2022, Mom thoughts, Weight Loss Surgery

Upsurges of Grief

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot lately, with the impending celebration of Mother’s Day and my upcoming surgery.

Since she died 5 years ago, any time big personal changes loomed on the horizon I have felt that familiar swell of emotion that seems to be located somewhere between my stomach and my lungs, overwhelming me physically and mentally. This sensation can last for mere minutes or even long hours. 

As I would imagine is normal, I imagine how she would react to these changes and achievements. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine her reactions.

When I defended my dissertation, she would have been proud and so pleased to see the culmination of years and years of work at last at its joyful end. 

She’d have celebrated as I taught my first (and probably only) study abroad course (something I always wanted to do!) in Italy in May 2019. 

She’d have hurrah’ed when I landed my first post-PhD job (with benefits!) at the Institute. 

She would have been proud, excited, and disappointed when I got a job at Vanderbilt and moved to Nashville. Disappointed, because I wasn’t moving back to Virginia, choosing my Nashville family “over her” (that’s how she’d see it), but still she’d have been proud and excited for my accomplishments. She loved me.

But…as my surgery date approaches, I am having a hard time picturing how she’d react to this choice and new frontier. 

Mom could—at times—let her own emotional hang-ups color her response to things going on in my and my siblings’ lives. Would her own struggles with her weight have influenced her reaction to my weight-loss goals? Would she have been less supportive than she’d have liked, whether intentionally or not? Would she, as she was sometimes wont to do with others who had gone through similar procedures, make snide comments about my potential to fail or relapse? Would her encouragement be a little too cloying, her smile a little too bright, suggesting that she didn’t actually believe what she was saying? Or worse, and definitely possible, would she barely attempt to contain her unique blend of judgment and jealousy? 

On the other hand, she may have reacted excitedly, full of support and pride. She did often tell me to try to lose weight before I got too old, because the older you get the harder it is and the more physically painful it is to try to take it off. My mother lived with daily pain in her joints and back, moving, sitting, and existing was a struggle. I know that this physical pain manifested itself emotionally too. I know she’d want me to avoid that. So perhaps knowing that I will avoid some of that pain in my life would make her happy for me.

But at the same time…would she have even realized that her reality was the very future I am trying to avoid? Even worse, would the idea that I was trying to avoid becoming like her— to not share this daily pain and struggle—give her (more) emotional pain? 

In some ways, her death has made this easier. The risk of not taking steps is clear. I need to go on this journey for my own mental and physical well-being. Because I will never know how she would actually react, I can choose to imagine her response as loving and supportive as I would like it to be at any given moment.

However, this too is a hard emotional line to walk, because in reacting this way, her death becomes akin to a gift. One that has allowed me both the freedom to act without causing her hurt and provided me the motivation  to change….

But…

How could her death ever be a gift? 

Right now, I like to think that my choice to pursue a WLS and strive for a healthy life honors both her life and her death. My mother wasn’t perfect. (I mean, whose mother is?) In many ways, I am on this obesity-related journey because she was. Since, in the long run, my mother would want the best for me, I’d like to think that she’s pleased by my choice to move forward with a gastric bypass, hopeful that it will work, but fearful that it will not. 

But I’ll never know. 

Lather. 

Rinse.

Repeat. 

2022, Personal, Weight Loss Surgery

IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!

As you may know, I have been working toward having a gastric bypass for almost 2 years now.

Finally, I have a date for my surgery, and it will take place in late May.

I’ve decided to answer some questions here that I have been asked often since deciding to go through surgery, and a few I think people probably have even if they haven’t asked directly. I plan to update this at a few points after surgery to compare. 

Q: What made you decide to get bariatric surgery? This seems drastic. 

It was a decision that was simultaneously gradual and all at once. I didn’t realize until recently how long it had been in my head. Ultimately though, there were several factors that led me to this decision and kicked my butt into gear. 

I’ve seen very clearly what can happen if I don’t get certain habits under control through my mom’s example. This is a thing I’ve known for a long time, but have not been very successful altering on my own or with many of the “commercial” options out there (noom, weight watchers, etc). I am an emotional overeater. I can literally draw lines between certain life changes and stressors to moments when I gained weight, exactly 20 lbs each time in most cases. This incremental growth is not unlike what I saw happen to my mom. I wanted to break the cycle. 

As for the timing, several things all became really clear to me when I turned 35 a few months into the pandemic. There are things I want in my life and I was tired of feeling stalled. I had gained a pandemic 30 (more than my usual 20). I want a kid. I want to be more active and I didn’t want to tire quite so easily. I know that you can do and be all of these things while being fat. 

But. 

It is hard to be in my body physically as it presently exists. Of course, lots of the external things that make it hard could be (and should be) shifted to easily make room for bigger bodies—seats on planes, societal expectations, etc. However, there were lots of internal things. I was beginning to feel constraints—things that were harder than they used to be because of my size. Some recurring issues that were directly caused by being overweight. I didn’t always feel as stable on my feet. It was becoming harder to get up and get down and get comfortable. 

Sweaty and tired, but I had so much fun!

I have always been fairly physically active–and I’ve definitely kicked that up since 2019. This past week, I danced my ass off for 2 hours with no breaks with 3 super high-energy dance instructors. Every jump, every skip, every move, while carrying double the weight of the people around me. It’s, I can only imagine, doubly exhausting. 

I knew all of these problems wouldn’t get better with age, and I want to get myself in the best shape possible for (hopefully) pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood, and just simply for the rest of my life. I want to have more endurance. I’d like to be able to walk farther, go longer, and dance harder. I’d like to trust my body to be capable of things it hasn’t and hadn’t been able to do in the past. 

Q: What procedure are you having? What were your choices? 

There are two types of surgeries that were on the table: a roux-en-y gastric bypass and a sleeve gastrectomy. 

Both surgeries, in essence, make the stomach smaller reducing the amount of food you can consume in a sitting. Neither surgery is a magic pill and neither will work without hard work on the part of the patient to change various behaviors. 

