I quit dieting over twenty-five years ago. Along with throwing out the idea of counting calories, I threw away my bathroom scale. And that was pretty revolutionarily for me at the time. After all, I spent most of my adolescence along with my college years weighing myself on the scale. Again, and again. And again.
I knew which part of the bathroom tiles made the scale tip higher (didn’t want to put the scale there) and which part of the floor seemed to weigh in a quarter of a pound less. Plus, though I was not a big fan of statistics at that point, I did develop an interest in the notion of probability. As in, if I weighed myself repeatedly, even five times in a row, sometimes I could get a slightly different reading. So I would weigh myself, move the scale to another area on the bathroom floor, weigh myself again and again, pee, weigh myself, another time, and then take the lowest number I could get for that self-abusive weigh-in period.
It’s fabulous that for over 25 years, unless I am at the doctor’s office, I do not get on a scale. EVER. I refuse to measure my self-esteem by the number on a bathroom scale. Plus, I know my body, how my clothes fit, can sense if I’m the same as always or slightly up or down. And without the scale to feed an unhealthy cultural obsession that few of us survive unscathed, I’m happy to be part of a growing number of non-dieters who have moved to attuned eating (eating when hungry, eating what they are hungry for and stopping when full), and to true sense of self and body worth. I am so much more than a mere number.
OR SO I THOUGHT!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, I quit dieting years ago, but I haven’t escaped the tendency to measure myself by some external standard. Let’s face it, this is a society that puts value on numbers: what we earn, what we weigh, on our grades. I think it’s a constant struggle between feeling good internally about what we have done, and the external markings that rate what we have done.
I feel good about the fact that I write. In fact, I LOVE writing, especially at the perfect table in the back of Starbucks close to the outlet so that I can plug in my laptop and not worry about my battery life. And with a vanilla latte. And maybe a bag of almonds. After a good writing day, I feel energized and connected with life. It’s a feeling that truly is beyond measure, to borrow from a title of one of my books. Beyond Measure, that is, until there is a way to sort of measure.
And that leads me straight to Amazon.com. Each book sold on Amazon has a ranking that really no one understands. People have written articles about how to understand the way Amazon ranking works, but really, few if any people understand those articles either. Basically, the ranking gives you an indication of where your book is compared to the millions of books sold on Amazon. If you want to see where your book is that day, you can click on and get your ranking. The lower the number is, the better (just like we were taught on the bathroom scale). Each time your book is sold, that sale should reflect in your ranking number. But the shifts are big. For example, let’s say your book is at 200,000. An hour later you look, and you’re down to 40,000. Typically, that’s just equal to one book sold. Before you go to bed that night, should you weigh…that is check your Amazon ranking again, you could be up to 350,000. One day, you might see that a certain article or mention of your book in a blog makes your Amazon ranking move quickly. When this happens, you sell a lot of books and your ranking gets better and better and better. You’re seeing numbers you never saw before…like wearing a size of jeans that you never, not in a million years, thought would fit you. You begin to own it, that ranking. You start feeling really, really, really good about yourself. Maybe you even walk with a little swagger. A few days later, sales slow down. You’re moving up again in the ranking. The funny thing is, a number on the Amazon ranking that would have once made you happy, now no longer does because for a few days, you had such a coveted ranking. Now you want that again, just like you long to wear the jeans that fit you for that week where you were at your lowest weight EVER. Now that’s your goal again. “If I could just weigh that again, I’d be happy.” Now it’s turned into: “If I could just have that ranking again, I’d feel good about myself and my book.”
It’s a dead end trap, I know. I might have given up the bathroom scale, but I have somehow let myself get caught up in the Amazon ranking scale. And I’m not the only one. It makes me feel a little better that a New York Time’s bestselling author who writes, among other things, about Buddhist philosophy, checks his/her (I am protecting identity here) Amazon ranking throughout the day, almost hourly. I’m in good company, and yet still, I don’t like it. I like the feeling that is beyond measure, the high that comes from writing a chapter you love, where you look up at the clock and realize that you haven’t moved (not even for a sip of your vanilla latte) in 3 hours, so engrossed were you in the words you were putting to page. I accept with gratitude those writing ideas that come when you least expect it; when you’re in the shower, when you’re folding the laundry, when you’re walking the dog. When your heart starts pounding and you get goose bumps and you can’t wait to open up that laptop or that notebook and see where the idea takes you.
We’re too hard on ourselves. Those who get on the scale, even when they like the number, have many days where they are berating themselves, feeling like they are not good enough unless they weigh some magic number. I let the scale go a long time ago. Now it’s time to stop letting another external number affect me; influencing me as to whether it’s a good day (a better ranking on Amazon) or a bad day (a worse ranking on Amazon).
The other day I was taking a walk with my husband when we ran into a friend. She told me that her sister was diagnosed with cancer. She also told me that she had passed along my novel, Syd Arthur, to this sister who has been reading it and loving it. When my friend asked her sister if she was done with the book yet, her sister had told her that she is trying to read it slowly, to make it last, because everyday that she reads it, it makes her laugh. When my friend shared this story with me, I realized, “Now that is beyond measure.” That my book has become a place where this woman can turn to for laughter as she faces the unknown is more then enough for me.
That’s not to say I won’t be tempted to look at Amazon rankings, or that I’ll never look at them again. I wish I could say I’ll never bother, but I don’t think I’m there yet. But hopefully, along with anything any of us do that takes us outside of ourselves in search for external validation, I’ll remember what Einstein said: Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.
I know that people all over the world consider themselves lapsed in something: religion, exercise, volunteerism. It happens. We mean to go back to the church, synagogue, mosque or meditation center. We missed a day of meditation, a week of services, and now, it’s been months since we’ve sat on the cushion to meditate or worshipped in community. It was that one week we didn’t make it to yoga, or one day we didn’t get on the elliptical, and somehow now, we’ve been off our exercise track; haven’t stepped into the yoga studio or on an exercise machine it what now feels like months. We felt so good helping out on a fund raising effort last year, we promised ourselves we’d commit to another project again. But somehow, the request calls have gone unanswered; the emails looking for help in organizing an event have somehow been deleted.
We’ve lapsed. Like I said, it happens. And sometimes it’s hard to get back on track. The more we do something, the more we do something, and the more we don’t do something, the more we don’t do something. Given that, here’s my question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I ask this, because I must identify myself as a lapsed blogger. But really, I’m not sure anyone reads my blog, so does this lapse make a sound? Does this lapse even count?
I feel compelled to say: Hi, my name is Ellen Frankel and I’m a lapsed blogger. I haven’t blogged since August 10th, a full month and one day ago.
Does it really matter? Well, to me it must. Every week that goes by without me checking in with my blog, I feel it. I think about it on Monday, and by Thursday I am realizing that I’ve yet to commit anything to paper for my blog. By Friday, I let it go thinking that on Monday I’ll write.
It’s been busy. Our son was home for a few days in August before we flew back to Madison with him where he’ll start his second year of college, I’ve been busy with another project (more about that in another blog to come) and blah blah blah or should I say and blog, blog, blog….but nothing’s been written.
Today’s blog is a little bit like a Seinfeld episode…it’s really about nothing, but still, a little, about something. If there is something I value, I want to keep connected to it. I like having my blog. Even if no one else reads this, I’ll know that I sat down to write it, that I have acknowledged my lapse and ended my blog writing drought.
So, if anyone is out there, thank you for bearing witness to my return. And if no on is out there, I’m here to tell you: The tree fell in the forest and even with no one there, it made a sound.