“How?” and What Comes Next…

I’ve decided to be very open about the weight loss experience I’m currently having. I’ve decided to do this because the support from people I know, even tangentially, is helpful in reminding me in the difficult times that I am not alone, similarly, I’m very open with the people closest to me about this experience and my feelings through it, because I need their support, I won’t pretend I don’t.

May 8th was my three month (or twelve week) gym-o-versary, I did not think I could stick with it this long, or that I would have this much success.  I’ve lost 41lbs since February 8th.

The reason I am writing about my workouts, my diet, and my fat  is because, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s consuming me right now. I feel the need to work through things that keep coming up, the myriad of emotional experiences I’m having (and that I didn’t expect), and articulate in a public place my plan for the next four months.

People keep asking me how I’m doing this. The sad part is that there’s no magic, which is a real bummer because I’d like to attribute all my success to magic. The “how” is as simple as this: I workout at least six days per week, sometimes twice a day, 2-3 hours are spent doing weight training and about 6 or 7 are spent doing cardio. I work with a trainer, Ashley (basically the greatest person I could have hoped to work with, she’s incomparable, I love working with her so much, and just think she’s awesome.) Each week we go through a new work out, I learn to do it, she assesses how I did that week (did I lose or gain – weight, inches, confidence, skills) and then I do the workout two more times before I see her again.

When I do cardio it’s either on a treadmill, climbing high hills at surprisingly decent speeds or biking. My goal is to never leave a “half” workout (30-40 minutes) without burning 500 calories or more, or 700 calories or more for a “full” workout (60-70 minutes). My best days are between 900-1000 calories.

In terms of diet, I count my calories, every single one, every single day. I calculated my BMR (the amount of calories I would burn daily if I didn’t even get out of bed.) and I eat below it. I’m about at the point where my daily calorie intake could drop, but frankly, it’s hard to eat enough each day anyway. I make an effort to not eat “junk,” but don’t really deprive myself much. It’s helpful that my roommate, Marianne, is a significant part of my process and vice-versa as it means we cook together and for each other. Most dinners involve protein and salad. We eat a lot of salad. I also eat a lot of yogurt, fruit, smoothies, cheese, glasses of milk, and as few carbs (mostly bread and pasta are to be avoided, this is nearly impossible.) as possible. We generally don’t have sweets or candy in the apartment, but do eat lots of strawberries. I also eat Chipotle once a week, because there are some things I will never sacrifice. A life without burritos is not a life worth having.

I keep track of everything with obsessive diligence, I weigh myself more than once a week, I measure my body with a tape measure, and sometimes I even take photos. I also keep track of all my workouts, how long, how far, how much – so that I can see whether I’m improving and beat my personal records. It all seems terribly boring, even reading this now, it’s damn excruciating. I find myself wanting to yell at myself: “Get a damn life! This is pathetic!” but then I realize that I’ve committed myself to this exercise, and now I’m bound by own investment to continue it.

That said, my parents and coming to visit in the beginning of September (my parents live far, far away and I rarely see them.) and I’ve decided to make the beginning of September the next milestone I’m reaching for. My goal: to lose an additional 50lbs by September 8th. This will put me at a total of 91lbs since I began. Ashley seems fairly certain I could pull off 100, and if I exceed my goals, that’s great.

 

Where Does Fat Activism Really Happen?

Obviously, I’ve been following along with quite a lot of FA (Fat Acceptance*) stuff on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and various other parts of the Internet for some time, but I have lately been truly galvanized by the back and forth at #notyourgoodfatty on Twitter. I have been exceptionally moved for three main reasons:

1. Being in the midst of a major weight loss project, I feel personally resentful that people who don’t know me see fit to judge my life and behavior. It makes me angry. (40lbs in 3 months).
2. I realize that I’m at a moment where I need the support, camaraderie, and visibility of my fat peers more than ever because part of my weight loss experience, though empowering, also makes me very vulnerable. I am more aware of my body than before, and having the chance to interact with brilliant people who seek the same self love I do is helpful.
3. I am stunned, shocked, and repulsed by the righteousness, hypocrisy, and thoughtlessness from people who have lost weight, large or small amounts. I know that my weight loss is much faster and easier for me than it would be for many, and yet, I would never presume to tell anyone that it is “easy.” Describing major, long-term weight loss as “easy” is nonsense.