L: Gastric Bypass, R: Gastric Sleeve

A sleeve gastrectomy involves removing the lower part of the stomach so that it resembles a sleeve and is vaguely the shape of a banana. The pros to this surgery is that it is less invasive; it’s a shorter surgery and a simpler procedure. The cons are that it tends to not work as well—folks frequently regain the weight and or need surgical revision to a bypass; it can make worse or cause new acid reflux problems; and the weight loss tends to not be as profound. 

The RNY Gastric Bypass is more involved. It makes a small pouch out of the stomach and connects the small pouch to the small intestines thus bypassing most of the stomach, the pyloric sphincter, and the intestinal duodenum. The pros are that the weight loss is more profound and sustained over time and it can often cure GERD/acid reflux. The cons are that it is a more complicated procedure, and thus more dangerous. 

Both surgeries tend to see obesity-related illnesses and side-effects reversed or see them under control, like Type II diabetes and high-blood pressure. (On the other side of the coin, 15% of people who go through weight loss surgery become alcoholics. They replace food with booze.)

I am having a RNY gastric bypass. I have had issues with reflux caused by postnasal drip/allergies, so the sleeve wasn’t a great choice. Additionally, at the beginning of my weight loss surgery journey, if I lost 200 lbs, I would still be considered overweight (according to BMI calculators, which is of course, a questionable indicator of health). 

Q: What is your goal weight? 

I don’t have a goal weight and contrary to what a lot of people think, my doctors have not given me one. Generally, you can expect to lose 70-80% of your excess weight. For me, that would be around a loss of 100 lbs post surgery, and I’ve already lost 56 lbs in the prep stage. 

I think my goal would be around 120 lbs post surgery. This, as absurd as it may seem, would still put me in the overweight part of the BMI chart. 

Q: You lost weight before surgery, why not just do it naturally/why are you taking the easy way out? 

Left, April 2021 after my supervised weight loss. Right, July 2020, right around when I took steps to get started with WLS.

Dude, this is hard. I lost 56 lbs, but since moving, I have maintained but not lost much. I’m okay with this, and I see this as success in and of itself. The more weight you have to lose, the more stalls you have and the easier it is to backslide. I’ve seen the reality of this in the months since moving to Nashville. Surgery is a tool to help me both lose weight, but most importantly, to assist me in getting some unhealthy habits under control. The program I went through helped me to, for the first time in my life, NOT gain 20 lbs during a major life change. I eat relatively healthily, I work out three times a week and I’ve seen no movement (in inches or lbs). 

Q: What did you have to do before surgery to qualify? 

Sigh. I’ve had to do this process twice since I moved and got a new job with different insurance. Long story short: you have to do what your insurance company says and what your surgeon’s office says. All the requirements are different. 

The first time around: I had to do 6 months of supervised weight loss, a psychological evaluation, an appointment with a nutritionist/dietician, and several meetings with my surgeon. 

The second time around: 12 independent meetings that could consist of meetings with my surgeon, dietician, a psych evaluation, screening for sleep apnea, etc. The meetings from my previous office counted toward the 12. I had to do the psych evaluation over again and that definitely was frustrating, and took a very long time to get straight. 

Q: What is recovery like?  

This seems to vary widely. I will stay in the hospital at least one night, and then will be off work for at least a week. My work is an office job and I work primarily from home, so I’ll play the weeks after that first week by ear. 

The surgery will be done by robotic laparoscopy so it won’t be full open/large incisions, but several smaller incisions. Some people bounce back quickly, others take longer. 

It’s hard to know where I will fall! I’ve only had one minor surgery on my hand, not much pain, but sleepiness. This is entirely different. 

Q: How have you been preparing mentally and physically for the surgery? 

Oh boy, the prepping mentally is really what it is all about. I’ve been working toward getting this surgery since October of 2020. The surgery is not a magic pill. It will not make my bad food habits disappear. I see both surgery and therapy as co-tools to becoming a healthier version of myself. 

Physically, I have just tried to stay active and hydrated, both things that will help me recover faster. 

Q: What will you be able to eat post surgery? 

This is a process. 

Before surgery, I have to go on a liquid diet for a week, drinking 4 to 5 protein shakes a day, plus at least 64 oz of other liquid such as water, broth, etc. This liquid diet helps shrink the liver before surgery and prepare the stomach for surgery (which the surgeon has to move aside to perform the procedure). 

After surgery I will be on a liquid diet for 2 weeks, followed by 2 weeks of soft foods, and then I’ll move on to ‘normal’ foods, which will be dictated by what I can tolerate. Soft foods will be things like yogurt, refried beans, ricotta bake, etc. Once I’m back on “normal foods” I may have issues with fattier meats and “stringy” vegetables. People tend to have a hard time processing things that are ‘tough,” fatty, rich, or sugary—a good thing. 

Q: What other potential side effects are there? 

It’s a surgery so there are plenty of risks that come with going through a procedure and under anesthesia. To mitigate these risks I get to go through a bunch of pre-surgical screening. 

After surgery, there’s the risk of ulcers and hernia as well as nausea for a while as I adapt. I will also be susceptible to what is called Dumping Syndrome (it sounds awful) and is a good motivator for sticking to the plan. I will likely lose some hair temporarily 2-3 months after surgery (I might be more nervous about this than all the other things). 

Q: What other lifestyle changes are there? 

There are some things post-surgery that I will have to do forever.

  1. I will need to keep meals to around 1 cup of food at a time for the rest of my life. 
  2. I will take a vitamin regimen for the rest of my life in order to avoid becoming deficient. 
  3. I will need to not drink 30 minutes before or 30 minutes after eating–as the stomach’s lower sphincter will no longer be there, drinking that close to eating will cause me to become hungrier sooner. (You can take tiny sips.) 
  4. One of the hardest is that I will no longer be able to use ibuprofen (my chosen pain reliever) or other NSAIDs post surgery because the risk of ulcers will be too high.
  5. Carbonation will forever be a no no–it can stretch my stomach and lead toward overeating and slipping back into bad habits. 

Q: Is there anything you think you will miss about your pre-surgery self? 

Sure. I definitely have thought about how right now my identity is as a fat person. I like me. I like who I am and it will be weird to lose that part of my identity, and to look different than I have my entire life. 

I will also miss eating cake. (After I am pretty far out from surgery, I may be able to have some cake again, but sparingly, and only a few bites.)

Q: What do you look forward to post surgery? 

