Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time."

That quotation from Fran├žois Voltaire seems a good way to start out today's belated Gratuitous Musing.

But first, a note about my recent silence: I started back to school the week before last, and am taking a lot of classes, plus working part-time. As time evaporates, I'm finding it difficult to spend as much time on the blog during the week. The blog is an important tool for my CR practice, and I really relish working on it, but have to keep my priorities clear so I can graduate in May. So, please pardon any longish delays between posts. I really appreciate that folks are reading and drawing some usefulness from my prattle, and I'll keep posting, just a bit less frequently. Now on to today's Gratuitous Musing.

If you haven't read "On Setting a Good Example," over at Apri's blog (1/24/07), do so at once, then come back and read this entry, which was inspired by it.

April writes:

"I'd have to admit, I've been a bit concerned as of late that some of you have the idea that I'm some sort of ice queen of food perfection. I mean, you sounded so shocked when I ate some hummus! If you want food discipline perfection, you've got to look to MR. Cause I do pretty well, much better than ever before, but I'm by no means invincible. That's one reason why I build a little margin into my daily calories, so that I don't end up messing up my long term CR program. Life happens! It's okay!"

The unfortunately conjoined-twin subjects of CR'ers behaving in non-CR-like ways, and the emotional and psychological gymnastics we perform in order to cope with our slip-ups, have been a recurrent theme in the CR newbie blogosphere since I entered the discussion a few weeks back. I've commented on it before myself in my "Shut the Hell Up on Pain of Bitch Slap" post.

I am one of the few males I know who wrestles openly with my self-demands for perfection, and the inevitable failures for which I then scold and criticize myself. I say "openly" because many--perhaps most--men experience self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear of failure, dissatisfaction with achievement, fear of being judged weak, and on and on, but almost as many seem to be conditioned to avoid expressing it. I don't know how those tough dudes work it out, but I get through it by boring a few very select, dear, close friends (plus the whole CR newbie blogosphere) to death with my mutterings. They then set me straight ( to speak).

Speaking of straight, I dunno, maybe the fact that I'm gay has something to do with all this. I was certainly exposed to some specific sorts of unfair pressures growing up. I lacked the physical desire to do the sorts of things that the other boys were doing, things that would have established me as a more "normal" member of the tribe. I was a deviant in the purely sociological sense: I was different. It's no surprise I developed my closest, longest-lasting relationships with females, people who make up just over half the population of the United States and still somehow are still treated as if they are "other" or "different" from normal (which is of course white, male, and heterosexual). Perhaps I absorbed more than just companionship from my close platonic friendships with girls who were carrying around--or struggling against--society's ludicrous and oppressive gender baggage.

Now as a young(ish) gay male adult, it's easy for me to see some similarities in the pressures I face to those of many women in our society, including the pressure to look a certain way. Tyra Banks was recently mocked for being 30lbs heavier now than at the height of her modelling career. Noel Gallagher of Oasis described Jack White (from the White Stripes) as "Zorro on donuts." Okay. So these wildly successful, career-oriented, accomplished folks gained a little weigh. That somehow means they should be publicly ridiculed? Society demands perfection and so breathlessly and gladly sneers at anything less.

I commit the unspeakable sin of being too fat for a gay man. Try being a youngish urban gay male AND too fat, and then try to get noticed by gymbot physical-perfection-obsessed urban gay male society. My basic identity has long included being constantly aware that I'm not perfect. My fear of being too fat inevitably becomes an element of my CR goals and practice. How could it not? Enter my obsession with perfection, as expressed by that Embittered Nasty Little Troll: "Oh no! You ate a chicken burrito with sour cream and cheese at Chipotle Mexican Grill for an astonishing 1200 (delicious) calories! You failed! If you can't do it perfectly, you can't do it at all. Might as well say 'fuck it' and hop right off the wagon." You guys see why I don't like to listen to this guy, right? He's such a dick.

I had a friend in my hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, who like me wanted nothing more than to leave town and live somewhere else, somewhere cool like Chicago. In 1993, at the age of 22, I packed whatever I could fit in a big suitcase and headed east to Washington, DC, where I lived for six years before moving here to Chicago. I did my messy and exciting and and tragi-comic growing up in DC (The drugs! The booze! The sex! The really bad food!), then came to Chicago to enjoy my maturity. Soon after moving to Chicago, I visited my friend in Ft. Wayne who still wanted to move to Chicago himself, so badly. But he was going to wait until he could "do it right." I wasn't sure what "right" meant, but whatever it was, it kept him in Ft. Wayne, where he remains today. Granted, much more is at stake with relocating than eating a burrito, but still my friend had a sense of perfection that, if he couldn't achieve it, immobilized him--quite literally. He didn't even try.

Meanwhile, people who appear to actually be perfect in some way get stuck in a different kind of trap: if perfection is the achieved norm, then losing that perfection becomes a constant concern and source for fear. The risks in fear-driven behavior are many, and include the propensity to be very annoying and humorless.

And let's not forget there are some unpleasant forms of perfection. There are people who seem to have perfected being assholes. Some politicians have demonstrated that they are perfect idiots. Some manage to commit the "perfect crimes," and the perfect aspect in grammar has caused more than a few headaches for students of languages.

So, I think it's more than totally cool that someone who is a visible and charismatic proponent of CR publicly acknowledges her imperfection and the struggles that make CR challenging for her, even after years of practice. Especially for us newbies, this candor about struggle is also absolutely necessary in order to build an authentic, solidly supportive community that we hope will grow into larger grass-roots movement.