Recently, I’ve noticed that in addition to criticism of fat people, and now they chose to live, there is a rash of criticism of fat activism itself. The root of this seems to lie in the fact that a great deal of fat activism occurs in online spaces, and people don’t believe that fat activism “extends beyond the keyboard.” This falls into a larger conversation about whether hashtag activism is productive and what social media has done to and with activism and advocacy in a larger picture. What I can say is that the Internet is real, online spaces are real spaces, and things that occur there are, and can be, very real. You may disagree with this, but I say this from the perspective of someone who has actually studied this. Internet scholars in fields of communication, cultural studies, and IT agree that the boundaries between RL and notRL grow ever thinner. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who met their partner online, got a degree online, deals with online money, or perhaps most importantly, was present for and affected by the Arab Spring.

Firstly, in order to work through this, it’s important to have a working definition of “activism.” I’ll use the Merriam-Webster definition as a starting point: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

Now, I would readily argue that fat activism hits this definition head-on, both online and off. While you may never have seen a large group of fat people marching in your city, I assure you that they are visible. Just yesterday, San Francisco had a fat flash mob. SF is a pretty special place though, but there are examples in NY through the NAAFA, and in Toronto (and these examples are the product of a couple minutes of investigation.)
There are tangible examples of fat activists going out and physically promoting their cause.

One of the major challenges that fat people face is one of visibility (I know, there’s a joke here.) with regards to the constant emphasis that we have dress to make ourselves smaller, or actually take up less space than our bodies do. Furthermore, because there are hardly any fat people in cinema, or television and when they are they are portrayed badly, as jokes, and for their fat, it’s easy to see how feeling invisible and perpetually shamed fuels this activism. With that said, visibility and being visible forms a valuable part of fat activism.

While you may never have seen a group of fat people protesting, you may have seen a shameless fat girl in a bikini, or short, tight skirt. You may have seen a fat person unapologetically take up space, you may have found this disgusting, but for fat activism, this is a form of action. Just by being visible, by not hiding our bodies, and by not apologizing for those bodies fat people push against norms, and articulate, perhaps not with signs or banners or megaphones but, with our visible thighs, backs, knees, rolls, dimples, and cellulite that we are demonstrating our position on a controversial issue.

In addition, the argument online that fat activism is invalid because it supposedly fails to exist offline, can equally be leveled at the opposition. The argument equally applies to fat hate, or those in favor of fat shaming. While many fat people will experience personal interactions on a near daily basis, and they will push back against those interactions, I fail to see where the pro fat stigma movement holds its rallies. Surely, if FA can be debunked due to our apparent silence offline, and thus be declared ridiculous, then the same can be said of the other side, when the most vitriolic language comes off of Reddit and Return of Kings, these movements have failed to transcend into the real world. Apart from the odd asshole calling some fat person “land whale” in a bar, and if that counts, it also counts when she hikes up her skirt, and stomps over to give that asshole a piece of her fat mind.

*Fat Acceptance is a form of body acceptance that refutes the idea that social, sexual, intellectual, or ANY kind of value is tied to the body. It accepts that different people have different preferences, but that bodily autonomy is important, and that abuse, discrimination, bullying, and erasure is harmful and wrong.

Let’s talk numbers…

Now, I know I’ve been posting a lot about fat, and weight-loss lately, but it’s because this is what I’m doing right now and, guess what? It consumes most of my life. That’s right, in just over 3 months I’ve lost 33lbs, and it is the most significant thing I’ve done in the last 3 months. People have been very encouraging, offered a lot of support, kindness, and helpful advice – a great deal of which I have made use of and all of which I am grateful for.  In so many ways, getting started on this and doing well so far means so much, I am very proud of myself, I feel accomplished and I feel better. However, I’ve also realized some really important things:

33lbs means nothing. You can’t tell. I look exactly the same as I did 33lbs ago. There is no evidence of my work in my day-to-day life. If someone wants to say something mean to me, they’ll still call me fat, and they’ll be right, because I’m fat, and I’m just as fat as I was when I started. Kindly people will tell me I look slightly slimmer, and it’s different. It is slightly different, and I have pictures to prove it, but at the end of the day, I have the same fat body I did when I started. The same “look how fat that person is!”, “Oh my god, you’re so huge!”, “You should take the stairs!” fat body.