Honestly, at this point, I am looking forward to it being done and being past this limbo moment. Having to go through the approval process twice under two different programs and insurances has been frustrating. 

I am looking forward to seeing how I look after weight loss, but in a very analytical rather than vain kind of way. I’m astounded at how different people look in their before and afters. I’m curious to see–will I look more like my mom when she was younger? More like my sister? Just myself with less fluff? Or will I look mostly the same? 

Q: What are some weird things that have come up that you did not expect as part of surgery? 

TBD! 

Do you have other questions? If so, let me know!

This post is not intended to be medical advice. Any and all discussions about your own post-op bariatric care or the choice to have bariatric surgery should be had with your own doctor. WLS is a choice that every individual should make for themselves. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. Big is beautiful, wonderful, and strong. I am lucky to have had really excellent medical care that hasn’t been–as far as I can tell–negatively impacted by fatphobia. I know this is not everyone’s situation. This was a choice I made and one that I brought up to my PCP, not the other way around. She helped me talk through some of the pros and cons, as well as some other medical weight loss options (such as drugs that encourage weight loss), and made it clear she supported whatever decision I made–even if it was to be none of the above.

2022, Travel, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Surgery

A New World of Travel

I love to travel so much that it is part of my identity. There is no Charlotte without travel. I love the planning, the execution, and, most especially, the return home. 

Over the past two years of pandemic life, I’ve reflected a lot on travel–what I miss about it, what I don’t miss about it, and what I can’t wait to do when it becomes a regular part of my life again. 

During that same stretch of two years, I also made some pretty big life decisions that will impact how I travel going forward. The first is to proceed with weight loss surgery (WLS). The second is the revisioning of my career and my life: no longer am I on the quest for a tenure-track life, but rather a much less circumscribed path. 

Both of these decisions have changed how I think about travel. The WLS angle is complicated: I’m really excited to go places feeling more fit and hopefully having more energy, but WLS also means that I won’t be able to eat certain things anymore, and food definitely factors into what I enjoy about travel.

As much as the WLS disrupts things, the life change that impacts my travel habits the most is actually the career flip. Nearly all of my travel so far has been in service to my education and research. The places I have gone and the things that I have seen have all been dictated by my professional goals. Granted, my professional goals were closely tied to my personal interests and desires, BUT…I had to have a legitimate academically-motivated reason to go where I did, because I had to intellectually justify that reason to people who judged that rationale (and helped fund these trips). 

Then…

It hit me. 

My future travel will no longer be dictated by professional reasons.

I can go where I want because I want to go. I don’t have to apply for funds or offer supporting rationales for why I need to go there. 

I can go where I want because I want to go there. I don’t have to schedule time for research or site visits. I don’t have to meet with other professionals in my field. 

I can…just…go!

Within reason. And within budget. (Ugh.) 

Because…wanting *is* a reason.

This realization felt at once freeing and terrifying. I am one that likes to have purpose and intention in all that I do. I like there to be an end goal. I’m not great at “for the sake of” adventures. But now I wonder: how much of that is from habit? What if I am able to just go for the sake of going, and I just don’t know it yet? 

With all of this swirling around in my head, I started thinking about what I love about travel and the different types of travel that exist. Because I am, and forever will be, a recovering art historian, I love putting things into categories (and perpetually revising and expanding those categories), I present the first iteration of my categories of travel.  

Travel Codified

Categories of Travel

The Visit There is no other reason for you to visit this place besides seeing someone who lives there. Your primary goal is to see that person or group of persons, and anything else is secondary. You stay in their home and “spend time” with one another.

The Event Rather than simply going to visit someone, you go somewhere for a specific event, be it a holiday, baby shower, graduation, concert, wedding, or themed party. Generally speaking, the Event requires your participation. You buy a gift, you prepare, you must engage with the event, as well as the people you see at the event. The locale is irrelevant.

The Destination You are going to see a place that cannot be replicated elsewhere, such as architecture, art, food, shopping (I guess? for some people?), and other cultural experiences. This requires engagement instead of simple passive existence in the space. You will get out of it what you put into it (which, your goals may be different depending on how you travel). You can do this by plane, train, or automobile.

The Wandering There are some who can just wander. See where the day takes them, motivated by god knows what, by their own two feet or by car and public transit. I think camping, backpacking, and some road trips fall into this category. I am not a wanderer.

The Vacation Ahh, the elusive vacation. Some might call the above 4 categories vacations, but I would argue that they are not at all the same category. A vacation can happen anywhere, but the goal is to vacate….your responsibilities, your agendas, your obligations. Travel is not necessary to vacate, but is oftentimes more enjoyable when you do. You can have a staycation or a destination vacation, subcategories which I think are self-explanatory.

The Trip This category can comprise facets of each of the above. Elements of relaxation, visiting specific destinations and people, but there is an agenda. You have things to do, places to go, maybe even people to see. Some trips are more akin to vacations, while others more akin to a visit. It depends.

The Extended Stay For some, this will take the form of a study abroad, for others perhaps a home exchange (my friend and fellow blogger can talk your ear off about this). I categorize an Extended Stay as remaining in one place longer than 3 weeks in order to really understand the place that you’re visiting. You’re there long enough to develop some kind of routine, an understanding of the local grocery store, and pick out a favorite something in your “neighborhood,” be it a gelato shop, fruit stand, pizza place, bakery, etc.

Modes of Travel

Group Travel “Group” can be loosely defined. I would say that this is not family travel, though families can participate in group travel. The dynamics of the group can be ever variable. You can have smaller groups of non-related individuals or large groups of non-related individuals such as a tour group or class, or somewhere in between. Your travel will be impacted by the way that you interact with the group creating an additional layer to the experience.

Family Travel Family travel can have lots of the same features as group travel, but the dynamic can shift and change more rapidly, and is infinitely more mercurial. Anyone who has been trapped in a car with their siblings knows how rapidly that dynamic can shift.

Solo Travel You fly solo. You arrive solo. You may meet up with people for an activity or share a hotel for a few days, but for the most part, you drive the itinerary and the pace, pick all of the restaurants, and dictate the agenda. There are definite advantages to solo travel: not having to fight with people about what’s for dinner or doing activities you do not like. There are also disadvantages: being alone; sometimes not feeling safe; people seeing your being alone as an invitation to talk (it isn’t, ever, in my case); and being the only one to make decisions can be exhausting…but rewarding.

