Review of Amye Archer’s Fat Girl, Skinny

Thanks to Brevity for reviewing Fat Girl, Skinny! So exciting!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

41YCR2btxyL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Debbie Hagan

I’m working on a memoir about mental illness, and, at times, the process feels like a long, combative, and slightly schizophrenic therapy session. One part of me lies on the couch, reluctant to divulge details. The other part of me sits in the chair, pen poised, grilling my prone self: What did you mean by that? Are you telling the truth? Why are you so defensive? What’s wrong with you?

The analyst part of me can be rather brutal. That’s why me, quivering on the couch, eventually pops up, storms to the door, and cries, You’re just trying to embarrass me. While me in the chair shouts, Wait! We were just getting to the good stuff.

After a few hours of this, I sit back and wonder, have I at last fallen into the black abyss?

Reading Amy Archer’s sassy memoir Fat Girl, Skinny (Big Table…

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To Some of the Boys I’ve Loved Before

I’m working on a new book. It’s coming along, but sometimes writing a whole book can be so solitary. You live in this world, you and the voice-the narrator-and you live there alone. For a long time. Sometimes, I just need to break that solitude and write something, and get it up here on the blog and out into the world. So, in that vein-here’s a little poem I worked on this morning. It’s rough, but I’m spent. I hope you enjoy it.

To Some of the Boys I’ve Loved Before

I dream in previous lives-the one where you’re young and carve our initials into a tree planted in the middle of a parking lot at the nearby high school.  You propose to me there-I accept, act surprised, even though I orchestrated the entire moment-right down to paying for the ring.

You mother is a soft woman. Her birthing you and your siblings was her greatest achievement. Her raising of you is the light burning in her belly for the past forty years. Later, when I think of the word mother, I will think of her-always. Her kindness was just what a chubby, insecure teenage girl needed. I keep the good parts of her with me, mother my girls with her heart.

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On a hot, fall night you teach me to play Radiohead’s Creep, my favorite song.  You press my plump fingers down into a bar chord and slide our fused hands up and down the thick neck of my cheap guitar.  We make music together.  I mistake your tenderness for love. Sing the touch of your skin into every Radiohead song.

There are chapters of books living in the back of my throat. They hold the stories of our break ups, our failures, your hands on my body. They hold the story of my babies, of how I willed them into existence with sheer want. How they could have been yours, or his, but found the exact right man.

I braid my daughter’s black-brown hair. Three strands thick and sturdy fold effortlessly into two, then fall together into one. She loses patience with me when I have to pull it all apart and start again.

I dream in past versions of myself-call my husband your name in my head sometimes, fix his coffee like yours, wonder if you remember the way we sometimes fit together like the ocean and the sand-one resting atop another.

I write in meaningless parts-our life together carousel-ing into my daughter’s childhood, us as teenagers against a black sky in the backyard of the home my husband built for me. Car parts and extra brothers resting elbows on a table I no longer own.

I don’t know how to separate you completely out.

But, I’m learning.

One poem at a time.

~

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about waiting, weight-ing, skinny jeans, fat girls, bad choices, and happy endings. You can buy it here.

 

New Craft Essay

I’m so pleased to have a new craft essay in this month’s Brevity. Brevity is one of my all time favorite publications, so to be included in an issue is amazing!!!

Anyway, I wrote about perspective and emotional distance in memoir. Here it is if you’d like to check it out!

RIGHT HERE!!!

New Column

I was so honored to have a column on Mothers Always Write today! Please check it out if you get a chance!

“If I’m to tell you the story of me as a mother, then I need to start at the very beginning. I need to start on a warm, muggy night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where a song came on the radio that drew “I love you,” from a good man’s mouth and poured it like honey into my ear. That’s the night my daughters were born, in every sense of the word. Because that was the night they became possible.”

Read the full column HERE.

 

Cigarettes, Lipstick, and Cobain

I fell in love with you on a kitchen floor after my junior prom. You wore a loose tie with your red chucks. I wore a size 12 black and white dress that hour-glassed my expanding body into something more desirable. You couldn’t keep your hands off of me. That night became the night against which my beauty would always be measured. Remember how beautiful you looked in that dress on that night? You would ask me when you remembered it. It was as if that version of me-young, beautiful, thin, and sexy-was an island I could never again reach, not by swim, by boat, by rocketship.