This might seem strange or shocking, but that’s how it is for really fat people, 30lbs, 50lbs, even 70lbs (If my body looks noticeably different 15, 30lbs from now, I’ll be stunned.) these are joke numbers, they have no impact. Volumes of weight that would completely change the appearance or even life, of a “overweight”, “average”, or even “slightly obese” person are meaningless to really fat people. The reason I bring this up is because of how many people think really fat people don’t lose weight because we’re lazy. It’s not that we’re lazy, it’s that this is so much harder than someone who isn’t really fat can possibly imagine. I go to the gym 10+ hours a week, I’ve spent so much money on training, I count every single calorie that goes in to or out of my body, I keep spreadsheets, I consult calculators all day. I am always in some kind of pain, because working out everyday hurts. The first thing I do in the morning is plan how I’m going to eat during the day, and I obsess over every single bite.

Why?

Because I have to, because to lose 33lbs in 3 months when you’re really fat means being really motivated, really diligent, it means there are no cheat days, there are no breaks, there is no day where you don’t push yourself as hard as you can, there is no time where you aren’t aware of every inch of your body.

Does that sound crazy depressing? Does it sound pathetic and sad that last week I got stuck at 370lbs for 3 days, and spent time sitting alone in a locker room honestly contemplating my self-worth over where the scale was stuck, and then chastised myself because that time could have been spent working out? And all for weight you can’t see, for weight that doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

The reason I think telling you this is important is that I do this gladly, I count, and obsess, and interrogate every pound, every minute on the treadmill, and every calorie willingly, because I want to. What’s more important is that is that I don’t hate my body now, I didn’t before, I won’t ever in the future. I love my body, I love the way I look. I do feel a bit guilty, like I’ve betrayed my fat self, sorry that I felt fine before I started, confident and happy, and yet I’m still asking my body to do this for me, still asking it to climb endless hills to nowhere, and count food.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being denied in any way. Eating the amount I need to eat is easy (except when it’s difficult to eat enough) because when you’re as big as I am, even diet numbers involve giving yourself a lot of fuel. (Want a quick window into what it takes to power my body? To maintain my weight at my current activity level, I’d have to eat over 4,000 calories a day. As it stands, I eat fewer calories than I would burn laying in bed all day. And some days, I don’t manage to eat enough.)

Even with all that I’m doing, and doing it right – a healthy diet, committed, challenging exercise, self-motivated, and being held accountable – the distance to actual, tangible results is hard to fathom. I’ve done this for 3 months, and lost approximately 10lbs per month. I am still 7 months away from being considered “severely obese” rather than “morbidly obese.” I’ll probably be “severely obese” for my birthday! Yay!  March 2015 might see me get into the “moderately obese” category, and from there I’ll still be 70lbs away from “normal.” This is all assuming that it’s even possible for me to maintain this level of commitment until October 2015, or a total of 1 year and 7 months from now. (It’s also important to mention that my goal weight is right in the center of “overweight” and that in order to maintain that I’ll probably have to live like this for the rest of my life.)  Also, this language! Everything I encounter on my journey basically tells me that the grim reaper is sleeping on my futon, and I’m about to fuse to my chair.

This all seems very depressing, but the idea is that people should realize just how difficult this is, it’s not easy, there is no easy way. The scary part of this is that all of this is that it is much easier for me than it is for many people who want to lose weight. I have no medical conditions, no dietary restrictions, no issues with mobility, or mental illness. This is how difficult it is for someone who is confident, comfortable, physically and emotionally healthy, with an awesome support system, as well as resources to spare to pay for the gym, and the trainer. Now just imagine how hard it is for someone with even slightly different circumstances. This is why if someone doesn’t want to lose weight, and wants to be happy being fat that is totally up to them, and no one should be allowed to tell them to do this, or shame them for not doing it.

