Born Overthinking

My good friend Greg (whose blog you should all read) decided to start posting five times a week, and for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I decided to join him, at least for the month of March. We both welcome your suggestions for Thursday and Friday themes. I will be blogging in my usual slapdash fashion the rest of the week, while Greg will be more disciplined.

Anyway. In addition to that challenge, I also decided that for the month of March, I would exercise five days a week. That’s not as huge a commitment as it might sound — I already swim three mornings a week, which is as often as our pool is open for lap swimming, which means I have more incentive to go swimming that I’ve had since I left summer camp, since it’s impossible for me to say, when my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., “Oh, I’ll go this afternoon” or, when it gets to be afternoon, to say, “Oh, I’ll go tomorrow.” All I have to do to honor this pledge is to exercise some on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or on the weekend. Today was absolutely gorgeous, which made me wish for the umpteenth time that I could run (I am terrible at it, and I have a back problem that means I am not supposed to do high impact activities, although I guess I ignored that when I was taking karate), but instead I went to our little rec center and ran on the elliptical machine for thirty minutes, much to the amusement of the small children who were at their after school program in the adjoining room. I may have to do this elliptical machine bit in the mornings, too.

All of this is a very long preamble to what is supposed to be some commentary on a book, which I shall now commence.

I just last night finished listening to Frank Bruni’s Born Round, which I checked out for my drive to Cheyenne and Denver and Laramie last weekend. In case you missed the New York Times article drawn from the book or the fairly large amount of hype surrounding it, the book is a memoir by the New York Times restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, about his lifelong struggle with his appetite, and how he finally conquered it and managed to eat out in New York City seven nights a week.

I was fascinated by the book. I am by nature and training a memoir reader, and I was pleased to note that until its last section, this chronicle mostly avoided what I think of as the Subtitle Structure Problem — the intense tendency of modern memoirs to take the “I went and did this thing for a year” structure to journalistic excess, wherein the author does something only for the sake of writing the book, and it shows in the way the prose slides into glibness and starts to feel like a feature story in Redbook. There’s a bit of that at the end, as I’ve said, when Bruni starts discussing his efforts to avoid detection as a restaurant critic and especially when he starts describing the various kinds of exercise regimes he tries out. But the first two thirds or so are a lovely, and heartbreaking, and fascinating memoir about food and desire and figuring out who you are and how you will go about handling the world.

Bruni, like many Americans, spends much of his life focused on his body and on wishing it were a different, better body. I said “like most Americans,” but in fact what I mean by that is “like most American women,” because I simply cannot imagine that American men are made to feel that way. Of course, I am not a man, and, more to the point, I am not a gay man, as Bruni is. I listened to the book desperately wanting to read a sociological study or three about gay men and body image. Bruni spends much of the book believing he’ll never have a boyfriend — in fact, that he can’t even look for a boyfriend, because of his body. But surely that can’t be entirely true? If fuckyeahchubbygirls! exists, I’m sure there’s an equivalent aesthetic in gay male culture. But that doesn’t really matter, because Bruni isn’t truly at peace (and how interested I am that I just chose a synonym for dead!) until he has the appearance that he wants to have, one that he largely achieves by relearning to eat and by doing a lot of exercising.

So I listened to this book and thought about how much I love food and thought about the Fat Nutritionist and thought about my shrink telling me that exercise works as an antidepressant and thought about how exercise makes me feel (excellent, although usually not till after I do it) and about how food makes me feel (excellent, unless I become wracked with guilt) and thought about how much I hate how much I think about all of this in relationship to this thing called a body that I use to carry my brain around.

I’m sure it’s Bruni’s book that got me to decide on this exercising more thing. I admire him for what he’s done, but I admire equally Anne Lamott’s friend, whom she said was always a bit overweight “for political reasons.” I hope I can find some happy medium between the two.

6 thoughts on “Born Overthinking”

  1. So far so good: two days, two posts for both of us. Though I’d much prefer to get mine posted in the morning than at 11.30 at night!

    I’d actually be surprised if more American men, gay or straight, did not feel pressure to conform to specific body images. Look at Men’s Health, how hairless every image is, how sculpted every muscle. That’s like few men I know, but I have known many to try all they can to conform to such images. Perhaps that is felt most especially by the young.

    OTOH, I don’t think men receive quite the direct social pressure as women do to conform.

  2. Hmmm… wonder if I could just say that I’m more than a little overweight “for political reasons,” rather than exercise? Probably not, sigh.

  3. I love this and might have to pick up Bruni’s book, which I’ve been on the fence about reading…From my anecdotal observations, I’d have to say men are certainly not immune to this body image nightmare, though like you, it’s hard for me to imagine that they have it nearly so bad.

    Being knocked up has put quite an interesting spin on this for me. Because of the way we got pregnant, rigorous exercise was off limits for several months, but food quickly became the center of my universe as “hunger” became a much more desperate sensation than ever before…And low and behold, even for those growing fetuses inside their bodies, eating a lot happens to equal getting fat! On the other hand, if this isn’t a time to enjoy food, I don’t know when that time would be. So…slowly, the evidence is starting to appear to the world that I am indeed pregnant and not just fat. I hate to say it, but that’s a big relief.

    I’m glad the first glimmers of spring are bringing a new writing energy for both you and Greg. I’m sure he would agree with this: if you want something to force you to exercise more–get a dog.

  4. Well, Anne, technically I think one is supposed to exercise in order to be healthy, regardless of one’s weight. I try to think of it that way, but with only limited success.

  5. Kathy, I am sure looking pregnant instead of fat is a huge improvement, although I remember once being asked by a guy at the old main bus stop outside the Old Capitol Mall when my baby was due and being very, very unhappy.

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