Monday, June 23, 2008

Was George Carlin Fat?

I just saw on the news that George Carlin died today. Now he could make me laugh and he could make me cringe and he sometimes wasn't very nice to fat people. I won't link to the video of his rant against commercialism, consumption and over-indulgence which he unfortunately ties to being fat (and seems to be universally labeled on YouTube as his bit on "Fat People" when it's surely about much more) but it's out there and though I think he can be very, very, funny (see the video below for one of his milder pieces), he was out of line with this one. Thin people over-indulge too, they buy too much, and eat junk-food and drive cars that are too big, and wear shirts that say "I'm with Stupid." Of course Carlin seemed to enjoy being out of line, saying the things no one else would, but I think the power of his good rants were that there was truth to them. That Carlin had found a grain of truth in a situation that hadn't been seen before, but in the case of the fat rant, I don't think he really understood what the truth was. He went for the cheap laugh at the expense of those who were different without digging for the nuggets of truth.

Carlin died from heart disease and if you look at the videos on YouTube, you'll see he was a man who was always thin. We can't know what contributed to his death at a relatively young age of 71, but it certainly doesn't look like it was fat. I wonder if people will be suprised by this.

I'm still kind of fascinated by the fact that thin people often get a free pass on watching out for their health. I think it's dangerous to have so thouroughly associated thinness with health that people don't worry about the other risk factors for heart disease. When do we ever hear people talking seriously about stress reduction techniques? Where's the latest best selling book on meditation or the public service announcement on progressive relaxation techniques?

George Carlin seemed to be a man who lived life with his light shining brightly so I hope he did the things he most wanted in life and said the things he most wanted to say. The many times he did get it right, he often pushed the boundaries in ways that made me think and stretch my brain and I think he'd be pleased with that. What I've seen of his work often made me laugh, frequently made me uncomfortable and sometimes made me mad but I'm glad I watched it.

Head Meets Body

If you haven't read it yet, check out this brilliant post by my favorite author Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose. The following quote in particular hits home for me:

“Which is one reason why exercise can seem like such a daunting task when you’re new to it. It means actually acknowledging your body and inhabiting it, instead of keeping your mind — the good part of you — comfortably separate from its housing.”

I once told my yoga instructor that she was responsible for re-attaching my head to my body. At some point in my childhood I had completely separated them and started mostly ignoring the parts below my neck. I had been a clumsy child who almost never succeeded at anything physical and though I was always interested in participating in those activities that others seemed to enjoy so much, I usually found the experience disheartening and so I focused completely on living through my mind. I read everything I could find and concentrated on establishing my worth based on my grades and my emotional responses to people. I got really, really nice.

Luckily a few years ago a friend dragged me to a yoga class and through the help of an amazing teacher, I suddenly started to realize that my body was there for more than just to give my brain a ride. I got strong and developed an awareness of my body that allowed me to move each part separately. The slow nature of the poses allowed me to use my brain to override my clumsiness and suddenly I was succeeding at something physical. It completely changed my life and even allowed me to start being less nice and being more real. I also found that when I was doing regular yoga I could succeed at other physical activities that had previously been out of my reach and I took up salsa dancing and got to have some of the most exhilarating experiences of my life as I spun and shook and whirled around the dance floor. So though I understand one of the commentors points about not focusing on bodies, I just don't think it is realistic or even desirable to pretend we don't see bodies. I don’t want my body ignored. Getting connected or perhaps re-connected to it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

On a side note, I think one of the reasons yoga has been such a successful modality for me was that it gave me tons of proprioceptive input through my joints and muscles. As a pediatric occupational therapist I use this all the time to help children organize their motor activity and improve their motor planning. I was finally able to really map each muscle in my body into my brain through this slow focused work that I did in yoga. My teacher, the amazing Marni Greer, was adept at helping us isolate movement and understand how our bodies worked. I don't think I could have done it without her. One of the biggest compliments of my life came last year when she told me I had excellent body awareness and that I should think about becoming a yoga teacher. I've made that one of my long term goals as I think it is important for people of all sizes to be represented in the yoga community but unfortunately the PhD needs to come first!