Good Fatties, Bad Fatties, and why I keep talking about fat.

In the last week or so a very compelling hashtag emerged on Twitter, #notyourgoodfatty. The goal of #notyourgoodfatty was a space where “bad” fat people could share their rebellious experience. I am of the firm opinion that when  non-normatively bodied person loves their body and celebrates it, it is a political act. The people of #notyourgoodfatty did so with exuberance. We discussed wearing what we want (#fatkini), eating in public, enjoying food, enjoying physical exercise for fun and not weight loss, having sex, being sexual without shame, and generally celebrating, loving and caring for ourselves. It was inspiring and truly beautiful.

The notion of “good fatties” and “bad fatties” is a relatively new concept, for a long time all fat people were “bad” and that was that. Now there are “bad fatties,” which is more like “Oh, you bad girl, eating that cake! ;)” and “good fatties,” which is more like, “you’re having a salad and working out! You go girl!” Neither bad or good fatties are truly bad or good. There are inherent problems with both. Good fat people run the risk of feeling tied to their weight loss, feeling as if their value is determined by their ability to lose weight, and often these impulses can take away from quality of life. Bad fat people have to contend with the potential health risks, disapproval from society, and not “fitting in” or trying to. It’s a complex issue, and most people will fall somewhere in the middle, some things we do will be good, and some will be bad. Balance is crucial. 

I believe that fat people have the right to be fat, and that if they don’t want to lose weight, or dress to flatter, or cover up at all, that’s amazing. I find many fat bodies lovely, beautiful, exuberant. (Goodness knows I’m crazy about my own.) I don’t really care about the health of my fellow fat people, I only care about my own health. I may be an anomaly here, as I also think people should be allowed to smoke their cigarettes without being made to feel like monsters. I see “caring about someone’s health” in order to tell them how to live as a shitty and oppressive thing to do, and one that masks fatphobia behind false altruism. Ultimately, I believe that whatever body you’re in is beautiful and should make you happy. I also believe that if you’re unhappy in your body, it is your responsibility to identify that and change it, with or without help, in whichever direction. 

Many people on Twitter did not agree with, or feel positive about the bad fatties having such voice, and trolls and naysayers began to post in droves. The posts were hurtful, discriminatory, bullying, and personified what I dislike about the Internet. A space where people can be rude, cruel, hurtful and not care about the consequences of their behavior. The battle raged (and rages) between “fat haters” and “fat apologists”, “the healthy” and “the sick” and so on. Debates about whether dieting works, whether fat people cost the state too much money, whether they’re gross, lazy, slobby, mentally or physically ill dominated the scene. Many powerful fat voices emerged, both men and women, of various ages and various races. Many of them were health care professionals, nutritionists, and really knew what they were talking about (often proponents of HAES (Health At Every Size). The backlash was similarly diverse, a blend of genders, races, ages, and also a mixture of hateful thin people with former fat people, and fitness professionals. 

What is and was most interesting for me about this space is two-fold:

Firstly, both of these sets of voices ended up shouting into a vacuum. The people who need to hear what bad fatties have to say are sad fatties. Fat people who are suffering with diets, struggling to lose weight, and feeling emotional and psychological hurt as a result, these are the people that need the powerful, self-love rhetoric of #notyourgoodfatty. People who want to learn to love themselves, and find their own health. Similarly, people with fat children (you know, it sucks being the fat child to normal parents, I would know.) and fat family who need to understand how their loved ones love themselves. 

On the other hand, the people the opposition need to reach with their thoughts on excuses, and “living life”, “not eating yourselves to death” etc are the fat people ready to make a change. The unhappy fat people who want to be told to let go of their “excuses,” the people who do not want to live of the edges of society, and want to be the healthy they’ve always imagined. The fat people who have had health problems emerge, or who genuinely want to lose weight. Not being they hate being fat, but because they’re on the other side of the system. I believe the narratives of former fat people are some of the powerful, wonderful things one can engage with during a weight-loss process.

I saw both these sets of voices being wasted and only causing more unhappiness and frustration. 

