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Wanting It All

The past month has been … more downs than ups. (Referring to my commitment to changing my eating habits, not my weight.) I’m not really sure why. It might be because my birthday is this month, and in recent years, I feel a severe dissatisfaction around my birthday, caught up in coulda/woulda/shouldas—exasperation at how quickly time flies by, and frustration that I haven’t done more.

But at any rate, I’ve been in desperate quest for motivation, hoping for one thing that will somehow be strong enough to overpower all my cravings and weaknesses and impulses. And today, amid my usual checking of the Drudge Report, I came upon a link about obesity and cancer.

“Carrying excess weight has been shown to boost the risk of 13 types of tumors, including cancers of the esophagus, thyroid, postmenopausal breast, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus, colon and rectum,” reported AFP.

This summer, a doctor found a lump in my thyroid. When she told me I needed to get it checked out, I waved her off, saying if it was so unlikely it was cancer, it’d be fine to just monitor it for now. She told me no, I needed to get it checked out. So I did.

The doctor also told me thyroid cancer was the best kind of cancer to get. (I opened my mouth to argue, being the descendant of Irish people forever getting patches of skin cancer they get removed, and then realized it was probably absolutely idiotic to argue with your doctor about what the “best” kind of cancer was, and shut up.) Fifty thousand or so google searches later, I was fairly heartened: the odds of a lump being cancerous were quite low, and the odds of that cancer, if it existed, being fatal were extremely low.

Yet it was still sobering to be in a hospital for an ultrasound, and later, a biopsy. (Nothing like being told to most definitely not swallow for thirty seconds while a long needle is plunged into your throat.) I’m 29, I kept thinking, somewhat angry. Wasn’t I supposed to have a few more years before I was forced into tiresome health concerns and worries?

The biopsy came back negative: I’m fine.

Reading that news article today, I wondered how would I feel if I did have cancer—if I would have thought it was my fault, that I had failed to take actions to change my life. It was sobering—sobering enough I bought lite popcorn instead of more substantial junk food when I had to pick up a prescription at CVS tonight.

Bu I also wondered if fear was really motivation enough for the long haul, and I thought of how tired I was of shame and anxiety.

I’ve also been thinking about St. Therese of Lisieux this week, since her feast day was Sunday. St. Therese is one of those Catholic saints who seems insufferable from her short bio: pious French girl turned pious nun who died at 24 of tuberculosis. But she’s an absolute delight in her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul.” She’s neurotic, she’s anxious, she’s emotional—in short, she’s very human. And I found myself thinking of this scene she recounts from her toddler years:

One day [my sister] Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: “Here, dears,” she said, “choose whatever you like.” [My sister] Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: “I choose everything,” and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.

Dieting can feel like the opposite of “I choose everything,” even though I try to remind myself of all the positives coming, try to make the “I don’t choose this Ben & Jerry’s” to “I choose having more energy someday.”

At any rate, I suppose in part this passage has always appealed to me because one of my first (and most vivid) experiences of shame was when I was in kindergarten or first grade. Armed with some kind of fake money earned through doing shomework or some such, I was allowed to reimburse the “money” for things sold one day at the school, and so on that day, I went to make my purchases.

But I was still hazy on the whole math thing, and when I showed up to cashier—probably a sixth grader I was completely awed by — I was told the pile of items I’d selected far exceeded the amount of cash I had. I remember feeling horribly embarrassed, thinking that I’d revealed a terrible amount of greed by showing I thought I should be able to get so many items.

And sometimes it seems the same way to me about overeating—so much of the shame is that you’re not supposed to want to eat so much, especially if you’re a girl. The desire, even if not accompanied by actions, seems somehow shameful.

I recently stumbled upon an essay (via a comment from a friend’s friend on Facebook) that discussed appetites and women in a way that lingered with me, particularly this passage:

There’s a YouTube video I’m fond of that shows a baby named Madison being given cake for the first time. The maniacal shine in her eyes when she first tastes chocolate icing is transcendent, a combination of “where has this been all my life” and “how dare you keep this from me?” Jaw still dropped in shock, she slowly tips the cake up towards her face and plunges in mouth-first. Periodically, as she comes up for air, she shoots the camera a look that is almost anguished. Can you believe this exists? her face says. Why can’t I get it all in my mouth at once?

This video makes me laugh uproariously, but it’s that throat-full-of-needles laugh that, on a more hormonal day, might be a sob. The raw, unashamed carnality of this baby going to town on a cake is like a glimpse into a better, hungrier world. This may be one of the last times Madison is allowed to express that kind of appetite, that kind of greed. She’s still young enough for it to be cute.

