Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Original Anti-Diet: Celebrating 2013

This New Year marks an important 50-year milestone for The Anti-Diet. In January  of 1963, I was cast in a 2-character play, a little showcase, and before the rehearsals  began, I crash dieted down to 118 lbs. After the play closed, my weight soon spiked to 133. This was the last straw, the moment when I decided to stop dieting for good. And it certainly was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Within six or eight months I had ended a war with food and self-image that had raged since my teens. A few years later, I began to write about what I had learned and eventually published the first edition of the book.  

Here’s a little more of the personal back story, a reminiscence I share, in part to acknowledge this anniversary, and in part because I think it still rings true today.  

In those days, I was a dancer uncertain where to put her feet. My training was in  modern dance, a field that could hardly be called a profession. The brilliant and transcendent modern dancers of that time were admired for their asceticism, even if  they “made it.” Most starved until they married well, or capitulated and went to teach in the suburbs. Some of my friends defected to show business, a career move that involved technical re-tooling, months of rigorous ballet and jazz training to prepare for auditions. With a lot of hard work and luck there might be income-producing work as a chorus gypsy on Broadway. I could not decide whether choosing this path would brand me as an artistic sellout, or qualify me at last for the world of adults.  

This was by no means my only area of confusion in those days. The city I was so determined to make my home terrified me. Streets were a menace; solitude was suffocating. I spent days so paralyzed with depression I was barely able to leave  my apartment to get to class. I clung to an amusingly mismatched relationship with someone I have since described as my baby-sitter. 

My college classmates moved on to marriages and children and careers while I tried to make sense of a cold and incomprehensible society of others who seemed to know what they were doing but had no desire to do it with me. Remembering the utter loneliness and fear I felt in my first few years in New York is like revisiting a hometown that was wasted by natural disaster, or the sickening flashbacks of a wounded veteran years after the war. It’s easy now to understand why I tried to medicate this state with food.  

There were brief periods of relief, usually associated with some dance performance or commercial work I often got through my boyfriend’s connections in film and TV. I  always expected to fail at these things, was chilled with anxiety until they were over, and then disbelieving of my solid if un-extraordinary success.  

A few years ago I visited the Museum of TV and radio with my sister-in-law who’d also done some acting work. We thought it would be fun to dig up old kinescopes from our early days trying to make it in the theatre. We found one in which I’d been a “dancing  extra” in a live (meaning real-time) production for TV of Silas Marner, starring Julie Harris. She was fantastic! At the climax of the drama, a cleverly shot snow scene,  Harris flopped down with her co-star, Sterling Hayden, on a wooden sled and crashed  to her death, her little high-booted feet in the air, a thin scream of exhilaration turning to  sudden recognition of her fate. The vintage kinescope that we replayed in the museum barely does justice to the wonder of watching Harris rehearse this and other intimate scenes with a quiet intensity that commanded the attention of everyone on the set.  

I had been hired for a party scene in the show to square dance and socialize around a table of punch and cookies. There were only a few background shots of me in black and white, so very young and dressed to look even younger. But, even on the little screen in the museum I saw an actor focused, relaxed and alive every second on camera.  I suddenly recalled the quick choices I’d made for the scene: to examine the spread on the table completely before filling my plate, to allow my sweaty and over-attentive partner to cause me to recoil before throwing myself into the dance. I saw exactly the sort of incidental player I love watching today. Back then, I didn't know that I knew what  to do.  

Discovering that – learning to trust myself and respect my process – that’s what discovering and writing about The Anti-Diet was all about. It still is. Happy 2013!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Ant-Diet: First Reviews

Someone close to me who does not “do” Facebook emailed me the following comment:
“The Anti-Diet requires that people take responsibility for themselves. Other
diet ‘experts’ require people to make them the authority, pay them lots of money and
follow their program of torture which is unsustainable.”

Someone else who is close to me – and who does “do” Facebook – posted about the
Anti-Diet: “For all of us control freaks who can’t control what we put in our mouths, this
is a most empowering book.”

I feel like I am getting through. The message is all about trusting yourself and owning
whatever lies within your power to change.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Anti-Diet: I'm Launched

For a second informal book signing at my local gym, expectations are low. It’s 9:00AM when classes of ladies are jumping and spinning in the big, glassed-in studio at the back of the place. My morning coffee has barely kicked in. This time, I set up right on the floor where the desk makes a big U-turn and a computer is available for patrons wishing to check email. I’ve signed on to to create another visual presence and a reason to strike up conversation. After ten minutes of standing before my display, feeling utterly invisible, I decide that for me this marketing approach ranks right up there with having root canal work done.

I try to look beautiful, happy, animated (and thin, of course) but nothing happens. It’s nearly 10:15 and I’m feeling less squirmy. Just resigned. A young woman walks up, fresh from her workout. She fingers a copy of my book.

“It’s different,” I say, “not like any other diet book you’ve ever seen.”

Her pretty and clearly very intelligent face turns to mine.

“Why?” Her directness engages me.

“No rules, no quick fixes, just tuning in to the very excellent equipment we all have to tell us what we want and need.”

We have a grown-up conversation that lasts about ten minutes and I’d love to get to know her better. She likes me on Facebook on the spot. She buys the book, the very first copy sold from my own hands to a complete stranger. As I sign it, I know I’m really launched.

Thanks, Jessie!

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Anti-Diet: Love For Sale

I’m dressed for a workout, but this time I’ve splashed on a little make-up and done my hair. My usual tunnel vision at the gym is replaced with a panoramic view of The Rock patrons pedaling, treading, lifting, and grabbing tootsie-rolled towels when they check in or dropping their limp remains in a hamper on the way to the shower. I sit at a round table near the desk where my husband has fanned a dozen or so copies of my book before a plastic display frame with my picture in it and a bunch of cards in the pocket. The book cover looks really beautiful. I open one and admire the design, then close it so I can attend to business. What business?

“It feels like doing a trade show,” my husband muses, recalling a familiar blend of adrenalin and lethargy.

There is absolutely no action at my first book signing event. I muse that one of the most powerful spiritual postures for any new undertaking is to assume “nothing may happen.” I know this is supposed to feel weird, and it really does. I’m a 76-year-old woman in black Under Amour trying to drum up interest in passersby: a curious 3-year-old on her way to the supervised playroom, a new mom on her first day trying to get back in shape, a 70-year-old Bangladeshi marathon runner with a torn cartilage in his knee, and – the most promising – a guy in a do-rag who exclaims: “Wow! I know you work out here – it must work!” I give a card to the Latina who tidies the ladies dressing room and always greets me warmly, and tell her “I’d love to translate it into Spanish.”

Finally, three young hunks gather near the door and one balls up his towel, tosses it at the hamper, misses, and looks embarrassed when it rolls to my feet. He dives, apologizing.

“No problem,” I soothe, “but it’s a heck of a way to make a pass at a girl.” The three guys crack up.

Ah, well. As Cole Porter would write it: “Love . . . for sale.”