Secondly, I am not a bad fatty, so I felt like a usurper speaking for them, with them. I felt like I’d done something wrong when I started working out vigorously, or when I want to lose weight. I realized this was a problem, both these positions where firmly demanding each person be one way or the other. It felt like there was a strong, “with us or against us” attitude. Now, I know I’m not a bad fatty, but I’m also not a good fatty, sometimes I eat things I shouldn’t sure, but it’s more than that. It’s that while I’m changing my body, I’m not solely in love with the “thin person” (I don’t think this person exists) I’ll eventually be, I don’t have to hate being fat to want to be different. I felt as if I was forced to think of my desire to change as repulsion, dissatisfaction. This is simply not the case. 

I realize that the whole concept is more complicated, my experience with my body is more complicated. While I may workout everyday and eat carefully, and on most days really relish each inch and pound of weight loss, it doesn’t mean I don’t like my fat body. I live under no illusions that my fat body might not be as healthy as it could be, but that doesn’t mean I hate it. Similarly, not hating my body doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy losing weight. Do I like my less fat self more than my fat self? Not really. I feel pretty equal (and great) about both. A lot of people will tell me this is an obvious lie, why would I try and change my body if I didn’t dislike it? Because I can, because I’m vain and I want to shop at J.Crew?

That might be all there is to it. 

 

Fat Girl In The Gym

So, I started going to the gym in February. February 8th, to be specific. I had never so much as set foot in a gym before (my ‘working out’ had always been confined to my apartment, or the basement gym of an apartment block where I could go at 3am and never be seen.)

I decided to go to the gym for three major reasons:

1. The two people I spend most of my time with (my roommate and my significant otter) go to the gym regularly. Really regularly. Everyday, every second day, twice a day. They do very serious things at the gym and they seem to really enjoy it.
2. I went to the doctor, and I got on one of those cannot-tell-a-lie digital scales, and the results were…significant. (More about this later.)
3. I committed myself in 2014 to taking control of my life. More budgeting, less driving, more writing, and more self-care. The gym seemed to fall into that.

Once upon a time in 2009, I went to the doctor (for birth control, the only reason I could ever truly justify visiting a doctor back then.) and got on the digital scale, and weighed in at approximately 412lbs. Now, it is no joke when you’re told you weigh over 400lbs. You want to crawl into a hole and die. I decided then to lose weight, and I did. I told myself that if I lost weight I would be prettier and happier. I used Weight Watchers (totally works, lots of fun), all sorts of funny diets, half-hearted juice cleanses, some very hesitant working out – 2 or 3 times a week, and a lot of shaming. I shamed myself, and welcomed shaming from other people. I generally made myself miserable. BUT I lost like 95lbs (at my most, those last 25lbs yo-yo’d a lot.) So, by that measure – I totally won.

However, when I was confronted with major life change and crisis, I couldn’t sustain my frenetic eating habits and lost the grip. I kept promising I’d get back to it, but didn’t really get around to it. Now for a moment of real honestly: I didn’t get around to it because I got into a new relationship with someone who didn’t fetishize my fatness, but didn’t shame it either. Eventually after a couple months of this grievous lack of shaming, I realized I was too happy to bust my ass losing weight that I didn’t mind having, and apparently no one else minded either.

It’s easy to lose weight when I’m miserable, it’s harder when I’m happy.

However, when I got on the scale in February and it said 396lbs, I thought, “well, shit. I’m 28 now, and things feel fine now. But how long will that last?” I decided that I would order workout clothes and go to the gym the very next day. I also decided that if I liked the gym, I’d keep going, and maybe think about my food more, and see if I could lose some weight. I realized it didn’t need to be lots of weight, and it might not budge at all (ol’ metabolism isn’t what it used to be, it takes me three days to recover from a mild hangover.) I also realized that it wasn’t going to make me happier, or prettier. (In fact the only tangible result I would expect would be crossing back over the “visibility line” where a fat girl goes from being sexually invisible, to being an object of sexual fixation. This is SUCH an awkward experience.) I also had the realization that I gained 70-some lbs because I was happy, because I’m dating someone who fails to appropriately shame my body. Hardly seems like a thing to cry over. (Also, failed to notice said weight gain. WOW.)

