Monday, August 20, 2012

Moderation vs.Idealism, guide or bane

This was originally a tweet, that started to evolve into a TwitLonger, and then I just thought to incorporate other notes an thoughts that have been on my mind lately and make it a blog post instead.  It was a response to a posted tweet by ancestral momentum.& eclectic kitchen's paleo culinary maven Dana Michelle Norris with a link to this article by Chris Webb, M.S.  It's about time I posted something here.  The business of the move with my sister had its challenges (though enjoying her company and help) but I'm back to work. Next blog post will have some new images and perhaps some resolved older ones.

@eclectickitchen Michelle, I do agree with you. The brevity of tweets leave an ambiguous gap that one can fill in with various projected meanings or that one is looking for a fight. I was not giving you a "yes, but...." This one was an added thought, not a counterargument to that article. Although the intoxicating reaction to wheat, sugar, and a high carb processed diet is more immediately severe and pronounced in some individuals than others, I agree. It is detrimental for all in the short and long term.

I also agree with that the "everything in moderation" is a way to chip away at any ideals. Many are ignorant of the facts of what is being considered "in moderation", or lazy, intimidated or envious by  those who have followed what said ideal have yielded (in this case of the original tweet I responded to-health and strength) in the more disciplined. I've heard it more than I would care to by those who don't get what I'm trying to do in parts of my life, sometimes on the verge of achieving a goal. Sometimes taking a "reasonable" approach as suggested by a well meaning friend has been or would be detrimental to what I am trying to achieve. Taking a hard stand has helped me accomplish a good deal at times. However, in certain ways has also tripped me up internally and was terribly counterproductive. I wanted to respond because I was just talking about that regarding art ideals with another twitter pal not too long ago.

Some people have an all or nothing mindset. They only are sailing high or in the depths of self hate and despair. They may stay up for quite a while but when they fall off the wagon they can fall hard. I've been one of them.

Healthy living and art making have some connecting themes in my life. This post meanders a bit but it is all related.

I've been on both ends of unhealthy extremes in my weight in the past. In my late teens I was 108lbs and seeking to go lower on my almost 5'9" mid sized frame. I thought my slender but developing body was common, bovine and a compromise of what I should be. What that warped ideal was exactly... I suppose above such base things as nourishment and sexuality ( the specifics of the image issues I'm not going to delve into right now.)  I was caught several times over the years hiding much of my meals in lap napkins, to be disposed of later. I was weak, dizzy and hyper sensitive/emotional. Eventually my mom threatened to not let me go to art college but have me spend post hs graduation at a center for treating eating disorders. I just learned how to be more covert about my behavior and made it into art school.

The extreme and unhealthy mindset was moderated by shifting my obsessive focus from one ideal to another in studying visual art. In the short term it was a much healthier direction and distraction from my neurosis. I didn't have the energy to feed into my body image issues anymore (and, being in an all women's environment was more insulating from the landmine of sexuality during late teens/early 20s). Making paintings was a far more interesting and fun obsession. Drawing and painting the clothed and nude figure from life regularly helped me accept a natural, non starved ideal. It was also the first time I developed a directed focused discipline in self expression that was valued. (Evaluation of my education up until college was marked throughout with "has potential and does not fulfill it") I began to eat regularly again. However, my mindset of extremes was fertile ground for seeds of future problems.

I have had teachers and guides in my schooling that drummed into me very high ideals in art regarding a strong work ethic, what I paint, how I paint it. Also many held that any compromise in these areas is a selling out. One teacher told his class that being an artist is like being on a tightrope and any misstep is a fall from the grace of integrity that one will likely never recover, and our subsequent career, if we manage to have one, would be a lie. I've heard another say if one is not working at least 60 hours a week on painting from life, its not enough/not valid. (That particular person, who I looked up to tremendously at the start of my love and learning of painting has been apparently blocked for years.) I worked very hard, staying at the school studio until late hours, causing worry from my folks as I crashed on various friends couches or traveling home through Philadelphia at night on the el train, alone. I rarely took breaks, as I could not bear to be perceived as someone who compromises. The paintings I made and honors I earned were my pride, and only identity. Without them I felt worthless.

High ideals are the road to follow. But for those when any detours are seen as a sure and direct route to hell, Extreme modes of thinking in a period of weakness have this attitude:  why not just jump the railings and be done with it.

