Hello, lovely reader. I’ve been away for longer than what’s normal for me. So sorry I didn’t alert you! I wasn’t expecting such a disruption. I deeply value you and your blog (and talk about you like a true friend to people in real life) and will be reading all the posts I’ve missed since July 21st. Here’s what happened:
As many of you know, I will be, for the first time, teaching my college composition class in prison. That’s right. A few years ago, my college partnered with the University of Notre Dame to bring liberal arts degrees to a select few men in a prison about 40 miles west of my home. To prepare, in late July I read College in Prison by Dan Karpowitz, which became Book #10 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge (though it wasn’t on the list). Karpowitz is a gentleman writer, so my thoughts on his book have been published on Goodreads.
The first round of training to teach in the prison setting is all about communication and physical defense. I was scheduled to do my training in the prison for three days last week. The first day, I was not allowed in the gate due to a paperwork mix-up. The second day I did physical training for five hours, led by an instructor who commanded respect, but greatly intimidated me with his (necessary) demands for no-nonsense or weakness. As a fat woman, I am more determined to not quit in physical situations like self-defense training simply (or vainly?) to prove to that fat people aren’t lazy. However, other physical issues cropped up, and I started to fade in class, which led to me almost passing out. The intensity of the setting (prison, demanding instructor, a swampy building with no air, disturbing stories about what can go wrong in such a facility) plus admitting to myself that I couldn’t give 100% affected me deeply. I don’t quit. I don’t complain. When I got home, I didn’t speak to my husband. I tried Twitter, but it felt silly. I went to bed at 8:30 to get ready for the next day of training at 7:00am and an hour drive away. During this time, I read nothing.
This Saturday, I read the shortest book I picked for my #20BooksofSummer challenge, which was given to me by Susan Stinson, called Belly Songs: In Celebration of Fat Women. Truly, the book was gifted to me, which makes me immediately biased because Stinson’s kindness touched my heart. I knew the book was out of print, but Stinson noted that the book is rare; thus I can’t convince you to read the beautiful pages because you won’t find them. It’s not even on Amazon. I feel delighted that Susan Stinson trusted me with her work.
This 44-page collection has poetry, essays, and very short fiction and includes an introduction by Elena Dykewomon and gorgeous cover art done in charcoal (1985) by Don Stinson.
Stinson celebrates the folds of her fat body in a way that leads the reader to reexamine her own fat and not only accept it, but see beauty. The word “soft” appears frequently, and the more I read it, the more softened I felt toward my own body. Stinson evokes whales and their mighty, thick tongues. She explores the geography of the desert southwest in the United States and how it grows and ripples. She also recounts personal stories, such as the time a boy threw a dart at her belly. The dart stuck in, and when Stinson’s mother took her to the doctor’s for fear of tetanus, the doctor remarked this little girl in front of him was too fat to sustain damage.
Stinson’s work is what I really want to find during my 2017 goal to read more fat fiction. Her sentences don’t simply disregard fat, but celebrate it. I may applaud a book with a fat character who doesn’t make a big deal out of her fat body — simply because this is so much better than books in which women diet or date their way into self-worth — but I know writers have a long, long way to go to get to where Susan Stinson was in 1993 when she published Belly Songs. I’ll leave you with a short poem:
Fat girls let your shirts ride up
Lie down on the cold spring dirt
and get mud on your fat backs
I love it. ❤ If the name Susan Stinson sounds familiar, you may remember my review of her novel Fat Girl Dances with Rocks from earlier this year.