Business Travel This is a type of travel that I have only had some experience with, though you could make an argument that lots of my research travel was business, none of my trips were driven by commercial reasons. Most were not collaborative in any way. I see business travel as traveling to a location for a meeting, be it with collaborators or investors; travel for participation in a conference as a representative of an organization or institution; and travel for which someone else foots the bill.

What’s next?

Most of my travel so far has been some combination of solo/business, extended-stay, destination trips. There’s so much more I want to do and see! It’s liberating to know that I can do what I want rather than having to provide justifications for why. The only person I have to justify anything to is ME.

Here are some immediate goals that come to my mind: 

  • An all-inclusive vacation type vacation. I want to go somewhere pretty and scenic, where I can experience a view, eat tasty food, and read books all day long. This could be a colder climate vacation. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere like Aspen or Vail, not for the skiing (because clearly I would kill myself) but for the cozy. Snuggle by the fire with a good book and make some trips to the hot tub (to read there too). It could also be a warmer climate vacation at a beachy type resort. Same activities, just different bodies of water, and different drink choices. Choice of location can be based exclusively on how pretty the view is and how comfortable I am able to be while enjoying that view.
  • A non-research related destination trip, international. The place that immediately comes to mind is Ireland. I have always wanted to go. Like many Americans, I’m vaguely of Irish descent (Forstall is an Irish last name, though there are many spellings). I could…just go? I need to start thinking outside of my research-driven travel box and think about other places I want to go…just because.
  • A non-research related destination trip, domestic. I’ve been to a bunch of places in the US, but my list could expand greatly. A lot of my travel in the US has also been in the category of The Visit (again, not a bad thing) but there’s a lot to do and see in this big dumb country. Similarly, I need to start thinking outside of the box.

What do you think? Are there categories and modes I’ve neglected? Where should I go? What type of travel should I try? What should I add to my list when literally anything is on the table? (Besides camping, I don’t camp.)

2021, Personal, reading, Uncategorized

Top 10 Books of 2021

Thanks for the ego boost, Goodreads 😉

In 2021, I turned over a new leaf. I think some of it is finally being free from that initial pandemic anxiety and also settling into post-grad school routines. I still only read one fiction book at a time, but I’m learning how to mix and match non-fiction (usually the popular kind, not the academic variety) in a way that works for me.

Goals in 2022 are to continue to expand my horizons in terms of reading. It will still be a heavy diet of romance; that’s never going to change. I particularly want to reincorporate direct academic reading into my routine. It’s a different kind of reading for me, one that is infinitely more active, but I miss it. I miss the active output of reading too (writing), and part of my goal in this blog space is for this to be a remedy to that.

1. These Truths, Jill Lepore

This book was a magisterial feat. Essentially a history of political thought and ideals, Jill Lepore traces the central tenets of American government from European colonization to the Trump presidency. Equally engrossing and enraging, this book highlights the manner in which discrimination based on race, gender, sex, and religion has always played a role in American public life and discourse; the role of Christianity in American government; and how absolutely nothing ever really changes.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I found the earlier portions of the book to be more interesting and enlightening than the later bits. The later part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century just made me too angry and discouraged. It also was interesting to read this volume during the pandemic—thinking about how a theoretical next version of this history would have to include the pandemic.

To borrow John Green’s style of rating, I give These Truths 4.5 stars.

2. The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, John Green

If I had to pick a favorite book I read this year, it might be John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. In this series of essays, Green rates and reviews things that belong to the Anthropocene, from Diet Dr. Pepper, velociraptors, to Halley’s Comet. At once memoir, history, and contemporary cultural commentary, John Green ties together his life experience with that of great thinkers, writers, artists, and events. Truly his masterwork.

I give the Anthropocene Reviewed 5 stars.

3. The Trials of Apollo, series, Rick Riordan

This summer, I did a massive reread of Rick Riordan. I reread the Percy Jackson series, as well as the Heroes of Olympus, each containing 5 books. I was a little unsure about The Trials of Apollo, because it didn’t seem like quite the same thing from the outset, but I really ended up loving it. It was classic Rick Riordan, an engaging and fun epic that emphasizes being who you are, even when you’re different or it’s hard, and working together with people who might not look like they bring a lot to the table. In this book, Apollo loses his immortality after messing up one too many times for Zeus. Apollo, not unlike a certain demigod of yore, has to complete some tasks before regaining his immortality. Trapped in the body of an acne-ridden 16-year old, it’s hard to imagine a being more helpless. Apollo struggles with this past and the repercussions of his actions while learning how to grow up.

I give The Trials of Apollo 4.5 stars.

4. A League of Extraordinary Women, Evie Dunmore

I am a sucker for a good historical romance and tend to prefer those that take place in 19th-century England. This series, currently comprising 3 books, is about a group of like-minded women that find love against the backdrop of the fight for women’s suffrage and rights. In keeping with this theme, Dunmore manages to take classic romance tropes and turn them on their head, providing a more satisfying AND romantic feminist ending. There are three books in the series so far and a 4th on the way.

I give A League of Extraordinary Women four stars.

5. Written in the Stars, Alexandria Bellefleur

I picked up this book at my favorite local bookstore on their romance shelf. I picked it up not realizing it was an LGBTQ+/sapphic romance. When I started reading (and took at look at the front cover, you’d think my visual analysis skills were more on point as an art historian…) I realized that the two romantic leads were both female. I was frankly thrilled. How cool was it that I, a straight woman in 2020, unknowingly picked up a romance between a lesbian and a bi character? I kept reading and it was a delightful romance. Gave me all the right heart feels that I look for when reading a romance. Even better, this is the first in a series—the second book was just as good (the second couple was a straight/cis couple). The third books comes out in early 2022.

I give Written in the Stars four stars.