Now, for the driving point of this post: How is the gym (Gold’s Gym in Courthouse, Arlington) for a fat girl?

To be quite frank, it’s fantastic. It’s great fun. The day I got there, everyone was really nice to me, and not in a condescending way, or a relieved way, or the way I imagine people are in Evangelical churches, but in an honest kind of way. They made clear they were happy I was there, and they seemed excited because I was excited. They didn’t issue me any tedious warnings, or make me commit to promises I didn’t intend to keep. They simply showed me around, told me I would get a free session with a trainer, and sent me on my merry way.

I’ve been almost every day, sometimes twice a day depending on what sort of day it is. I generally work out for 60 or 90 minutes, I walk (I nearly broke into a run yesterday, my legs said “yes,” and my brain said, “cool it, you’re not ready.”), I bike, I have training sessions with an awesome, attentive, highly capable personal trainer, and complete her weight workouts three times a week. All in all it comes down to about 90 minutes of weight training, and 5.5 hours of cardio a week. It’s not easy, and it’s not “getting easier” because every time I do it, I make it harder for myself, constantly attempting to beat my last day, or personal best, and I keep rigorous records (the spreadsheets are at least 30% of the fun.)

Now, this may seem rather rose-tinted and idealistic, but remember, I am a fat person. A real, live fat person. The gym is in Arlington. Fancy-pants Arlington.

The people in Arlington are not known for their fatness, but rather their public jogging, trips to Whole Foods, and general sveltness. I workout alongside all these slim, trim Arlingtonians. In the evenings, most people in the gym are my age – runners, lifters, joggers, cross-fitters, men and women. During the work hours, 10-4, there are more older people, stay-at-home moms, people recovering from surgeries, or accidents, fat people. The folks who work in the gym treat everyone exactly the same, they are helpful, supportive, cheerful, and present (should someone need advice, or should I fall and snap my fat ankle).

I say this with total honesty, I never feel put-upon, or alienated by these far thinner, far fitter people. They see me, they see me in my pink sneakers, and my leggings (yep, I wear leggings to the gym and everywhere else. Want to get comfy with your body, ladies? Wear leggings) and my fat. They know that some of the things they do could damn near kill me, and I do less in my whole work out right now than they might do for a warm up, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to be there, it doesn’t make my fitness goals or my hard work any less admirable. In fact, I’m sure the people who see me there every day feel no animosity toward me at all, why would they?

I’m not interfering with their workouts, my walking or biking doesn’t stop their workout. They don’t know why I’m doing this, or where I come from, and I don’t know anything about them. I have no idea how the guy lifting a lot of weight did before he could do that, or what that girl who is sprinting like crazy’s life is like. And I don’t feel like they’re judging me, because I’m not judging them. I don’t think they don’t have anything better to do, or that they lack real intellectual pursuits, or that they are shallow, empty, or stupid. Most importantly, I don’t assume that they hate me, or find me gross, or would make fun of me because I’m fat. I don’t go into the gym with that attitude, and so I get to bounce out with the same enthusiastic glow as the sprinter, and the lifter (but not the same self-important air as the cross-fitters) because I  know why I’m there, and I find that environment to be encouraging, exciting, full of potential, and promise. 

So next time you’re fat (or even less fat) in a gym and feel put-upon, take a second and think about the assumptions you’re making about the people you think are judging you. 

 

PS. I’ve lost 16lbs!

PPS. Trust me, the moment someone makes a shitty comment to me in a gym, I will have no hesitations about putting them in their place, because guess what, I paid to be there too.

And then there were three…

“They’re here!” I exclaimed, as I saw a woman with two exuberant black and tan puppies on leads pass the glass doors of the PetCo in Alexandria. Marianne and I had been looking into the puppy adoption play area at the store, watching three portly beagle puppies jostle in their cage, wondering if perhaps a beagle was what we were actually looking for. The next thing we knew we were practically under two large-footed, floppy-eared German Shepherd mix puppies, Chunk and Brooke. Their foster mom, Uma, from Pet Rescue Alliance told us about their mother, a full German Shepherd as far as anyone could tell, and their absentee father. Perhaps he was a Labrador, but they couldn’t tell for sure. She described Chunk as adventurous, independent, playful, and confident and his little sister, Brooke as being sweet, affectionate, a little less confident, and a little smarter.