We went with another couple, rented a limousine, sat at a table, ate a meal, and danced, just like we were supposed to. We had been dating only three months at that point, and if you were panicked or anxious, you didn’t show it. You wore a steady smile that crushed the world. We spent the night at a friend’s house. My mother called several times to verify our location, she even called and spoke to the mother of the house before granting permission. Your mother would have let you do anything.

The theme of our prom had to do with that Elton John song from the Lion King soundtrack. It was a weird choice because Kurt Cobain had just died, and I remember thinking we should have had a Nirvana-inspired prom. But I wasn’t popular enough to suggest it. You and I slow danced, and I should have remembered this more clearly-your hand against the sateen of my dress, your rough palm catching on the fibers, your breath against my ear-but I don’t remember dancing at all. I don’t remember the limo, the clumsy game of pool at a local bowling alley, I just remember you: how you looked, how you smelled, how you electrified me with your touch. I had never been so in love with anyone before, it was as if you eclipsed any reason I may have had.

I slept on a water bed with two other girls, not a water mattress, but an actual water bed with plush leather sides for steadying yourself. You woke me in the middle of th23111_lge night with a gentle touch. Come with me, you whispered into the darkness.

We sat on the kitchen floor and talked about Cobain, the cigarette they found in the ashtray with lipstick on the filter. I assumed Courtney had been there, that she had pushed him somehow into killing himself. She had to be involved, had to wear that responsibility. If only she had been better, cleaner, sober, softer. You disagreed. The lipstick may have been his, or maybe hers from long ago. It boggled my mind that someone so talented could hate themselves so deeply. Life is hard, you said between drags of a Newport, death is easy.

It was dark in that kitchen except for a distant porch light. We sat cross-legged on the linoleum, our backs against a slip of yellow wallpaper. Then, you said it. Casual and quiet.

I love you.

I love you too.

Your blue eyes lit the air around us and your kisses tasted like menthol, but I didn’t care. You loved me, and that was all that mattered in the world. Life is hard, this was easy.

 

**Learn more about Amye Archer here.

Everything I Wanted to Know About My Grandmother I Learned From Her Palm.

 

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My grandmother as a young woman.

Everything I wanted to know about my grandmother I learned from her palm. A strong, deep life line with little attachment meant she was fiercely independent. She held two jobs down when most women didn’t work. She ran away from home, married a Catholic, lost babies, disowned siblings, and lived the last thirty-two years of her life alone. She loved to work in her home, rarely ventured out, liked order, and respected routine. Still, there was so much I didn’t know. I never knew the cut of her love line, still like a river across her hand, until it was cold in my palms the day we lost her. I could never imagine the woman who wouldn’t answer her door in anything less than full dress as a honeymooner rolling around in the backseat of my grandfather’s Lincoln. I never knew her as young. She was an old lady my whole life.

In the first section of my memoir, I have sex with two different men in three different places. In the second section, there’s two more. In the third, yet another. And when I write these scenes, I hold nothing back. My book is about divorce and body image. It’s about feeling insecure and using men to feel better about myself. I write myself the fool for sure. I write about myself as a young woman, as a divorcee, as someone who is so woefully unsure of herself that I cringe even now as I read the words. Because of my writing, this is the version of me that my children and my grandchildren will know. They will not wonder, they will not question, they will have an insight into my heart and mind that I would have given anything to have with my grandmother, or the mothers who came before her.

It’s not easy to write about our lives, especially if you’re accustomed to writing fiction.  Many of us worry about ex-husbands, parents, children, etc. We worry about splitting open our lives on a page and allowing the world a front seat. And as a memoirist, let me assure you, it never gets easier. That vulnerability is always there. But, the gift we give the generations that will come after us by allowing them access to the inner workings of our lives is invaluable.

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This makes me slightly nervous…

At first, the thought of my twin daughters-now nine-reading the perils of my life someday was terrifying. I imagined them pouring over the chapters in which I fumble, give myself over too easily to love, make the wrong choices, and laughing, losing respect for me faster than I can rewrite my past. Then I realized something. Someday, they will be me: a middle-aged woman with a cobbled-together sense of confidence, doing the best she can to raise her kids with love, hope, and strength. Then, their babies will have babies, and so on. What a beautiful heritage we can help create as mothers when we write down our stories?