6. Kiss Quotient series, Helen Hoang

Continuing the section of romances with an inclusive twist is Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient Series. The other two books in the series are The Bride Test and The Heart Principle. Diagnosed with high-functioning autism (what once would have been called Asperger’s) in her 30s, Hoang writes romances with characters that have autism. The tie that binds the series together are male members of a Vietnamese American family in the Bay Area: Michael (Stella), Khai (Esme), and Quan (Anna). The best part: autism isn’t presented as a barrier to romance, but just simply a part of who they are. Fair warning, book 3, the Heart Principle, what Hoang called the most autobiographic of the series packs a real bunch. I cried for almost the whole second half of the book.

I give The Kiss Quotient series four stars.

7. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, series, Talia Hibbert

The Brown sisters series is a total treat. Again continuing the inclusive romance, Talia Hibbert writes characters with disabilities and who have multiracial relationships. These books generally makes visible things that have been ignored in traditional romance (though sometimes left to the imagination). I loved each book, though I want to say that Take a Hint, Dani Brown was probably my favorite.

The new romances I read this year really demonstrated why I love this genre and its ability to adapt and be inclusive and amazing. I only hope this trend continues. (I’m sure it will—its my opinion its inherent to the best of the genre.)

I give the Brown Sisters series four stars.

8. Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, Amanda Montell

This book was quite a read. Amanda Montell, who has a degree in linguistics, examines how the English language reflects our cultural attitudes, for better or worse, about women. Exploring how we talk about women, sex, and everything in between, Montell shows how we can work to make our language more inclusive and less inherently patriarchal. I can’t wait until I get Montell’s second book, Cultish!

I give Wordslut 4.5 stars.

9. The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn (reread)

I read this book every year. It probably will appear on this list every year. Starting last Christmas with the release of season 1 of Bridgerton on Netflix, my favorite romance series became part of everyone’s cultural knowledge. I loved the season when I first watched it. Though I still have generally positive feelings about it, there is one big quibble I have with the tv show, but that’s a post for another day.

Season 2 will be the dramatization of my favorite in the series, The Viscount Who Loved Me. Kate and Anthony are my favorite. I like inherently understand their personalities (both the eldest with the weight of responsibility upon them) and Anthony’s fears (his big bugaboo to overcome) is one that I oddly share. (Though I have loved this book longer than I’ve shared his fear. No spoilers!) I read it when I need to be grounded or a fast pick me up, so some years, like in 2020, I read it more than once. This was a one read kind of year.

I give The Viscount Who Loved Me five stars.

10. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (reread)

I have been wanting to do a big Anne of Green Gables reread for a few years now. I decided to begin it this year. I love this story—with small exceptions, this story holds up over 100 years after it was first published. I love the story to love what has been unloveable and to see beauty in simplicity. This book definitely settles in my top 10 favorite book of all time, so it definitely has to fall in my top 10 for 2021. I will be doing a bigger reread of the rest of the series probably starting in 2022.

I give Anne of Green Gables five stars.

2021, Personal, Uncategorized

“Pay Attention to What You Pay Attention To”

This blog has no thesis. It started as a travelogue, to keep interested parties updated with my travels during my PhD work. My travels were many, but the blogging was hard–I have a backlog of some 15+ entries to work through, but some of the motivation has faded as time has passed. At its inception, I thought this website could also serve as a professional portfolio as I went on the academic job market and (hopefully) became a professor. That ship has sailed, and thus the professional portfolio became irrelevant. Then, I decided to have bariatric surgery and this seemed a useful vehicle to keep interested folks updated easily. I have absolutely no interest, however, in making my surgery or my body the primary topic of discussion on this blog.

I’ve spent so much of my life writing, it feels like my natural state!

I still have the impulse to write. I no longer think that an academic setting is the path that I want to take. It doesn’t mean that I think my previous work was unimportant or has no teeth, I am just not sure that I want my work to exist and develop in and around a system that doesn’t have room to employ the scholars it turns out; can’t compensate me (and others) for my research; and for which I have to use my own precious free time and resources to accomplish. It’s a scenario in which I am doomed to be playing catch up. However, I will never say never.

Thus, the idea of branching out in my writing is also attractive. I love a good memoir and I love fiction. Am I capable of writing either? Who knows! Could I be an author of popular non-fiction? I don’t know! I haven’t tried. I’m not ignorant of the fact that all genres of writing require time and effort to get right. (Also, some academics have written some truly terrible fictional works…not all of us are Umberto Eco who can do both. I really, really don’t want to be THAT academic.) However, I don’t know that a public blog is the place to practice fiction writing and I’m not sure I would subject anyone to those attempts. (You’re welcome.)

In John Green’s latest book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, he quotes a writer friend of his, Amy Krause Rosenthal, who said, “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life, pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”

Everyone should read this book!

This sentence stuck with me and I ruminate on it often still. The things that come to mind when I think of this approach are abstractions and not things for which you can be compensated nor or they ones on which you can (easily?) make a living. That’s okay for me though. I choose to interpret these words to mean what to do with your life not what to do for your work. They are not the same thing.

For now, I think this blog will take as its focus the things to which I pay attention. Crafting? Yep, probably. Random thoughts? Oh most definitely. Semi-academic explorations of mundane things? You can place your bets. Gushing and nostalgic book reviews? The odds are in your favor. Other here-to-unforeseen forays into randomness? Indubitably. Travel blogs? Yep, can’t stray too far from my origins and I can’t wait to travel once more.

Whatever this space winds up being, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

2021, Personal, Weight Loss Surgery

Post-Moving Surgery Update: Hardest Stretch So Far

Since moving, I’ve gotten a few inquiries on what my progress and timeline toward surgery is now. For those of you that don’t know, in October of 2020, I started the process of getting approved for bariatric surgery. All went really well, and had I not gotten a new job and moved to Nashville, I’d have had my surgery in Summer of 2021. The idea was, once I got settled, I’d get in touch with a new surgeon and get the process rolling, which my previous surgeon told me should be fairly easy.

While not being *wrong*, the process has not been as straightforward as simply having the doctor’s look at my file and send it to insurance. On the whole, I would argue that this part of the process has been the hardest. I don’t feel like I am making progress or moving forward and I feel a little stalled. Most of the time, I know that it’s not true, but it’s hard in difficult moments to keep perspective.