It was love at first puppy. Marianne and I had begun the conversation about whether we wanted to get a dog several months ago. We had discussed sizes (large), breeds (GSDs? Bernease Mountain Dogs? Standard Poodles? Golden Retrievers?), puppies or grown ups, rescue or breeder? We sat at our kitchen table and day dreamed about droving dogs, herding dogs, dogs to snuggle with, dogs to take on runs. We pestered our landlady for permission, and polled all our dog-owning friends. But nothing could compare to the 25 minutes we spent meeting Brooke and Chunk. We drove home from the PetCo in a puppy daze. The words, “Just let me know which one you want” ringing in our ears.

We called the next morning, and then spent three days waiting to hear back about whether we could get little Brooke. We decided on her because of the need to get a more trainable, more demure puppy. (Don’t get me wrong, her brother is a handsome, beautiful dog – and he’s up for adoption still!) It also seemed to make more sense to add a little girl to such a girly apartment. The day she arrived she was excited, overwhelmed, but sweet, and not at all nervous. We immediately initiated her new name, Darcy. An Irish girl’s name, meaning “dark-haired,” perfect for her. The first evening she began meeting our closest friends, playing and snuggling. She eventually fell asleep in Marianne’s lap while we watched TV. (Darcy is a floor dog, as she’ll probably be about 60lbs+, we spend a lot of time on the floor with her.) She didn’t cry her first night, and didn’t wet the bed. Early the next morning she frolicked in the snow, and we began house training. She immediately fell in love with her pink Bunny and preferred to be able to see both of us.

Just one week later, the apartment is filled with the tell-tale squeaks of various snakes, alligators, tennis balls, and elephants our baby has slain. In just one week, she’s met children, other dogs, family members, and friends. She loves people, and people love her. She knows how to sit, and pretty well how to stay. She fetches well, and is a very trusting little girl. Marianne serves as her training, Imagedisciplinary figure, instituting rules, and developing an uncanny sense of when she needs to go outside. I spend more time snapping dozens of pictures of her, and fishing things out of her mouth, also cleaning up puddles. We spend a lot of time snuggling her, cuddling her, and playing with her. It’s hard to get anything done when there’s a puppy in the apartment. She’ll fall asleep in our laps, as soft and floppy as can be. She lets her toes be petted, and doesn’t object when either of her paranoid mommies reaches into her mouth to find a bit of gravel or mulch she’s decided to eat. She likes chasing snowballs, and is learning to like the elevator. She wants to be friends with everyone she meets. When she met Sookie, the corgi, she decided she had a new best friend. Adoring and affectionate, she’s a good listener but an enthusiastic player.

Every time one or both of us leave the apartment, it’s a little difficult. She sits patiently in her crate, and doesn’t behave poorly, but she’s more than ready for snuggles whens she emerges. She gives great puppy kisses, and is pushing her luck less and less on the couch. She’s infiltrated all your Facebook timelines, and Instagram feeds (you can, if you want, see more of little Darcy at my Instagram, if you want to see less of her, I suggest you reevaluate our friendship.) Saying goodnight to her is a little difficult, I’m sure she just curls up with Bunny and passes out, but I think we both know that if we were alone, we’d have a huge bed dog in no time.

Getting a puppy is a big decision, every second of every day she’s learning. Good manners, good habits, good behaviors, where her boundaries are, where her indulgences are. Darcy is learning that in the evenings, Marianne will sit on the floor and she will curl up on her lap (curl up, sprawl out, it’s all cute.) She’s learning when we’re both sitting at the kitchen table, that the place to be is sleeping on our feet. She learning that she can come into my bedroom and follow me around, but that she’ll inevitably have to leave again. Darcy is learning that I’ll let her get away with leaping onto the couch to kiss when she comes in from a walk, but Marianne won’t. That Marianne will take longer walks, no matter how cold is it, and I’ll encourage her to pee quickly.

