I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being “visibly invisible.” A lot of folks complain about being overweight, and talk about how much they hate themselves for it, but frankly I enjoy the invisibility of it. I don’t like getting hit on by strangers, harassed in the street, or even complimented on my looks by folks who aren’t my close friends or spouse. While being fat doesn’t end these things by any means, being fat and older has reduced these instances by a large margin, for me, and I love it. It’s reduced it enough that I’m often surprised when I realize I’m being hit on or followed by some creep. Like, really, don’t you have something better to do?
Being so very visible now at conventions and online means that I value being invisible elsewhere all the more. I’m an introvert, and I don’t want to be stared at or sized up. I just want to be left alone in the world to write my books and live my life. I’m already under a lot of pressure when I’m online, which is, frankly, exhausting. As someone in a monogamous relationship that we both dig, I also dread those awkward conversations at cons when you get tested out about whether or not you’d be interested in a threesome or something. And I just want to yell, “LEAVE ME ALONE WITH MY DRINK!” like 800% of the time (I still remember a weird conversation at a convention years ago in which I told an inquiring mind that “S&M really isn’t my scene” and the look of SHEER DISAPPOINTMENT on his face was priceless. My work is fiction, people!). While I also now get less of those, they haven’t totally gone away, either. Being fat doesn’t “protect” you from people any more than being skinny or awkward or whatever. But it makes me FEEL better, I have to admit, to be outside of norm.
And when I AM noticed in the wider world it reminds me that weight as a cushion against the world is no better than shelling off weight to fit “correctly” in the world. My drinking in particular had gotten rather out of hand after the election last year, and it’s taken some time to curtail that. Eliminating the drinking also helped me lose a few pounds, which to be dead honest, has become necessary for me to continue flying coach on airplanes. I’ve dropped about 20 pounds simply to make it easier to fly. The world does not like fat people in it; everything is designed around you fitting into a narrowly defined box.
Releasing that weight did get me back into healthier habits, and led me to consider why I found the weight itself so comforting in this uncertain world. I’ve put on about 100 lbs since 2011, which is also, COINCIDENTLY the same year my first novel, God’s War, came out, and I started a super high stress but well paying day job. This is a rough business, and you’re continually wondering what it is you’re either doing wrong or will do wrong. Sales are fickle. Your audience takes decades to build but can be lost overnight with one dumb tweet. Add in the fear and anxiety around losing health insurance if I was laid off, and honestly, being fat feels like a suit of armor most days. And fuck knows I feel I need it. It’s like I’m carrying the very weight of all of my responsibilities around with me. The weight of my health, my need for health insurance, the mortgage, the need to save for retirement, the tax bills, the novel deadlines, the credit card bills, the medical debt, the word deadlines, the commitments I’ve made to conventions and anthologies and other writers for various things. Literalizing that weight feels right, to me. It’s heavy.
I have been plowing forward full steam ahead with my novels and day job and patreon, and that doesn’t leave time for much else. But I’ve taken tentative steps now, at least, to stop numbing the world so much. This also means understanding when to say no to opportunities and travel. I had to cancel a few more things this year and early next because it just wasn’t healthy or realistic for me. My doctor had started making concerned noises the last year or so, as my blood pressure was going up for the first time (it has since come down) and my blood sugar was suffering (it has since gotten better). Bad habits pile up, and if I want to be around to write more books, I need to alter those habits… and stop carrying around so much of the weight of the world on my shoulders. However safe it feels, it’s an illusion, just like the drinking.
Traveling to Sweden at the end of May was a lovely trip, and I found myself relaxing, eating and drinking reasonably, and walking endlessly, just enjoying the incredible weather and the wonderful people. I imagined what it would be like to live in a country without feeling like so much was weighing me down. Imagine knowing that your healthcare is paid for, and you’ll have enough care in your old age. Imagine having six weeks off a year, and sick leave. Imagine all this weight you’re carrying, all this fear and anxiety, being mitigated.
Certainly every place has its downsides, but getting outside our bubble here for the first time since 2013 was really valuable, to me. It reminded me that there are other ways to live that aren’t the hard grind of the American system, the one that encourages one to overwork until you fall over. I’ll never forget an old boss of mine telling the story of a coworker who was literally still working on things as he was hauled out on a stretcher by paramedics because he’d had a heart attack. This wasn’t told as a horror story, but a story of grit and persistence. A very American story. But that’s the story that results in us dying a lot sooner than people in other Western countries. And I’m not keen on dying for a long time yet. I have a lot of fucking books to write.
I want to learn to work smarter, not harder, the way that I know is possible. I don’t want to carry as much of my fear and anxiety and disappointment around with me. I want to believe in a better life. I know I have to build it, sure. What’s tough is in realizing that sometimes building that life means that you do nothing. You rest. You sleep. You paint. You walk. You laugh. You take your time. And that, the doing nothing, is the toughest part, for me. When you do nothing, you must feel everything.