Or in other words: Still young enough to be allowed to desire “everything.”

What does binging do for you? What do you get out of it? Are the kind of questions you seem to confront ad nauseam if you read self-help books or do therapy, and yet, they are still questions I struggle to answer. Because so often the answers didn’t seem to make sense, didn’t seem to be compelling enough to explain why I kept choosing the eating over health.

But the more I think about it, there’s a kind of expansive freedom in eating too much of what you love—a chance to rebel, to choose it all, instead of telling yourself once again, you’re satisfied with what you have, even though you’re not. A chance to pick the ice cream and the candy and the cookies, not just be sensible and pick one. A chance to have a credible foretaste of having-it-all.

And yet: the costs. Imagining being back in that hospital room where I had the biopsy, staring once again at the ceiling with a cut-out rectangle showing a photo of a tree’s leafy branch just as fall began to happen, and thinking: maybe this could have been prevented if I had changed my life.

I don’t know, in the end that I have faith I will someday have to this journey, whether it will be more motivated by fear or by hope. No doubt, in the end, it will include some of both.

But what I have learned is I don’t want to get to the end by having a smaller appetite. I just want to get there with an appetite directed at so much more than Reese’s and Oreos.


Believing Things Can Go Right

Soo … I wasn’t intending to be gone so long. But it’s been a crazy past couple of months–or at least it’s felt that way to me. I was gone from D.C. six weekends in a row–and given that I cherish the slowness of weekends, the chance to take a breath and get caught up on everything, it’s felt a little intense.

But mostly in a great way: I’ve been traveling galore, which I love … it’s such a joy to see places I’ve read about or heard about in person, and pick up on all the atmosphere no book or movie can perfectly, wholly convey.

One of the places I went to was Orange County, California, which despite going to college in Southern California, I’d never been in this part of my home state. (Except, upon reflection, for a performance of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which was delightful. Even though we were broke college students literally in the very backest row you could be in.) I was there for a work conference, and decided to arrive a day early to see a dear college friend.

A post shared by Katrina Trinko (@mymessymiddle) on Jul 25, 2017 at 7:12pm PDT

(At Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Lake Forest, California.)

But I also knew I should try to do something healthy … because traveling is generally some of my worst times for eating and working out. With all the stress of new places and weird schedules, I’m often quick to justify not striving to lead a healthy life.

I’d love to say I was a New Person during my travels this summer, but well, I wasn’t.

However, I did decide I should try to go hiking before heading over to the work conference, just to see a bit more of California and get in a work out.

So, after googling to make sure I wasn’t super likely to get eaten by a mountain lion (ironically, the way you’re supposed to scare mountain lions off is by looking big, so it occurred to me that the more weight I lose, the less safe it’ll be to hike in California), I settled on an Orange County park that reportedly had a Grand Canyon-evoking rock ridge.

And saw my first rattlesnake.

(A stranger’s rattlesnake pic–mine was coy and also I wasn’t sure it was the smartest idea to get close enough to get an iphone shot.)

Mind you, I almost blithely walked right by it. The only reason I even realized there was a rattlesnake was the guy in front of me stopped and basically went: there’s a rattlesnake.

And it still took me a moment to get what he was saying, because I was just happily listening to Pandora’s Broadway show tunes station.

But in that moment when my ignorance did cease, I decided that, my mixed feelings about whether I really needed a guy to hold open a door for me when I was fifty feet away be damned, I was a staunch believer in chivalry.

(And yes, I did spend four years of my life, thanks to the wonderfully chivalrous guys of my college, actually getting doors opened for me when I was fifty feet away from them. And whatever my mixed feelings about the fifty-feet distance are, I’m all about it when you’re right at the door.) GIPHY

(I have no idea what this is, but I can’t stop watching it.) 

So I stayed several steps back and waited for the guy, who I had never met before in my life, to handle this situation.

Then, from the other side of the path came a couple, who looked like some kind of outrageous, glowing, fresh-faced REI ad. (A little later, a guy would take a look at me and go hot day, huh? I felt embarrassed that I was so visibly sweaty–only to learn later that no, it wasn’t in the 80s like I thought, it was 105. Have I mentioned how much better dry heat is than humidity?) The four of us murmured vaguely. The original dude tried brandishing a stick in the rattlesnake’s path.

Ultimately, the rattlesnake decides to slither off. The REI couple bounces off, no doubt to do cross fit or spin class or drink kale smoothies, and the guy ahead of me heads forward.

(This kind of couple.)