You don’t have to write a memoir to leave a written record of your life. You can write a journal, write essays, poetry, or thinly-veiled fiction. The day my girls were born, I started a journal. I don’t write as much as I should because I’ve been busy with other projects, but I try to write once a month or so. I write a lot about what’s happening in the world around us and how I react to these events. I wrote about the sun bursting in my heart as I watched our country elect the first black president. I wrote about the absolute anguish I felt after the Sandy Hook shooting. But I also wrote a detailed description of every home and apartment in which I lived, stories of the men I’ve loved, and tender memories of my relationship with their father. I plan on giving them this journal when they become mothers.

I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had I been gifted a written record of my grandparents or their parents as young, hot-blooded men and women. How fascinating would it have been to read the secrets locked inside my grandmother’s heart? To know what she was afraid of, what made her cry, what she thought about life and love? Instead, what I know is highlights and recycled memories handed down through the generations. Lines on a palm with no stories attached.

As a writer, I can do more for my children. As a mother, I should. When you’re given the gift of being able to write, you should ask yourself what responsibilities come with that gift. I never knew where my writing was born from. I have artists in my family, sure, but mostly musicians and visual artists.  So, I’m the writer. I’m the record-keeper, the storyteller, and the one who should be taking it all down. I don’t question this, I welcome it. I refuse to be a stale story, someone remembered vaguely by a distant grandson. Someday, my grandchildren will be able to say that everything they learned about their grandmother, they learned from her own words.

The Shot and The Draw

I still remember the feeling of my first heartbreak. I’m not talking about –you’re over there and I’m way over here-heartbreak, I’m talking about the heartbreak sitting right here on my chest, the looking over my shoulder, breathing in my ear heartbreak. The heartbreak that holds you and never lets go.

I’m thirteen and bus 62 is a cauldron of teen angst. Some boys light cigarettes and hang out of the partially descending windows, some girls scribble the names of bad boys onto books, others carve words into the skin of their ankles, and the driver drives, ignorant to it all. I initially sit near the front, but am soon pulled to the back by older girls and the promise of their friendship. Tammy is mentally unstable, and even at 13 I can clearly identify this trait. She wants to be my friend, yet threatens to beat the shit out of me on a daily basis. This has been happening for months.

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Me at 13. Quite the fox, I might add.

Today, she and her crew call me to the back for some arbitrary reason. Maybe they ask to borrow money, or need someone to laugh at. Those are the details that fall into the street with the traffic, because at this point Ollie is all I can see. A regular, brown-haired boy sitting behind Tammy and her friends. He’s cute enough, with a nice smile and a freckled nose. But I can’t recall what drew me to him. I only remember the after. It’s like I can remember the shot but not the draw.

Here is what I do remember:
The autumn light in his hair and on my shoulders and the way he smelled, like motor oil and Marlboro Reds, like freedom to a 13-year-old girl whose parents won’t let her leave the front porch with a boy. He smiles, he calls me something cute like “sweetie” or “honey,” and I melt into my seat and burn with the sun against the cheap upholstery.

Ollie was older than me. 15-which is an entire universe away in teenage years. He knew things I didn’t, like how to get a homeless guy to buy us beer, how to light a smoke with a match in a wind storm, and which woods were the safest to drink in. His parents were absent, I think, I don’t remember ever really seeing them. His house seemed full of mismatched car parts and brothers. He went to school like one goes to church, sporadically at best, and only if it was really important. But he protected me, held me against him in the storm of middle school drama. When Tammy and her friends started upping their game and really scaring me, Ollie was there. He threatened anyone who looked at me wrong. He  beat the shit out of anyone and everyone who bothered me. To a 13-year-old girl, this was kryptonite.

Here is what I do remember:
His hands, calloused and small, traversing my virgin skin. A worn mattress, red curtains, and Ozzy Osborne. I have lied to my mother. I have lied to this boy. I have lied to myself. I have lied to everyone. The candle becomes a nub and I bury myself under his worn blankets. It will be decades before I dig my way out of that cave. I imagine the 14-year-old ghost of me forever roaming that small basement.

