The Girl Called Rachel


The best thing I ever ate?

I’m sitting here on the floor of my living room watching Food Network’s new series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, which features FN stars talking about… you know. These men and women are so passionate about food: cooking it, eating it, describing what makes it delicious. This episode is all about deep fried food. Doughnuts, hot dogs, french fries, bacon, pork rinds. Nothing gourmet, absolutely guilty pleasures. But really celebrated and worthy of the calories because of the joy it brings to the customers’ lives.

I am a woman who has had an eating disorder for as long as I can remember, but realistically, absolutely more than half of my life. I have trouble classifying it because I, along with most other people in the world, are just beginning to acknowledge disordered eating that does not involve binging and purging or starvation. I graze, I binge, I sit around hating myself for the food I ate, the money I spent and the isolation I enforce on myself.

For all of the time I spend thinking about food and eating it, I barely ever enjoy it. I can’t even call the bad food that I eat “guilty pleasures” because the way I feel before, during and afterward is hardly pleasurable.

When I was younger, the first thing I ever wanted to be was a chef. I can’t remember ever helping out in the kitchen, or being a particularly daring eater, but at eight years old I knew I wanted to go to Cornell to be a culinary arts major. (I think I heard my dad say once that Cornell was a good school for aspiring chefs, so it’s an idea that I clung to blindly.) Today, I wonder why I wanted to cook in the future, but had no desire to practice it as a kid or teenager. Did I want to surround myself with food all day long? Or did I watch my parents (mostly Mom) cook dinner and make the meal special every single night until I went to college, and I wanted to continue the tradition of spending time with the people I love eating delicious food? Maybe I just met a chef when I was a kid and thought working in a restaurant would be fun. I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that after 12 years of wasting calories and time on food that has done nothing for me except make me hate my body, I really want to learn how to cook. I want to spend the time on myself to create something simple and nutritional and satisfying. I don’t believe that diets work and I don’t want to restrict the kinds of food I eat. I just can’t continue to use food to avoid living and feeling the natural ups and downs of being an adult.

Now, when I cook for myself, I feel like I am wasting time because the result isn’t what I excepted and the meal is over much faster than it took to make it. I want to learn to enjoy the time I spend in the kitchen, appreciating myself as someone who doesn’t deserve to eat processed shit and garbage ingredients. I want it to be an activity that I will look foward to every day, because I know that it will encourage a turning point in how I feel about myself and what my life is all about. Let’s do this.

1/12/09

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For those of you who know me, I’m sure you would agree that I’m a private person. This privacy has infiltrated all of my relationships, including the one I have with myself, to the point that I spend an inordinate amount of time stifling who I am and what I want to say because I’m afraid of being vulnerable. (Who isn’t, really? But I seriously take it to a different level.)

About three months ago I watched a movie that has since changed my life. It has been such a constant source of comfort and inspiration for me that I wrote a letter to the filmmakers.

In the film, one of the main characters recites the Emerson quote, “Knowledge is when you learn something new every day. Wisdom is when you let something go every day.” Let’s let some things go, shall we? By sharing this letter with you I don’t expect these fears and problems to melt away all at once, but publicizing them will start to diminish their taboo for me and maybe open some doors for growth and change down the road.

Holy shit. This really is scary, but I’m told a little fear is necessary in life. I started this blog to talk about what I have learned from pop culture throughout my life, and this film has taught me more about myself than anything else before.

Dear Marianna,

First of all, it’s an honor to have bought your first DVD because I feel like Good Dick has left a definite and permanent stamp on my life. I’ve been working on this letter for an entire month, partly because I’m a perfectionist and I don’t want you to read something that I don’t think properly conveys my feelings about you and your film.  Mostly it’s taken so long because I have a hard time sharing personal details about myself, because once they are out there… who knows what can happen or what people will think. I do feel like I can share personal things with you (and I hope you won’t mind) because I think you can relate to me and you understand where I’m coming from with my view of the world and my place in it. Even if Good Dick wasn’t autobiographical, it came from you and the fact that this film was made is proof that these characters and this story, which I relate to so thoroughly, are worthy of an audience.