I've spent 20 out of 24 hours on marathon working periods for days on end. And I have also lost tremendous amounts of time because I felt that the situation I was in, or my mindset was not ideal to attempt to create what I should be doing. Which makes it that much harder to start again.

I have had jobs that have eaten up my time and also have been frustrated with an artistic direction I've turned that was a dead end. Subsequently,  I would go into a self hating gap and stop painting. If it is not enough or good enough, why bother at all? And resist/resent others who pushed through their internal and external barriers and produced anyway.

The all or nothing attitude in making art lead more often to nothing.

In my early 30's after a period of high artistic productivity (which began with a modest start that accelerated and then would be taken over by extreme ideals and habits, eventually leading to a crash) and some healthier (not as well informed as now, but still, going in a better direction) choices regarding diet and exercise, I had several personal and professional setbacks. Perhaps picking up work on a smaller scale and depth until I could face larger challenges, though would be seen as a compromise by my mentors (and my ego), would have kept me on track. I didn't allow that. My shame and despair extended into other areas, including self care. I remember mid set of sit ups, feeling uncoordinated, fed up with the nagging feeling that my efforts were ineffective, inadequate, and pathetic, stopping. thinking, Fuck this.I gave up.

 I was on a slide to a near 50lb weight gain within a year.

I avoided: going out, interacting with others besides the minimum I needed to for my day job, listening to music (made me feel too much) viewing art in museums, galleries, and other artists, I rarely even looked at myself in the mirror other than to wash my face and brush my teeth. I slept excessively.

Large, brief sporadic cathartic efforts to change led to failure.

When diminished enough by the humiliation of weakness, of failure, there's nowhere to go but to just take one lame, weakened step. And then another. Don't look at the mountain of effort you need to climb, reinforcing your doubts, telling you "no, not nearly enough, not good enough"

Nonetheless, making small, accumulating, moderate steps turned around my health, and then my artwork.

I lost some weight by (the short term effective) calorie counting. Ignorant of the science of carbs, protein, etc at the time, I still managed to pragmatically decide if I was cutting out a good deal of food, what is chosen needs to be as nourishing as possible. So I ate more veggies and stopped the large bowls topped repeatedly with cereal. Stopped the repeated diving into the Ben&Jerry's vat of sadness.  I walked more. Still had some daily sweets, but  a lot less of them. Not ideal. But helpful. (The prospect of going cold turkey had the same appeal as to an addict. Some do best with total abstinence. Others do better stepping down, gradually. I've had the ego to deceive myself I have the will and strength to do it all at once, then hate myself when I fail at that extreme, and give up.)

Some weight came off. I didn't feel great, but I did feel considerably better.

I started superslow with a trainer as it seemed manageable. Once a week, ehh I can do that. It wasn't  as exciting as to say I'm kicking ass 5-7 days a week like some celebrity or athlete in the media can brag to,. I was sceptical at first but the weekly challenging workout made real changes in my strength and metabolism. Whether or not it is the ultimate route has been debated, but I can say this..progress was reliable, safe and consistent.

 I thought about other ways to make improvements. How about not sweetening my coffee (used to put in enough sugar for the spoon to stand up) and getting better brews that don't need doctoring. How about juice when craving a soda. (Which actually did get me off of it altogether. Colas and sodas have no appeal to me at all anymore) How about eating fruit instead of drinking juice. How about eating even less fruit but combining with veggies in a salad for some sweetness, but considerably less fructose. How about more plain green tea. How about passing up most packaged foods. How about more raw food, especially greens. How about more good fats and protein. How about drinking more water.

During this time I started working on small artworks again on a regular basis. Some days were more productive than others, but the internal critic that said, "scrap all that, not vigorous enough" needed to be gagged if I was to get anything done.

I continued to lose more weight, more than I anticipated.  A wall was hit with the strength training so fish, and more eggs were added (and now, chicken) to a previously vegetarian diet. I gave up soy meat substitutes. I gave up most bread (stopped buying and preparing it at home). I never had the violent reactions to it as those with diagnosed gluten intolerance but I did notice my digestion became easier and more predictable without it. I haven't suffered dramatic discomfort or distress when I've had occasional naan or pizza out at restaurants, but the subtle effects (like the article mentions, listening to your body) are enough to remind myself not to do that again for awhile. I may get to "never again", but I'm not there yet.