We broke up, and some of that is fuzzy. He left me, I can’t remember if it was for another girl or if a defect of mine inevitably rose to the surface.

At 37, I can confidently say that there was no reason on earth to love him the way that I did. But at 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 23, 24, 28 and all of those years in between, loving Ollie was as natural as breathing. At 26, 27, obese and stuck in a bad marriage, that feeling-being tucked tightly against Ollie’s chest-was a feeling I’d swim back to over and over again and hope to drown.

Fat Girl, Skinny Launch Party!

This weekend was an author’s dream weekend. On Saturday, I was invited to sit in on a book club that had chosen my book, Fat Girl, Skinny as their monthly read.  It was amazing to hear these women talk about their lives in connection to my story of weight gain and weight loss. It reinforced an important lesson I learned while writing my memoir: body image is a personal and private issue.

It was also a really unique experience visiting a book club as the author. I walked into a room full of people who knew the most intimate details of my life. I was a nervous wreck, yet I felt at ease and welcomed-heck, even embraced-by them only minutes after arriving. It was a moving experience, and one I will treasure.

Sunday, I celebrated Fat Girl, Skinny‘s publication at a launch party. The response was amazing. Love filled that small room, and I was overcome with gratitude for those who came and showed their support. I’d like to share some pictures from the day. All photos were taken by Mindy Lipcavage Photography, owned and operated by my dear friend.

That Time I Failed Miserably at Life

Three years ago I had an idea. A bad idea. Sick of being tethered to a scale, to the idea that I had to weigh everything in my life, I smashed my scale and declared myself free. It was fun and liberating at first. I went to restaurants and ordered whatever I wanted. I drank wine with no inhibition. I went out for wings, ate cake at parties, you know, all of the things normal people do.

But I’m not normal. I can’t be normal. Ever. Like an addict or an alcoholic, I will forever need to be in check. So what happened during this three-year foodfest? Well, my clothes grew tighter, my breath shorter, and my confidence began to fall away like a dandelion gone to seed. Suddenly, I was becoming the worst version of me again. I was growing heavy, hiding from the world, unable or unwilling to do things with my kids, my husband, my friends. Because for some, fat is okay, fat is livable, fat is survivable. For me it is not.

Dandelion-seed-head-blowi-001I think about that girl, the one in my book, me at 21, 22. Fat, really fat, and stuck in a web of my own doing. For me, fat is a death sentence, a lack of options, a tapeworm with unlimited resources. It’s important to understand what I mean by fat. I’m not talking chunky, overweight, or even hefty. The numbers I’m talking about are much bigger and louder than most people will ever realize. In fact, I often half-joke that my goal weight is often the starting point for others. And I was going back there again, that place. That dark place where nothing good lives.

On July 17th, 2015, I had enough (again). As I did all of those years ago, while living the story in my memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, I simply woke up and said, “That’s it” (again).  Now, here I am (again). Weighing myself every day, counting calories, tracking exercise, weighing meals. Every single part of my life is measured. Everything is accounted for. Every part of my life is weighed (again). I cannot take one step without it counting for something. And now, fifty pounds lighter, my life is slowly being reclaimed.

So my experiment was a failure. It was fun, and I enjoyed every single ounce of those fifty pounds, but like an addict, I cannot simply give myself over to my vice.  It has taken me seventeen years to finally get it. To realize that I cannot trust myself. It has taken me the same fifty or sixty pounds to get it. Being thin doesn’t fix everything, for many people it doesn’t fix anything. But being fat, being overweight, being obese, is toxic for me. It changes me, changes who I am. I’m not thin, by any means, but I’m at a place now (again) where I feel okay about my health and my body. I can run with my kids in the yard, shop at “regular” clothing stores, and be myself again.

It saddens me that I can’t be trusted to exist without weights and measures. It saddens me that my daughters will know this uncontrolled version of me. But it’s my reality, and I must accept it. So, my experiment failed. But my life will not. I will keep going, keep pushing that rock, because it’s worth it. Every giggle from my girls, every touch of my husband’s hand, it’s all the good stuff, and that tastes better than any cake. (well, maybe not any cake…)