Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reflections on Change

I started school in the 1960s and our readers were circa 1950s – I think even the word "reader" for a reading schoolbook is archaic, and although 60's Tomball wasn't exactly Mod, the textbook stories and illustrations were old-fashioned even then.

Our 2nd grade textbook had a story about a boy who was a child version of the adult wimp that gets sand kicked in his face at the beach. In 2010 he would probably be harassed to a horrific end but in the 1950s this kind of wimpy nerd just got yelled at by the bullies and maybe had his lunch stolen. One day the worm turned and Wimpy decided he needed to be proactive – came up with the idea of buying a Charles Atlas bodybuilding kid. Of course in the 1950s no kid’s allowance would stretch to that so he had to get a summer job, which in his case was some kind of manual labor – I can’t remember exactly what but want to say something like digging ditches? Maybe a little white boy could actually get hired for such a thing in that decade…maybe he was digging flower beds? Anyway…by the end of the summer he had saved enough for his Atlas kit. But surprise, surprise – he took a good look in the mirror one day and realized his job had buffed him right up! No need to order the kit.

I think that story stuck with me because everything in my life always seemed (still seems) so painfully conscious, especially the changes. Hard to imagine Sarah not noticing she had accidentally become muscled in the course of 2-3 months. Although…in the early 1980s when I got a moonlighting retail job I was too tired and too broke on work nights to eat much, and eventually I realized I had lost weight and inches. Fortunately I had an employee discount so I could rebuild my wardrobe with smaller clothes and things like belts – I remember one shiny black wide belt I wore with all my skirts, wow, a BELT – shuddering as I sit here typing this in my sweat pants… The purpose of the job as a way to get out of debt was defeated since I soon, like almost everyone else who worked nights and weekends, was depositing my entire Sanger Harris/Foley’s paycheck to make pitiful stabs at my store card balance. BUT…I was slim and trim. Without realizing it! No Atlas Kit for me.

I have always loved the idea of having positive change without noticing it, because my impression is that unnoticed change would be easier, less painful. Another story I liked from my childhood was actually an adult story – my mother had a subscription to Good Housekeeping, a magazine I always pored through intently the day it arrived. It was a rare glimpse into the adult world, sanitized and homemakerish though that world was. One of my favorite things in GH was the long fiction pieces, novellas or shortened novels or whatever they were. Years before I discovered Harlequin romances, I had Good Housekeeping. The best one I ever read – and I think I even remember Mother yelling at me (she didn’t really yell, just calmly/firmly amped up the guilt message a bit) to turn off the light and go to bed, me begging for more time because I simply could not abandon this story before the end – was about… Well, if you have read this blog post thus far, you can probably guess what it was about. A young woman who lost weight without realizing it!

The story was a period piece, probably set in England (or American New England, which for a second-rate writer such as probably wrote this thing, would turn out about the same), and the protagonist was considered unmarriageable because she was overweight and shy, generally lumpish. She was sent to stay with a relative and assigned to be a sort of caregiver for the man next door, who had gone blind. She read aloud to him for hours every day, and there was something about her swimming every day, which doesn’t make sense if this was a period piece – what did she wear to swim? And regardless of time period, how did she read if she was swimming? Maybe it was summer and hot and she and the guy would meet in the evening and talk and she would get in the water to cool herself. OK, that sort of works. But really, this was not the kind of story one would want to examine under a microscope. From the walking to meet this guy every day and the swimming every evening, by the end of whatever time period it was, Plain-Jane realized she had become slim and beautiful. Although actually she didn’t realize that until the blind guy had gotten his sight back. When she realized he would be able to see again she panicked, thinking that he would realize how unattractive she was. But surprise! She WAS ATTRACTIVE! I think there was a poetic kind of realization moment when he gently encouraged her to look at her reflection in the pond or whatever it was where she had been swimming. She didn’t recognize herself. Yes, she had been living in a house without mirrors and had no idea what she looked like.

In my conceptualization (lofty term) of this post I didn’t originally plan to go into so many Sarah-seminal reading experiences but I did plan to get to some kind of wisdom about, isn’t it great when we grow and develop without noticing it, only realizing that we've changed for the better when others point it out. That kind of happy-surprise scenario is part of what makes friendships special and one of the best things about group therapy.

In therapy we often call it mirroring. Aha! Now I have my unifying element for this blog post, and my title. The original title was Strength-Building Kit…I wasn’t sure how I was going to live up to, write up to, that one.

No...Surprise in the Mirror is a disturbing title. Might work for something else but not this demure little Saturday-night blog. You know how sometimes you have the title before you have the thing itself? Uh, this was not one of those times...

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