I hesitate.

I think about what I know about rattlesnakes, and it is … not much.

I know you’re definitely not supposed to get bitten if you can help it. I vaguely think you’re supposed to throw a rock at their head if you think you’re in danger. I think about how fast I can run (hint: not very) and wonder if I have any idea how fast or slow they slither (I don’t).

I’m also pretty sure I had people on the Oregon Trail (computer game, of course) die from rattlesnake bites.

It occurs to me that the beginning of wisdom at this moment might be hitting up google.

So I do … and discover my internet no longer works, so deep am I into this McMansion-rimmed Orange County hiking patch.

The sensible decision, I think, would be to head back. If one rattlesnake is around and bold, others could be too.  And I have no clue what to do if I do get bit. Do I move? Do I definitely not move? Do I have 15 minutes before death? Do I have hours before death? Is there a period of lucidity before I go insane?

I have no answers….

No internet …

And I generally make the sensible decisions. (See: the fact that I buy Naturalizer shoes even though I’m still in my 20s.)

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(Photos blurry because my iPhone decided it just wasn’t into taking non-blurry photos most of that day. Seriously!)

But for some reason, I’m feeling really stubborn about wanting to see this rock ridge I didn’t even know existed before I googled Orange county hiking paths.

So …. I keep walking. Forward.

After all, I was just half a mile away from this faux Grand Canyon. I’d keep my eyes on the ground. I’d stop listening to music, so I could hear if there was a suspicious rattle.

So I kept on walking, keeping the guy in my sight. (My affection for chivalry extended to the point that I was willing to let him first face any more rattlesnakes, just because I wouldn’t dream of emasculating him.)  But at a certain point, I lost him–I wasn’t sure if he was still on the same path or not.

And that’s when I started to hear a lot of rattling.

I stopped. And reflected on whether it was the rattling of a snake, or just plants rustling. I looked around at the rocky landscape, catci springing up everywhere. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of rattling-prone vegetation. I looked at the rocks, saw all the nooks and crevices adjoining the dirt path.

Again, I tried to google–and my phone remained willfully, recklessly determined that I would lead the internet-free life for a while longer.

I wondered how fast rattlesnakes could move. (I wondered how fast I could move if I thought my life was in danger.) I wondered if they traveled in pairs, or if they sometimes had broods of baby rattlesnakes, perhaps in quantities to rival the von Trapps, that could helpfully corner an idiot like me, because teamwork makes the dream work.

I wondered if crickets or some other insect could be making that rattling sound. Maybe, I figured.

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So I walked onwards. And saw the red rocks …. Which were nice.

On my way back, I realized I couldn’t remember around which bend we’d seen the actual rattlesnake. So I ended up walking the whole half-mile path in a mild panic, wondering if every bend was the bend, only consoled by the thought that if I died of a rattlesnake bite in a hiking trail, at least people would think that my cause of death meant that I was the kind of cool, active-living person who did hikes and was connected to nature and all that jazz.

What can I say? I’m clearly a hopeless optimist.

A post shared by Katrina Trinko (@mymessymiddle) on

(If you squint, it looks exactly like the Grand Canyon, no?)

I’ve taken other believe-things-can-go-right risks since. Like parking in an ambiguously marked spot that I was 90 percent sure was kosher, but had 10 percent doubts about. (Washington, D.C. seems to think the best way to encourage a car-free life is with parking signage so ambiguous you become convinced the only place you’re definitely allowed to park is a $24 garage.)

Easter hit me hard this year. Normally, it’s Lent that does, but this year, thankfully I’d overcome that whole sinning bit and just cruised right on through it. (As if. Although I did cruise through the latter half, but that was more about, um, some rather unremedied traits.) At some point, I read something or heard something demanding whether I lived like the Resurrection had happened. And in the months since, it’s lingered with me.

Working in news, it’s easy to drown in all that’s going wrong: you’re inundated with it. (If it bleeds, it leads … ) And somewhere along the way, I started forgetting more and more what’s going right. Which isn’t to say there aren’t real problems in our country, and world–there certainly are, and it’s why I want to stay in news. But it’s a reminder to me that, if I truly believe my faith, I’m assured the final ending is a happy one … and trying to mediate on that, live that, has been a way of quelling grief, including the kind of grief that makes it feel like the only way to restoration and peace is through inhaling a whole lot of Reeses.

Oh, and as you might have guessed from the fact that I’m writing this post, I didn’t get bit by a rattlesnake.

And since I never stumbled upon a corpse, I”m also hopeful that chivalrous dude made it out, too.