Sometimes I can still see my progress in pix, other times, I feel like I am where I started. I think I can see my progress in this pic.**

I made an appointment in August for October 27 (exactly one year since my first appointment). When October 27th came, I was a little frustrated and ready to get started—I also wished I had not scheduled my appointment so late. Moving had proven to be a very big shakeup to my routine. This was expected to some degree, but there’s so many new temptations and things to try, I definitely allowed myself to engage in some bad habits and was not as rigorous about the food that I was consuming as I had been.

On the whole, however, I haven’t gained weight, and more than anything, I have been in a super consistent work out routine. I see that as a huge win because ultimately, I don’t care about the number on the scale as much as I do being healthy and in control. While physically I may not see progress on the scale, I do think it’s resulted in me becoming a little more trim and compact. (I’ve never measured inches so it’s hard to say). It’s a balance and it’s a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will my bad habits be overridden in a day.

At the appointment, I mentioned to the new surgeon what my previous one had said, about it being relatively easy to transfer. The new surgeon smiled and said, ”well, it’s easy to say it’s easy to transfer.” Unfortunately, she hasn’t been wrong. While yes I did complete strict insurance requirements, my new insurance measures things differently. Previously my insurance required 6 visits spread over 6 months. My new insurance requires 12 distinct visits and some of those are required to have a certain amount of time between them. Fortunately, my old appointments count to this number and I have subsequently squeezed in several more. In addition, this program has different requirements itself, whose requirements I also have to meet. It’s not going to take as long as it did before to get from the beginning point to the end, but it does feel a little like starting over. And that is frustrating.

So right now, I’m trying to finish up these old/new requirements. After I finish up all of the steps, my file will be sent to my insurance for approval. Once we have insurance approval surgery will be scheduled. Not really too sure what that timeline looks like; my general guess is sometime in spring, March-ish seems likely.

This period has also been the one that’s made me question why I am doing this surgery. I believe that body positivity is really important—and this includes loving and appreciating fat bodies and not seeing them as broken or less-than. I have ALWAYS been fat, so what will it mean when I am no longer fat and that part of my identity is no more? Will I recognize myself? What if I don’t like the ”new” me or miss the ”old” one?

This picture is on that shocked me because to my own eye I even seemed smaller, even potentially “normal fat.” Most importantly, however, I felt great and I spent an entire day outside chasing a toddler without feeling (totally) wiped.**

For example, I had an experience at the gym where a fellow big girl approached me and asked if the class I had been taking was hard for big girls. We chatted and exchanged info, and most importantly, encouragement. I realized in that moment that I like being a safe space for fellow fat people in gyms—one of the scariest spaces for someone with a fat body to occupy. But, when I go through with surgery, there will come a time when my support is no longer desired and will likely be unwelcome. I will be a “former fat,” not an “always fat.” It’s hard for me to imagine that person.

It is good to remember why I am doing this though. I am doing it because my relationship with food is not healthy. I am doing this because if I continue down the path I was on, it is almost a given that I will have an unhealthy future with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health ailments. If I don’t do something to change, I could end up dead at the relatively young age of 59 like my mom did from obesity related issues. And I wish more than anything that she had done bariatric surgery and were here today. I have plans, and all of them involve me being alive and active. There are people I love who I want to spend as much time as humanely possible. They mean more to me than food.

**I hesitated to share pix because I think it perpetuates the idea that before is “better” and after is “worse.” I like to think that I was pretty before and after–I am still me. I share only as a mark of visual change. This is probably definitely not for everyone, but I’m a visual person. I find that a better indicator than the number on the scale. Ultimately, the best indicator is how I feel.

2021, Move 2021, Non-Travel Charlotte Thoughts

Bloomington: the Early Years, 2012-2015

My years in Bloomington are obviously some of the most significant of my life. I learned so much during this years– stuff about myself, art history, the world, everything really. It will be hard to say goodbye. Or, see ya later, because really, there will always be a next time. Deep breaths. There’s no crying in baseball. My time in Bloomington can be pretty easily divided into 3 distinct parts. The Early Years (2012-2015, comprising coursework and quals); Dissertating (2015-2019, comprising proposal, all sorts of travel, and my mom’s death), and Post-PhD (2019-2021, IAS and Pandemic). I’m going to write a post about all three. Why not?

When I moved to Bloomington in 2012, I had never stepped foot in the state of Indiana. I had some half-baked notions of what I would find–a blend of vague ideas about the US west of the Appalachians and stereotypes from Parks and Rec. Indiana (my part of it anyway) was NOT barren, flat prairie, but rather with rocky rolling hills. Most people do have a weird story about John Cougar Mellencamp (or his kids). Cities and towns do have really ornate courthouses (of COURSE made of Indiana limestone). There ARE a lot of raccoons. To be fair though, I’ve seen more skunk. (I have a long-standing theory that Bloomington *is* Pawnee. Yes, I know Bloomington pops up in the show, and no, that doesn’t matter to my theory.) Anyway. I digress.

It would be impossible for me to formulate a clear narrative of the first few years, so I’m going to hit the highlights. I know I’m missing things–critical important events and people–but at this moment, the things listed below are what categorized my early time in Bloomington.


Starting a Solo Adventure

I moved to Bloomington after what had been a rough couple of years. From 2010 to 2011, I lived with my grandfather while doing my MA and working a few jobs. My family had moved far away, then after my grandfather’s health declined, he moved to Texas to live with my uncle. It was rough, and I felt rather…adrift, but stuck both in terms of geography and situation. I was independent, but not. On a path, but not a certain one. I knew I wanted to go to get my PhD, but it wasn’t a guaranteed outcome. Thankfully, I was accepted to IU and the adventure could begin.

Driving to Indiana with my seeester!

After a summer of fun, concerts with my BFF, visits to quintessential Virginia sites, I packed up all of my stuff, and moved to Indiana with the help of my Dad and siblings. It was mildly terrifying to move to a town and state I’d never been to before, where I did not know a single person, but it was also thrilling to be on this adventure because it was was entirely my own. I was in Bloomington because I chose to go to IU. I was at IU because I chose to study art history. I wasn’t sure it would all work out the way I wanted–with a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts school–but at least I was taking concrete steps to make that happen.

Part of my orientation materials, from the now defunct Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. (I still have this notebook cover, because I am that person.

