Just One Look…

My Facebook feed draws from a wide circle, which is endlessly useful for those times when I want to distract myself from the “To write” list. At present I’m working on next year’s Christmas story (waves to Dante and Lady Joan), a little Christmas tale for this year (waves to Westhaven and Anna), galleys for Douglas and Guinevere (I would douglas_4501-204x327wave, but they seem, um, busy), and some other deadline.

Oh, yeah! I’m getting The Duke and His Duchess ready for audio production, download to be available on Valentine’s Day. Suffice it to say, I’ve been clicking on links I might ignore if I felt less in need of diversion. One of them led to a blog post about a small moment between two soccer moms. First Mom was having the classic bad day–up all night with one sick kid, tagging bases all morning with the healthy kid. Skipped brekkie and lunch, hit some drive through, and was at soccer practice in time for the prodigy to make the bell.

While First Mom stood on the sidelines, wolfing down a burger, another mom came by, looking well put together. The moment ensued, with neither woman saying anything. Second Mom looked First Mom over, and apparently did so wearing an unpleasant expression, then went on her tidy, trim way.

snarky catWhat has taken me aback is not that the First Mom, who apparently carries some extra weight, felt undeservedly shamed by the appraisal of the second–at least temporarily–it’s that commenters on the blog have been rabidly defending the woman with the silent scowl (you’re judging her when she may not be judging you at ALL!), rabidly attacking the defenders of the same woman (she has no right to draw conclusions about a person’s worth based on what they’re eating!), and so on, with much scolding, criticizing and taking of sides.

What I take from that vignette is that when we judge, particularly when we judge emphatically and repeatedly, somebody probably made us feel judged (and wanting) first. We lose our grip on compassion when we need it most–when somebody’s in such a miserable place that negativity radiates from them and makes us feel criticized and belittled without a word being spoken.

At that moment when our self-respect threatens to collapse, we need compassion for ourselves–I too have scarfed up less than optimal nutrition on those bad days–but we also need it for the people who look mean and nasty when they’re simply walking around a kids’ soccer field.

smiling kittenAnd this too: At the moment when First Mom might have said, “Please don’t be too hard on me. I have one sick kid home with my exhausted husband, one whining that he doesn’t want to miss practice, no time for myself, and no friends I can call at the last minute to bail me out,” all it took was a look to keep her quiet.

Just one look, when just one smile might have turned the entire day in a different direction.

When did somebody smile at you, commiserate, lend a hand, and turn the whole day around? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.

Those Who Don’t Give Up

He’s Given Up

I know a fellow, a friend, who will say upon seeing a fat person, “He’s given up.” My friend is not fat. I suspect his version of struggling with weight is to decide about two weeks out he ought to lose five pounds so he’ll fit into his black suit a little better at his niece’s wedding. He skips desserts and all five pounds fall off.

I carry extra weight and have for most of my adult life. I have excuses—thyroid disease, Lyme disease, stress (my fave)—but I could be doing more to achieve a healthier weight. I could be obsessing, which strikes me as about as unhealthy as toddling around in my well padded, mostly happy, form.

But I have by no means given up, damn it. Every meal, I struggle not to eat more, not to eat the things that will trowel on the lard, to stick to the stuff my naturopath insists will give me “good energy.” I struggle to make myself take walks, to get the heck out of bed every morning and do my barn chores. I struggle when I grocery shop to make good choices, or at least not very bad ones. (Love that little bitty single serve Dove ice cream. Love it.)

As I sit the live long day at my computer, I struggle moment by moment not to get up, hit the fridge, and grab not a carrot stick, but rather, a shortbread cookie. Or a bag of shortbread cookies. Every moment of every day. I have not given up, and I have yet to meet the overweight person who has. We still hope, we still try, we still pray, we struggle and struggle and struggle. But somebody has given up.

The person who looks at me and sees only my overweight has given up on my humanity. To them, I am my weight, and they can walk on by, dismissing me with a single word, or a number. They don’t know I have worlds of creativity and humor and heart inside me. They’ve given up—on me. This happens to blondes, to children, to people who talk funny, people who are short, people who wear pocket protectors, people with babies screaming at them in the produce section, and people with white hair or no hair. They are given up on regularly.

And this is why the company of writers is so cheering. Writers don’t give up. You see a geezer, the writer will see a World War II romance. You see a screaming baby and an overwrought mother, the writer sees a Meet about to happen. You see a tall guy get out of a vintage Volkswagon, and I see an alpha hero about to be mistaken for a beta because he tuned up his little sister’s bug.

I have every book on tape Malcolm Gladwell has made, not because I agree with all his conclusions and like all his methods, but because he has the knack of asking the elegant question, and seeing the answers that appear, not just the ones convenient for him or his readers. This is being a writer. It is also being a human being, not just a homo sapiens. You never get to give up if you’re a writer. Not on the people you see, not on your world, and most assuredly not on yourself.