I’ve never had a reaction like this to another movie, and I think that’s because I’ve never seen my reality in mainstream film. I watch movies or TV shows about beautiful people with problems that I don’t relate to at all. Then one day I saw Good Dick and it was so realistic and it scared me to think, “Oh my god, this is exactly what I want and what I think love is going to be like for me”. I’ve always distanced myself from all different kinds of love. I’ve never thought about what it’s going to realistically look like when I am in a relationship and I find real intimacy with a person who truly understands me. The thing about Hollywood is that it really shapes the way people see themselves and think about love from a young age. I work in a kindergarten class where all of the girls are in love with Zach Efron and High School Musical, and they heard somewhere that only boys can save girls and not the other way around. I try to talk them out of it, but it seems like they’ve already been indoctrinated into the mainstream culture of fat-versus-skinny and they are waiting for Prince Charming. I think it’s extremely valuable for people to see themselves in pop culture, because when you have watched a lifetime of TV and film without seeing someone who represents you, how are you supposed to know you aren’t alone?

This movie is so therapeutic for me because I see someone like me being loved, and that’s the image I need to see often. I need to watch people like me who are loved and comfortable with themselves and are able to overcome any past or present hurt. I need to see that this is a possibility. I feel like I come up against obstacles and just stop and turn around instead of maneuvering through them and continuing to grow. I’m stunted because I haven’t allowed anyone the opportunity to love me regardless of my faults. It’s hard enough for me to stomach my imperfections, let alone embrace them, so I have very little faith that someone else will accept me for who I am. I have always thought of my relationships as a precise balancing act that will crash down with any misstep on my part. I constantly compromise and silence myself in order to keep the equilibrium. Nothing this fragile can survive for long. The most important thing I need in my life is an honest relationship where I’m not afraid to show my flaws and I can trust that people aren’t going to leave me because of them.

My first real connection I felt with Good Dick was when she lets the guy into her apartment for the first time and we see what a mess it is. Just seeing it made me so anxious because my apartment is a like that and if anyone ever saw it I would be mortified. If anyone knew the real environment that I am living in, the shit that I’m surrounded by all day long, that would be more than embarrassing. And it’s just another wall between me and everyone else, an obstacle that hinders any kind of spontaneous visitors. No one knows how chaotic my home really is because I don’t allow anyone the opportunity to see it if there is any incriminating evidence of my real lifestyle. I’m unable to provide a certain standard of living for myself, and it totally stems from a lack of self-respect. I eat shitty food all day, don’t throw away my garbage, and don’t do my dishes or laundry until someone comes in and does it for me, or the threat of someone coming over sends me into a mad rush to clean up.

You know, I look both ways when I cross the street so I don’t get hit by a car. I don’t really care about getting hurt, I care about someone taking me home from the hospital and seeing my apartment in all its gross glory. Seriously, that’s one of my fears in life. That there is going to be an emergency and I’m not going to want the police to come until I clean my apartment. What kind of fucked up logic is that? These are the kinds of things that make me nuts because I don’t know where all of these behaviors came from, but I can recognize that they are totally unhealthy. Why can’t I just clean up after myself, and why do I think that someone seeing my dirty apartment would send them running away from me? Where did all of my confidence go and when and why did it happen?

Another thing I have in common with your character is that we are both supported by our parents. I feel guilty about it. I don’t deserve their money. I feel like I’ve fucked up my life. Why are you paying my rent? I never finished college, but my parents paid for me to almost fail out of two different schools. All they want is for me to go back to school, but I’m afraid I’m just going to waste more of their money. If I won the lottery I would immediately give it to them, because I feel like I owe them thousands of dollars, and maybe that would help alleviate some of the burden I feel I have put on them. I feel this heavy chain attached to my parents money. I have to do what they want me to, and if I don’t I feel guilty about their disapproval. And then I use my apartment, which they pay for, as my den of iniquity.

I also watch porn like your character. I started as a young teenager who was just curious about sex and I think it was pretty normal behavior, but now I feel like I’ve replaced the potential for real human interaction with porn. Why put myself out there and probably get rejected when I can watch people who are prettier, or at least more confident, than me have sex? I know that porn doesn’t replace real love and movie characters aren’t real friends, but sometimes it’s easier to live vicariously through other people than face the challenges that plague your own life.

