jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

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Pomp, and Circumstances

2016-01-25 17.55.33

My diploma came in the mail today.  This might surprise people who know me, because I didn’t really announce my graduation.  Oh, I told a few people (hi, Mom!), but I quickly found out that as soon as you tell someone you’ve finished your degree, they ask, “What are you going to do now?”

And I don’t have a clue.

I finished college for a few reasons.  I lost my job a year ago and this freed up a ton of time and energy (I got a new job pretty much immediately…in fact, so quickly that I was kind of sorry to see my ‘vacation’ go!  But the new job allows for a much, much better work-life balance).  I wanted to prove that I could finish something.  I wanted to graduate before my youngest kid (I did beat him, he’ll graduate this spring!).  And I figured that if I ever figured out what I want to be when I grow up, an AA would transfer far more easily than a bunch of 15 year old miscellaneous credits from two different colleges.

So I enrolled in the same college the kid attends, and I did my homework, and I pondered the future.  They sent me the diploma, but they didn’t send me a crystal ball.

It used to be that the future was made of hope.  I hoped I’d get married again.  I hoped I’d have more kids.  I hoped I’d do something valuable to humanity.  I hoped I’d find success, whatever that was (I still don’t know).  But the years slid on by, and most of the time I was occupied with survival.  Do what it takes to pay the bills, school the kids, put food on the table, try to take care of myself.  There were years of bare minimum and there were years with some breathing room, and there were a lot of good memories.  But always there was the waiting.  And then one day I realized there was no more waiting to be done.  The kids were grown.  The future had arrived.

And hope turned to panic.

What am I doing with my life?  Where did time go?  How on earth do I decide what to do now?  And if I could decide, how on earth would I accomplish it?  I still have no answers.

But I guess there’s no point in fearing the future.  It’s going to come no matter what, right?  Oh sure, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and my worries would be over, but it’s more likely that I’ll still have a future to figure out.  Worst case scenario, I do that one day at a time.

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Dear Oprah, You Need New Glasses

Oprah’s new Weight Watchers commercials are nearly unavoidable.  Even without traditional television, I’ve been subjected to several just today, and I find them both offensive and ridiculous.  But mostly, I find them sad.

Oprah, you say that “inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.”  Now, you’re quite a wealthy lady, but if your eye doctor said your new glasses had x-ray vision, I think you overpaid.  You can’t see inside every fat woman (overweight is a stupid word–over what weight?) and you damn well can’t speak for this one.  I realized long ago that it wasn’t fat that kept me from the life I wanted, it was waiting for thinness.  I’m not sure how you haven’t noticed this yet, but fat women can be awesome, brilliant, successful, and happy!

You also seem to need a prescription for better hindsight.  The entire world has watched you as you’ve ridden the dieting roller coaster over decades.  Up! Down! Up! Down! Up!  WE know how hard you’ve tried.  How do you not remember it?  Quite literally the most successful woman in the world, and yet you think you failed all those diets, doctors, life coaches, and personal trainers?   Lady, they failed you.  And I’ve got news for you:  so will Weight Watchers.  Largely regarded as the best weight loss program in the world (without surgery, anyway), it still sucks big-time.    Because, among many other reasons not to use them, diets just don’t work.  (And you don’t need them anyway!)

Then there’s foresight.  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you know that idiotic advice every woman has heard about buying the fancy dress in the size you want to be, as motivation to starve yourself into it?  And you know how those fancy dresses only get worn once, if ever?  Yeah.  Spending $43 million to buy part of Weight Watchers isn’t going to work any better than the fancy dress.   You can only fight biology for so long, and then, no matter how much money you have riding on it, the number on the scale will creep back up.  All you’ll accomplish is an inverse relationship between your scale and your stock prices.

And finally, insight.  You seem to have enough insight into your relationship with the women of the world to know that they’ll follow you on your newest roller coaster ride–you bet $43 million on it.  But do you realize the harm you’re leading them into?  The exacerbated self-hate and misplaced guilt?  The money that could have been spent on something worthwhile?  The devastating health effects of dieting?  (You get gall bladder surgery! And you get gall bladder surgery! You ALL get gall bladder surgery!)  Or, you know, all that time spent just waiting to be the women we know we can be?

So here’s my prescription for you:  Look at yourself in the mirror.  Tell your reflection that she’s loved and valuable, and that her worth does not rest on her pants size.  She can stop striving for the impossible, and spend her time, energy, and money on real things.  Loved ones and time in the sunshine and good books and maybe even a piece of cake, a better world and a better understanding of what really matters in it.  And freedom to enjoy it without the gloomy cloud of body hate following her around!

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Fearless: Fearing Less

I’m sure that by now everyone has come up with their Powerball Plan.  Can you use the Internet without knowing that it’s up to 900 million dollars?  I think not.  And although it’s hard to plan for such an unfathomable amount of money, and neither of us is likely to win since we don’t buy tickets, this didn’t stop The Boss and I from imagining what we’d do. 

Him:  You couldn’t fit all that money into your tiny house.  You’d need to have a tiny house to live in, and then another house just to store the cash.

(Have I mentioned I dream of building my own tiny, portable house?)

I eventually decided that I’d buy a smallish sailboat and take sailing lessons, and then my boat could be my tiny house.  Cash storage would still be an issue, but then, so are pirates, so I might have to use actual banks.  Then I’d sail around the world, visiting all the people that I know who are doing good works in various places, spend some time with each, and see if I could help in some way.

And then it hit me:  I would get rid of nearly everything I own, in a heartbeat, keeping only things like photos and birth certificates and the clothes that I really love–which isn’t much of my wardrobe!  I’d toss it all and live in my tiny floating house.  But wait–if I’d toss it all if I became rich, why am I keeping it now?