ImageShe’s learning we don’t get mad when she has accidents, but that we’ll pay attention when she signals she needs to go outside. That fetching and releasing the ball is good, and so is playing tug of war for her end of the moose toy. Gentle play is important, and so is rough play. Having her here lets us know that her little life, every moment of it, is up to us. It’s our responsibility to make sure this little girl is not only healthy, and comfortable, but smart. That she’s not bored, and that she meets her potential. So far she’s proving to be a very smart little dog (even when she careens into a door, swings into the bar, or becomes irritated with the dog in the mirror who refuses to play) but it’s up to us to make her a wonderful dog to be around.

Cemeteries and Bird Photographs.

I stood as still as I could, raising the phone up to my eye level. I tapped on the screen to make it focus on the little brown bird in front of me. He looked at me, looked up at the grey sky and seemed to wait patiently for me to snap a series of photographs of him. Then the bus came, I got on the bus and I went to work.

Sometimes using Google Maps makes me feel like a ghost. I stood outside the front gates of Highgate Cemetery in London, I then walked slowly around the perimeter. I couldn’t go into the gates, but I walked around the edge, looking in through the thicket at the gravestones. I walked the entire way around. I felt like a ghost, tracing my way around the perimeter, invisible and unable to go inside.

There was an overgrown cemetery in the town I grew up in, in Lusaka. It was in a neighborhood across town from where I lived. The Aylmer May Cemetery, in Rhodes Park. I was obsessed with it as a child. The cemetery had been opened in 1922, closed in 1958 and by the time I was a child had been closed and fallen into disrepair. It has now been reopened, and since 1999 has been undergoing renovations and repairs. However, when I was a little girl the gravestones were cracked, tumbling and the entire place was overgrown. There was a little chapel at the entrance with broken strained glass windows and crumbling bricks. It was unassuming, the kind of place you could drive past everyday and never really notice, but from the first time we found it on a drive, I was in love. Love at first sight.

My mother would take me on long drives in her sky blue Nissan Sentra when I was a kid, 6, or 7, we’d drive through the unfamiliar streets of Lusaka, “following the rain,” turning in whatever direction moved us closer to the menacing dark grey clouds that perpetually hovered over the skyline in the humid summer months.  On afternoons where there was nothing to do, we would look for rain, and use it as a way for my mother to learn the meandering and usually unmarked roads. To this day, she’s uncannily good at drawing little maps of Lusaka, and directing people through neighborhoods.

We stopped the car, and got out. We picked to the edge of the broken fence. There wasn’t anyone there, and so we poked around a bit. My mother would diligently remind me not to tread on people’s graves, we would stop and read the gravestones and work out how old people were, or how long they’d been dead. I loved how derelict it was, how dark, overgrown, and frankly, creepy. We went back many times, I’d beg on rainy afternoons to go. Sometimes we’d chat to people – the man who half-heartedly swept around the graves, or someone passing by, we’d take grave-rubbings. Running our crayons over the white paper, capturing record of the etched words.

I was almost sad as a teenager when I realized my beloved cemetery was being fixed up. It’s important to preserve these sorts of spaces, but there is something about the charm and power of the overgrown cemetery that captures the imagination. Visiting Highgate in London had much the same effect, I loved it. I loved the stale, cool air, the endless shade, and the cracked stones. I loved the moisture and decay as if it crawled out of the ground, the darkness and the mystery. Not in a I-want-to-wear-black-and-lounge-around-on-tombstones sort of way, but more in a sense of feeling all the intensity and impressiveness of burial ritual, of the dead as they sleep forever. I liked sitting quietly, and listening to the noises old, quiet places make. I liked visiting it today, even as an apparition myself. It made me want to explore Washington’s cemeteries. To find out if there’s a dank, overgrown patch of ground, with aging stones for me to explore, here, closer to home.

What does anything have to do with the bird I took photographs of today? I don’t know, I don’t know if it has anything to do with the daydreams about cemeteries that followed. But I do know that I photographed a bird, and then has a ghostly visit to a ghostly place.