I think you certainly accomplished your goal of making a romantic movie. This story is about realistic romance; different from the saccharin sitcom plots and predictable romantic comedies that Hollywood bombards us with in the cineplexes every weekend. It was so bizarre to see the hair-washing scene because the day before I watched Good Dick for the first time I was thinking how intimate it would be to wash someone’s hair. That was when the light bulb went off in my head and I knew that I was going to have a real connection with your film. The scene where you sleep together in the bed is so amazing, with the combination of the lighting and music and the sheer fact that pressing your back against someone else’s seems so comforting. In the ice rink, Jason’s character says, “real sex, loving sex”. I love the fact that the main male character in your film characterizes real sex as “loving”. I feel like if I had seen this film when I was younger I would have a much more positive opinion of men today.

When Jason’s character says, “I care about you” is when I first thought, “Oh my god, this movie is making my heart hurt”. I want to hear that so badly! I care about you. I care what happens to you. I care how you feel about yourself. I care how you feel about me. I care what you do everyday. I care how you are treating yourself. He makes himself so vulnerable by letting her know that he cares about her when he probably knows she won’t reciprocate the feelings openly. It makes me so envious and so ready to hear someone say that to me and to say it back.

A lot of people comment about how the woman is so crazy and brutal and irrationally mean, but I found her totally honest, and I was jealous that I stop myself from being\ that way. I feel like I put myself in situations where I’m going to be uncomfortable and I stay there as a sort of punishment. Like feeling miserable when other people aren’t will prove that I am not normal and I have to change. But your character says no if she doesn’t want him coming into her apartment. She doesn’t open the door for him, she doesn’t put herself in a situation where she won’t be in charge, and I love that. I see her very much as a heroine. A woman who knows what she wants, even though she has demons that dictate some of her behavior and decisions. She has taken her sexuality in her own hands; she has set rules and says, “These are my boundaries and if you cross them, it’s over”. I found that so refreshing and I wish I could be like that. I wish I could be honest with people and say, “I don’t want to be with you right now because you are driving me insane” and not feel guilty that I seem anti-social or think about what my friends are going to say about me. I need to find a partner who can acknowledge and understand my hesitance when it comes to both physical and emotional intimacy. It makes me uncomfortable to think I could be at the mercy of someone who may not have regard for my feelings and insecurities. The fact that Jason’s character is completely accepting of her rules and doesn’t want to move faster than she is prepared to go makes him such a fantasy boyfriend for me. Through his gentle persistence, she realizes that she is worthy of love and self-respect and she is given the tools to help herself improve her life.

I feel like your movie came to me at a really important time because my plans to finish my degree were somewhat sidetracked, I found out I won’t have a job in the fall, and my lease is up on my apartment in October. I feel like, come this fall, I have a million choices to make and an infinite number of paths I can take. It’s freedom, but it’s also fucking scary. Now is the time when I actually have to think about what I want my life to be like, and try to start living that life. I think that I’ve finally realized that I want to be a filmmaker because I want to create something that might impact someone in the same way Good Dick has impacted me.

I want you to know how much you mean to me, even if I never meet you, even if you never make another film, you have done enough for me to really think about my life and think about the world and reality and love in a realistic and attainable way. I want you to remember me, whether or not you remember my name or the specific things I said. I just want you to recall the feeling that you really affected change in the world, because I am changing, I am going to reach out to other people who may change. I believe we are all connected in this way, that we live life and we grow by learning from other people and hopefully teaching a few along the way. All of my life I have used movies to escape or avoid my problems. It’s very passive to sit in a room and see faces in front of me without having to deal with the reciprocity of real friendship. The stuff I was watching wasn’t helping me understand or deal with my life, but drown out my desire to help myself change. I needed a movie like Good Dick to hold up a mirror to my face so I could see what it looks like when I isolate myself, neglect people who love me and deny myself happiness and self-respect. Now I want to be a filmmaker so I can reach other people, help them learn about themselves and continue this chain of humanity and real people talking to each other.

It sounds strange to say thank you after all of that. I think that goes without saying.

Love,
Rebecca Martin

P.S. Good dick means to me… a relationship that encourages growth and intimacy and makes you feel safe with the people you love or by yourself.

Waiting for the panic after pressing send on the letter

Waiting for the panic after pressing send on the letter