It wasn’t easy. The first semester was kind of rough. I was one of 2 PhD students and lived farther way than I had intended (the risk of renting online with a NoVA definition of commute). Everyone else was an MA student and grouped together a little easier because of the classes they took (or so I felt!).My expectations and hopes had to confront reality, and that always requires a little adjustment. I found my feet and my people eventually and it was seriously one of the happiest times in my life.

Loving Bloomington and IU

Bloomington seemed like a perfect little pleasantville, microcosm of a place. After living on the 95 corridor literally my entire life, it was refreshing to have real boundaries to a space (literally, you can tell the moment you leave “town,” still). After the sprawl of northern Virginia/DC, it was charming. An actually ‘main’ street/downtown area, with adjoining campus felt so novel too after George Mason.

The interior of the Rose Well House from my first walk around campus,

CAMPUS itself was gorgeous. Both my undergrad and my MA were entirely different from IU’s. Randolph-Macon was small and quaint, beautiful, but definitely not really that impressive architecturally. Mason had a fine campus and was a huge school, but it was all very 1960s and 1970s (understandably). IU has a much more unified campus that is without a doubt, one of the prettiest in the nation. The landscaping is always great. The trees are always incredible in almost any season.

Kirkwood Hall. Legit favorite door on IU’s campus.

The architecture on campus fueled my excitement for scholarly pursuits. The gothic and romanesque influence *clearly* were meant to inspire Deep Thoughts unlike the boring brutalist stuff at Mason. Even better IU had an amazing museum and attached fine arts library in the same building as the art history department. It was THE LIFE.

My carrel, number 4, my favorite number, right under that weird painting with SPQR. It felt pre-ordained. RIP FAL.
Perfect atmosphere for some thinking. RIP FAL.
The foyer of the IU Art Museum (now the Eskenazi Museum of Art).
Paired busts of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna in their old arrangement at the IUAM.

Meeting So Many of “My” People

This one is it. Really, what made Bloomington was the people. In the first 2 years in Bloomington, I met more people who would become absolutely critical humans to my life. There are so many. Almost all art historians. I don’t take pictures of people (ugh) so I don’t have much to share here. All I have to say is I feel very lucky. I had opera buddies. Ice cream buddies. Art museum buddies (duh). Movie night buddies. Game night buddies. ALL SORTS OF BUDDIES.

There’s my friend L who I have been lucky enough to visit several times abroad and visit some really cool places. The first person to welcome me to IU, and who I would literally walk over the coals for.

Then there’s S&J who had become quick friends during our orientation, but then quickly welcomed me into their little group when it was clear I needed a friend. I spent literally so many wonderful moments with these two; they’ll always be my badass humans.

Year 2 brought three incredible humans, E, H, and K. I was so pleased to have found so many great people in Year 1, imagine my surprise when year 2 brought just as many amazing people.

Seriously, yo, when I count my blessings, it’s insane to think of how many of these blessings were introduced to me in this short window of time. In the art history department of IU, in Bloomington, Indiana of all places, no less!

The way it works in Bloomington though is that most everyone leaves. I’ve had to watch people I really care about move on to new and exciting things. What’s crazy to me is that I’ve managed to stay in touch with many who have moved away, some even thousands of miles away across the globe. But they leave and you stay. It’s hard watching them leave and not knowing when it will be your turn.

Ah, my desk in the grad office. Since I don’t have pictures of people (really), I’ll let this stand in for the place where I got to know so many people that I care about. RIP Grad office (yes, I was on facebook, hahahaha).

Discovering Drag Queens

In the grad office up there, one of my dearest amies introduced me to this little show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” You may have heard of it. This may sound random, but I have so many great memories connected to this show. I feel like it drew together many things I loved, provided some excellent stress relief, and much-needed inspiration, for some really difficult moments that would unfold over the next couple years.

Plus, I got to experience the much-beloved and unique, Uncle Elizabeth’s, which hosted drag shows in Bloomington before it folded.

I don’t have great images for the drag shows at Uncle E’s, but they were nothing but pure wonderful adrenaline.

Adopting Livia

In 2013, I finally got what I had wanted for so very long. A little baby kitty cat of my own. It was not an impulse decision, but it was still nerve wracking. I’d never owned an animal of my own before. It was a big responsibility. But oy! It was near instantaneous love. I went to the shelter wanting to get a male black and white cat, that I would name Gus. I left with a girl, grey and white that I named Livia. None of the boy kittens struck my fancy–there weren’t many. My friend L scooped up a girl baby and handed her to me. The first girl was too freaked out. L then scooped up 2nd girl baby, named “Eartha Kitt” and I didn’t put her down again until it was time to take her home. She was my baby. She loves me more than anyone else on earth and is my sweet perfect baby angel, even though she is a born crank, as evidenced by the picture below.

The curmudgeon is strong with this one. Livia, May 2013.

For those of you who were in Bloomington in 2012-2015, what did I miss? What were your critical Bloomington moments during these years?

2021, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Surgery

Surgery Detour

In April, I had my last supervised weight loss appointment. I completed 6 months of ‘supervised weight loss’ losing 60 pounds since I started the program in October. I passed the program with flying colors. After completing the program, the next steps are insurance approval, then scheduling the surgery, then surgery. However, LIFE happened.

Left: April 2021 compared to (right) July 2020 at my heaviest. Difference of 60 lbs.

In short, I got a new job! One that requires me to move to a new city! Get new insurance! Switch doctors! This move is great for me both personally and professionally, but it does require me to revise my timeline for surgery for a bit, while I settle into a whole lotta new. Instead of having surgery in June/July, I will be moving.

Fortunately, I knew this was a possibility at my last appointment and discussed that option with my surgeon. The timing to switch was really perfect. I completed the strictest pre-surgery requirements (as required by most insurances), and the results of that were good for a period of 2 years. So basically, all I need to do once I get settled is find a surgeon I like, have them contact my previous office, and schedule my surgery.

Until then, I’m in a holding pattern. The goal is to continue my weight loss and stick to the food plan. So far so good! I haven’t lost a lot in the past month, but it follows the basic trend of the previous few months of slow and steady forward movement. I suspect that there will be hard moments, particularly as it becomes less and less convenient to cook as I move, but I am hoping that the process of moving won’t be too disruptive to my overall trajectory.