Not to diminish the suffering of those with food allergies/sensitivities, but maybe the one (but sucky, nonetheless) advantage to it is that it becomes a clearer warning of what is poisonous to the body, (a canary in the coal mine for the rest of us) and it a clearer choice to adhere to a stricter and healthier diet regime. For the less sensitive it seems immediately, a mild vice at worst and a tasty one at that, if it isn't binged on. (Though binging is the very thing some extreme types are prone to) Indulging regularly with an "everything in moderation" mantra can be a slow seduction to disease.

Earlier today I was hit with the aroma of hot chocolate chip cookies my sister likes to bake. My way of dealing with temptation is to not have it in the home. Living with this, literally right under my nose,, is hard to deal with despite that I know better. When I first moved in a few months ago, my approach was well, once in a while. However, once in a while can easily become a more frequent slide and if I'm not vigilant (and after feeling a little lost and uprooted), a "fuck-it" binge. I can't let that extreme take over. The coping method has been to take a small taste, then ask sis to hide them. She understands my issues and does so, even if she isn't ready to give them up. Today I managed to completely avoid them, even while warm and before they were hidden safely away from my reach. The article you linked certainly helped.

I don't currently have the resources to work with a certified trainer on a regular basis but am using the apartment gym several days a week. Recently I've hit a sticking point. There is this annoying cycle: The lower back and hips give me occasional twinges, likely from not having proper form reinforced working out independently (and no lower body machines available). I get fearful I'll strain something and then likely compromise my form more, and then more soreness. The extreme part of me, without the gold standard of working with highly qualified trainers, wants to either give up the workout altogether for the day (which will likely lead to putting off future workouts ),  or barrel through it and hurting.  I'm resisting that "all or nothing" and continue work on my upper body, reading up on and performing moderated safe and gentle lower body exercises,  and just found someone experienced with weights who has agreed to guide my form for an art trade.

As far as the artmaking goes, I've been building up with smaller pieces after dealing with two moves on top of each other and not having much of my supplies, namely oil paint, handy. Finally, they are here, and once again I'm working through feeling rusty and awkward. I want the next painting I upload to be outstanding and nothing so far is remotely close to it. Each day I wait makes it more difficult to share. In art it easier to take on more daunting projects for a stretch when they are built upon smaller and daily efforts. My blog is about the process, not only the end product so it may be good to get over myself and start posting images soon.

Perhaps discipline is a mental muscle. It needs to be developed with consistent but gradual escalated effort, along with allowed time for recovery. Like those training towards a goal, white knuckled overdoing it could be compared to weekend-warrior-ing it or overtraining to injury knocking one out of the loop and causing them to abandon the effort. As for the knowledgeable, strong and focused ones, the challenge is to resist diminishing their own ideals and unique goals to fit in, appear "moderate", keeping their friends, loved ones, peers and the status quo placid.


  1. jeanne, it's a delight to know that you are well and happy where you are today. austin is a lot more tarnished with you gone.

  2. Jeanne,
    Thank you for posting that. Sorry I didn't get a chance to read it until now. I understand now where you are coming from. I can only say, wow. I can also say we miss you, here. I hope you are able to get back to some good training soon and hope you really look at your art as the journey not just the destination and that the process is part of it. So indeed, I hope you will post them, soon!

    We love & miss you!
    ~ M ~

  3. Thank you Dusty & Michelle

    Dusty--I feel sad we couldn't meet in real life again since my visit to Kerrville/Bandera back in the day.

    Michelle-- I miss yall, too. The first two months were a lot of preprep and post work from the move my sister's one bedroom from her previous apartment to the two bedroom in Shirlingon Village we live in now. It's a pretty and convenient little area down a short commute to DC and Alexandria. We are yards away from restaurants, bars, boutiques, and a 24 hour grocery (but I miss Austin's selection and prices). I miss the "weird" vibe, but fitness is also a priority in this area.

    As far as the training goes, I met with my apartment neighbor last night. He seems to know his stuff and was generous with his time going over proper form. I've been wanting to use the squat rack and was afraid to take it on by myself, especially with my little twinges and pops. He's helped out my using it, along with supervising free weight lunges. My lower half feels well worn out, but not strained.

    Anyway, off to paint some landscapes before it rains!