Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Few Thoughts on SIP '08-'09. And a Book Review.

After completing 4 weeks of my Self-Improvement Project, I met my workout goals in 3 of the 4 weeks, and exceeded them in 2 of those weeks. I didn't meet my drinking goals any of the 4 weeks, but I did drink less. I reduced my TV watching and increased my reading, but I didn't finish the book in two weeks as I intended. I was still snarky now and again, but I did feel really guilty about it. So, all in all, not a great success, but showing signs of improvement.

Meeting my exercise goals and not losing weight leads me to believe that, in addition to working harder on the drinking goal, I need to put diet into the equation after all. I like to eat. I mean, I really like to eat. I've been resistant for years to counting diets, whether counting calories or measuring food or counting points. With the success that Aerie's had with Weight Watchers, though, I'm considering it. I think portion size is a big problem for me, and maybe a few months of paying very close attention to portion size and calorie content will help train me to behave better. Anyway, no promises, because it's probably more money than I want to spend, but I'm thinking about it. I never did unsubscribe from those "Your Baby This Week" emails from the hospital, and this week's contained this sentence: "The parents' weight was the biggest predictor of a child becoming overweight." I don't want that for Thumper, so I want to work harder, for him and for me.

Oh yeah. And the book. I read Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion many years ago, and re-read it as the first book on my SIP '08-'09 reading list. It was, predictably, a very different experience this time around. In my post-adolescence, when I (most likely) read this book the first time, I was much more sensitive to the fraternal relationship issues. I grew up feeling weaker, more cowardly, and far less cool than Big Brother. I blamed a lot on him. And while Big Brother never slept with my mother in the room next to mine knowing I was watching through a hole in the wall as Hank did Leland's (they are actually half brothers), I demonized him as a bully who emasculated me and treated me cruelly when what he actually did was behave very much as a normal big brother.

So I entered the book remembering Leland as the avenging hero. I remembered him as the main character. I remembered what his act of vengeance was, but I didn't remember the ultimate outcome. I remembered, too, the sad fate of the most likeable character in the book and dreaded its approach, but found that it didn't, probably because of all my anticipation, carry nearly the emotional punch that I remembered and expected. I didn't remember, either, the way that Kesey spins the narrative point of view like a top, shifting again and again, and sometimes in mid-sentence, from the first-person perspective of one character then another, then back to the third-person omniscient narrator. He does much the same with chronology. I stumbled through the first fifty pages or so before I became accustomed to it again and my eyes were able to focus on the richness of the world he was creating.

But this time around, Leland wasn't the main character, and Hank was much more human and much more admirable than I remembered him. What struck me now was not the drama of Hank's fierce independence and determination to win win win, the whole town and the whole world be damned. It was Hank's weariness at always having to stand up to the town's challenges and his knowledge that the town needed him to keep on standing up. And it was Leland's liberation when he finally stands up, too.

In the last thirty pages or so, when Hank and Leland are finally face to face days after Leland exacts his revenge, they fight. Leland, despite the loud voices in his head telling him to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!, finally stands and fights. And that's the only thing that can stop Hank from beating him to death, and not because Hank can't outfight him.

Reading it, I thought of all the times my brother pinned me down and spit on me, or made me smell his armpits. I thought of getting pantsed in front of girls, and a dozen other humiliations. And I thought about how afraid of a fight I was. I was terrified of getting punched, of getting beaten. I remember David Duran in junior high, and how my smart mouth had pissed him off such that I spent an entire school year avoiding him rather than letting him follow through on his insistence that we were going to fight. I remember my pure gratitude that he moved the next summer. And I remembered all the self-loathing that went with that fear and that gratitude.

I remember, too, my brother recently talking about the one time that I said or did something, probably said with my smart mouth, and pissed him off so bad that he was determined to beat the tar out of me. And somehow, I got the upper hand enough that I stood over him, pushing him down again and again as he tried to get up. He spoke about it with what sounded like pride. Pride that I'd finally stood up to him? At the time, I was terrified and only hoped to keep him off his feet until Mom could intervene and save me from that beating. I don't recall it as standing up to him.

That's what I thought of as I finished the book. I wasn't weak and cowardly because my evil big brother made me so with his insurmountable superiority. I never tried because I was afraid. He would have been proud of me if I had. And so would I. The fear is inside me, to be overcome; it's not poured onto me by other people out there in the world. Which also made me think of this, which is really, really long, and came via this. Honestly, I didn't even read the whole thing, but several of the "Actual reasons that people do not like you" touched a nerve.

So, anyway. In conclusion. Sorry, Big Brother, for holding it against you all these years. I wished I'd kicked you in the nuts a few times more, at least. And also, I enjoy books that have likeable characters, even if they get the shit end of the stick. And I like it when books mean something on a personal level. The End.

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