes out of my mouth, instead of the rehearsed, rational statement I practiced, is this:

I understand you tried to give my daughter an eating disorder.

And he’s shocked—hurt. Doesn’t understand. Then, as I explain—a little appalled. Both at me, and I hope, at his lack of reflection? But perhaps not. I do think, however, he won’t call a little girl fat again. Or suggest she might be getting fat because she’s eating an ice cream cone.

But he hasn’t changed, he doesn’t understand. No, I don’t think I was that effective.

He’ll never do it again, because he’s afraid the little girl’s psychotic mother, who clearly has issues, is going to go medieval on his ass. As I did.

And you know what? That’s good enough. Not perfect. But good enough. That’s what I think in 2011…

Green tea (matcha) ice-cream with red bean.

2013, now. Flora’s eight and a half. A specimen of physical perfection: healthy, strong, athletic, beautiful. She kicks ass in Tang Soo Do. Does one-handed cartwheels for fun. Can outrun just about every boy on the Common, except for her big brother.

Eats when she’s hungry. Doesn’t eat when she’s not. Snacks on chickpeas. Loves ice cream. There’s no TV or glossy magazines in the house. She’s still lives in a bubble, at least some of the time.

But when she gets out of the bath tub, when she’s in the swimming pool change room—not always, but every once in a while, I see her looking at herself in the mirror—critically.

It rips at my insides.

I thought I could save her. But how can I? She has nine-year-old friends who talk about diets—who are on diets. Too many women in her life, around her torturing themselves, hating themselves. Unhappy with themselves. Passing the message on.

It’s everywhere. She’s learned “fat” is a horrible insult when thrust at a woman. She’s learned the look, shape of her body is what matters the most to too many people.

She’s not even nine yet. She still doesn’t know about designer jeans. But she knows this.

I thought I could save her.

But you won’t let me.

Inspired by Urban Moo Cow‘s guest post on Finding Ninee in the This is Our Land Series: The Greatest Gift

* My kids are brilliant. Deal with it.