Adjusting to this lifestyle is HARD, even on the very easy, low-hunger days, and I don't trust anyone who tells me "it was nothing." It's such a radical departure from what we are used to. Food is so emblematic, so tied to tradition and ritual, that we sometimes feel we are cutting ourselves loose from our moorings, set adrift in a strange and by turns inviting and intimidating sea. There's no way that sort of heavy transformation isn't gonna hurt. We are going to stumble around in the dark, stubbing our toes on the furniture, and then when we finally find the light switch and flip it on, we'll see that the room is a mess, and it's going to take awhile to clean it up. And we have to find a place for all the clutter before we can even think about vacuuming the floor, or dusting, or repainting.

It's so great to be able to stumble around and yet keep going, and that's easier when we can be reminded that the experienced CR folks still stumble too. The trap of perfectionism is not going to turn out to be a useful tool for making this transformation. Put on some old ripped jeans and a stained t-shirt and prepare to get messy. Prepare to come up with a brilliant plan today for your "perfect" quotidian diet, and then find yourself at Chipotle Mexican Grill tomorrow. Prepare to make four trips to Chiptole Mexican Grill this month, but only three next month. And only two the month after that. And then sometime two years from now, to look back and say, "I haven't been to Chipotle Mexican Grill for six months...maybe I should....naw, I don't really want it that much anymore."

Prepare to think about this lifestyle in terms of months and years, not days and weeks, and readjust your notion of what perfection is. Perfection is not "all or nothing," and this isn't a "zero-sum game." Perfection is a process, not a goal. Perfection is deciding what you want to do, then taking frequent and steady--albeit small--steps towards that goal, steps that include stumbles, stubbed toes, maybe even an all-out face plant or two. Just remeber that even stumbling, you are moving forward. Even taking two steps forward and one step back still makes progress.

I'm not just musing gratuitously here. I'm engaging in a therapeutic reframing of my own successes and failures, because lately, since going back to school, I feel like I've been doing CR more in theory than in practice. Not yet fully comfortable with my new tools, in moments of weakness I've been choosing some old, comforting ones. For every three good days, I have one bad.

I haven't been successful at keeping my calories as low as my target, and my weight loss--one of the easiest but also most psychologically loaded metrics--has leveled off at just five pounds since January 1st. Maybe I'll hit that magic eight pounds by January 31, but I doubt it. So I probably won't meet my first monthly target.

But not so fast: I lost five pounds and stayed that way! My jeans fit noticeably looser! That means despite my stumbles, I really did ratchet down my calorie consumption enough to lose weight, and that is undeniable progress, just a bit slower than I anticipated. But who cares about two or three pounds when I want to do this for the rest of my (long) life? For the month of February, I'll set a more modest goal: instead of having three good days followed by one bad, maybe I'll try for four good days in a row, followed by one not-so-bad?

So down with perfection, and up with progress! I just want to be happy with moving steadily forward with the rest of you on our long, slow journey!


Calyb said...

Wow, it's post like these that leave us on our toes for days on ends, waiting. Thanks so much Chris. You are extremely talented and I would assume from your writings a really cool guy. I relate in so many ways to this post; gay, not perfect, but a perfectionist, way too hard on ourselves, etc... I am glad to hear you are doing well. School is tough, but you are almost there! Good luck with everything!

MJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MJ said...

Yo Chris.

Well, I had an absolutely fantastic week of CRON-ish consumption, only to fall prey to my dietary Achilles heal last night... a Barnaby's (very kool place, check it out) blue cheese (the real, crumb-ly stuff) bacon (as thick as my Texas accent) cheeseburger. Note: Do I need to say "cheeseburger" since I already commented on the blue cheese? (rhetorical question) Anyway, Barnaby's prides itself on organic, healthy-ish fare, but I'd wager a decent sum that a healthy cheeseburger doesn't exist.

So, when it comes to the whole perfection game... I feel ya, amigo.

Mike J.

Anonymous said...

amazing post Chris! Such good food for thought- and it's an amazing gift to have you as part of our CRON blogging community- the way you express yourself with such authenticity, humor and intelligence- and are so generous with how much you share about your own personal experiences...

Thanks- for being a cool guy. ^_^

Deborah said...

Chris..I would be very surprised if your degree in May is not somehow related to writing. You have a gift with words that is truly wonderful.
So out of eight days you have two bad? That's not really bad. It's all in the averages. Since you're a bit older them some of our other blogger buddies..the slower weight loss is recommended by Walford. My weight loss is even slower..13 pounds in just about 3 months. Since I haven't gained anything back..even with my slip-ups, I'm thrilled and also feeling pretty good about it all. you've got a lot on your plate and I think you are doing beautifully with it!

Eme said...

Hi, great blog! I stumble humbly along the CR path, but couldn't couldn't for the life of me describe it so beautifully and poignantly. Had to forbid myself from weighing in. My weight is such a loaded number it inevitably derails my progress...
Comment on previous post-- canned salmon is very high in Vit. D and okra in Zinc. Salmon is also kind of portable... Keep posting, it's very motivatibg.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris

Nice writing, I agree with the others. When I joined the CR Society lists, I had already lost 30 lbs on a "no" diet an acupuncturist gave me. (The
"no" was the side of the list of foods I couldn't eat. There weren't many foods on the "yes" list, and it was vegetarian.) CR helped me lose the next 10 lbs I wanted to lose, to be able to do yoga better. Those 10lbs took over a year and half to lose. So, yes, it's done slowly, but it's a healthy way.

April said...

Chris, we do miss you when you don't blog. Beautiful post... please produce more!


Deborah said...

Hey Chris...
I hope you are doing okay in that subzero.. please drop a line..nothing major..just so that we know you aren't stuck in some ice sculpture on campus!!


April said...

Chris... have you frozen to death?