The answer, I think, is fear.  You see, I had a rather insecure childhood.  I won’t go into why, my parents are different people now, and they did the best they could.  But when you grow up in insecurity, you spend a lot of time, money, and energy trying to feel secure.  For some of us, that results in surrounding ourselves with Stuff.  And if you’re actually financially insecure, it makes it exponentially worse.  I spent most of my adulthood being very, very financially insecure, and I also spent most of my adulthood literally unable to keep up with my Stuff.  As I became more financially stable over the last several years, quite a lot of Stuff has been replaced with very enjoyable empty space.  But I’m
still living in fear of Not Having What I Need.  Fear of having less.

It’s painful for a lot of reasons.  Every item to be tossed or given away is a decision, and decisions are hard.  Will I regret giving away this book that I never read?  Would my Nana be unhappy that I don’t want her china?  I know those shoes don’t fit right, but shoes are expensive, and what if I need a pair in that color in a couple years? 

So I’m fighting my fear of less.  Today was a few stacks of books and Nana’s china.  Who knows what tomorrow will be.  And though I’ll never win 900 million dollars, I’m certain I won’t end up in financial ruin for lack of a pair of ill-fitting white shoes.  Hello, lovely empty spaces.

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Fun Fat Fact: Sleep Apnea

Story time!

Once upon a time, my tiny little grandmother and I went on a trip to Portland and shared a hotel room, and I got no sleep at all because I spent the entire night checking to make sure she wasn’t dead.  Why?  Because I realized that when her snoring stopped, so did her breathing, and it’s scientifically proven that people who breathe live longer than people who don’t.  When we got home, she reported this to her doctor, had a sleep study, and was found to stop breathing in her sleep roughly every two minutes.  Why was this not spotted before?  She had all sorts of signs, such as falling asleep in the daytime (at least twice while driving), waking up tired, truly awful snoring, etc.

I’ll tell you why:  She’s not fat.  And “everyone knows” that sleep apnea is much more common in fat people, right?  Must be all that fat forcing the air out of the lungs or something?  Wrong.

Yes, there was a study that said that, and this study got all sorts of attention.  Far more attention, it turns out, than the retraction of the study due to the researcher falsifying the data in order to make his hypothesis magically come true.  This researcher has since gone to work for the pharmaceutical industry, where I’m sure his skills are better appreciated.  Unfortunately, many medical professionals, and the media at large, still believe there’s a link between weight and sleep apnea, and weight loss is even recommended as a treatment.  This becomes a double-edged sword:  fat people are forced through unnecessary testing because it’s assumed they have the disease and/or pressured to lose weight, and thin people aren’t tested and continue to suffer.

This is not an uncommon theme when it comes to the medicalization of fat.  The blaming of fat is incorporated into our cultural outlook, becomes integral to the plot lines of our TV shows, and substitutes for actual medical assessment.  Losing weight, even though it is almost never successful, and often results in a greater regain, is prescribed as a fix for all manner of issues, even though we don’t have a clue about cause and effect.  Nor is it uncommon for research to be falsified or skewed to reach the desired conclusion.  Research has to be funded by somebody, and that somebody generally has an agenda.  The published conclusion often doesn’t tell the same story that the data tells, and the news media doesn’t seem to read beyond their own headlines.

For these reasons and others, it’s important to educate ourselves.  Great books on this subject include Body of Truth by Harriet Brown, and The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos, and I encourage you to read one or both.

Today’s Fun Fat Fact:  Fat does not cause sleep apnea.

(Hey, did you know I’m on Twitter?  Follow me @fearless_jenn)

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New Year, New Things To Fear(less)

Lewis county

So I went skiing on New Year’s Day.

A year ago, I went downhill skiing for the first time ever, if you don’t count sliding down the hill at my old junior high…the short side, where the toddlers get to go sledding.  My friend Chuck taught me how, and I stayed on the bunny hill, partially due to time constraints and partially due to pouring rain and partially due to being all worn out by the time I got the hang of it.  Or thought I had.  This year, we did one trip down the bunny hill, and I thought, hey, I kinda remember this, let’s go on up the mountain!


I had no idea that I was afraid of heights, but dangling from the ski lift, I made this discovery.  Who invented these things, and why did they not install some sort of restraint?  Nothing kept me from plunging to my death (or at least broken limbs) but my own iron grasp.  And I was wearing gloves.  In the movies, this never turns out well.  Chuck assured me that people never fell out, not even small children, although some teenagers jump out on purpose.  I assume this is because their brains are not yet fully developed.  Then he mentioned some occasions where ski lifts are stopped.  He’s a scientist, so I was surprised that he wasn’t alarmed by the fact that we were sitting unrestrained on a forward-moving object that might stop, leaving us to be objects in motion that tend to remain in motion.  And then the ski lift stopped.  Chuck used this as an object lesson as to why I should follow his disembarking instructions very carefully, so that people would not laugh at me, and I would not risk their lives by causing the lift to be stopped again.

Clearly, I survived, but I’m not entirely sure how.  The trip down the hill was even more harrowing.  I did not know I could move that quickly, and I was not altogether comfortable doing so, so to break my speed, I was forced to occasionally tip over.  Apparently this method of progress was noticed by some, including a gentleman that offered to buy me a beer, should I ever reach the bottom.  I did reach the bottom, and the gentleman was nowhere to be found, but that is just as well as I’m not a beer drinker.

I intended to risk life and limb at least one more time just to prove that I wasn’t too afraid to do so, but after lunch I found that though the heart was willing, the legs were not.  Until next year!

snowy trees