General feels right now: I feel GREAT. Losing 60+ lbs does wonders for your energy levels. I can move and be flexible again in ways I hadn’t realized had diminished. At my heaviest, I felt so uncomfortable in my skin, but in a way that is constant so you can’t really articulate exactly what that discomfort is. The absence of that discomfort is WONDERFUL. Clothes either fit better or are now too big. I move with greater ease and comfort and power. I do not get winded nearly as often. I *feel* so much better. The number on the scale right now is just one single metric of many.

My passport photo taken in early 2015, nowhere near my heaviest (this was pre-mom’s death and dissertating!) and May 2021 65 lbs down.

2021, Mom thoughts, Weight Loss Surgery

A new kind of adventure in 2021

2020. Unlike most years, I’m not really interested in doing much ruminating on 2020. It was a rollercoaster, one I don’t care to ride ever again. While I totally get that many of the problems we faced in 2020 aren’t magically gone, I am super ready to take reset that a new year offers (even if it’s only a placebo).

2021 will hold a pretty big adventure for me, one that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and now I’m at a place (read: not a grad student) to do it. If all goes to plan, I will be having gastric bypass surgery in 2021.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go public with this info. There are stigma associated with bariatric surgery. There’s a belief among some that it’s “cheating” or for people that don’t have the willpower to lose weight “correctly.” There are others that believe that weight-loss surgery is fatphobic and irreparably alters a healthy body for no reason, putting thinness ahead of health. Neither of these things are true.* To do my part in breaking down that stigma, I’ve decided to be open about what I’m doing to people in my orbit.

I am doing this surgery because I have always been obese, for as long as I can remember. I am not doing the surgery to lose weight, but rather to keep it off. I also am hoping to stave off type 2 diabetes and high-blood pressure, for which I am particularly high risk owing to family history.

I am doing the surgery because I wonder every day how my life would be different right now if my mom had had the surgical intervention. Would she have died at the age of 59 from a pulmonary embolism (a pretty direct consequence of being obese)? Would she have been happier? Would she have been able to do things with us in the last few years of her life? It is true that skinny does not equal healthy, while it is similarly true that morbid obesity (the worst term) is a deadly state.

I don’t want to wonder those questions about me. I am taking a proactive stance, and trying to prolong my current health for as long as possible. That’s the primary reason why I’m doing this.

It would be wrong for me to say that I am not looking forward to no longer sticking out like a sore thumb. To no longer see people’s eyes rolling when they see that their seat on the airplane is next to mine. To little kids, well-meaning dears who really don’t know better, asking if there’s a baby in my belly. To seeing people’s eyes look you up and down and know that they’re forming some assessment of your interior worth because of the exterior of your body.

Right now, I’m in the pre-op stage, which is dictated by my insurance. In order to qualify for them to cover the surgery, I have to have 6 consecutive months of weigh-ins where I either lose or maintain my weight, pass a series of medical pre-checks, and take several classes. My surgeon requested that I lose 20-25 pounds before surgery and I was put on a diet that’s called a “liver reduction diet” that reduces my carb intake in order to make my liver as small as possible for the surgery.

In the past 2 months, I’ve lost 25 pounds and I feel great. I’m proud of the steps I’ve taken for my health. I’m excited to see where 2021 takes me with this process. I’ve always felt like I was in a war with food, but in the past 2 months, I’ve felt so in control.

I do have concerns, questions, and anxieties about the risks this process entails, but that is for another post and another day. Today, I am excited about possibilities.

My stats as of January 1, 2021

*I do think the approach to bariatric surgery can vary highly. If your surgeon and practice don’t put health first and privilege the goal weight over the rest, I’d find a new surgeon.

2018, EuroTrip 2018, Non-School Charlotte Thoughts, Personal, Uncategorized

Ready…Set…..Go?

The past few weeks have been weird. There’s a time before you leave for a big trip where you have lots of stuff to do both trip and non-trip related, but it’s just a little too early to do it, and you’ve got to just follow up on all of the regular day-to-day rigamarole. You’ve got to stick to business as usual, even though your mind has already boarded the plane.

And trips of this scale are anything but business as usual. I’ll be on the go. My longest stay in any place will be 5 days (Rome). There will be 13 sleeping-stop cities, with several day trips to places outside of the city I’m staying in. Six countries (not including pass-throughs), four of which I’ve never been to before. There will be a lot of new.

There will also be a good dose of the familiar. Returning to France and Italy (sappily) feels like coming home. I get to see two of my favorite people as they live and conduct their own research abroad, and my sister will be [maybe] joining me for the last leg of the trip.

I’ve strategically, and hopefully shrewdly, built people into this trip in ways I definitely did not last year. Airbnbs will be used less regularly, and swapped in for hostels, what look to be nice hostels.  And dang that price point is sweet. Even if I don’t really want to socialize, it will be nice to have people around to talk if I want to do so. And maybe I’ll even make a new friend or two. Plus, hostels seem to be superbly located, and have tons of convenient things built in otherwise (like laundry, cafes, bars, and lounges).

My 2016/2017 trip felt super disruptive. I feel like that’s kind of normal for travel, and makes a lot of sense given what happened in 2016; my life was disrupted fundamentally. In general, I feel like all of my planning and thinking ahead was focused on that trip, and not what lay beyond–the trip, even after I completed in 2017, had a weird aura about it.

That’s not the case with this one. I’ve got stuff to do while I’m away and immediately when I get back. I’m trying to think in small increments, and so far, that’s been working okay mentally. Leaving for six weeks, doesn’t feel as big as it did in 2017, 2016, and 2015. Planning this trip so fast meant not as much time to get myself too hyped up for it.

BUT. I’m ready for it, I think the right kind of ready. Seven plane rides. One bus journey. Incalculable train trips. INCALCULABLE. Annoying tourists. Metros. Trams. Museums. Churches. Walking. Sunburn(s). Breaking out my silly tourist hat. Adding 4 new stamps to my passport! Noms. Beverages (Beer and COFFEE!) Pastries. Gelato. (Okay just FOOD). I’m ready.

My only hesitation, per usual, is leaving behind my darlings. Look at how cute they are.

IMG_8948