Friday, March 11, 2011

Feeder: A Love Story and My Story

On Sunday I saw a preview of James Carter's "Feeder" with my friend at the HERE Arts Center. It's a two-person show about co-dependency, love, and food. The boyfriend is the feeder. He has a love of big women and begins dating a woman who he encourages to eat more and more food so she'll gain weight. The woman is the Feed'ee I guess. She has low self-esteem that gets validated by the feeder and numbed by junk food. The two live an idyllic existence of co-dependency until the woman's body starts to break down at around 700 lbs. She's telekidnapped by a talk show hosts and sent to a weight-loss facility for the sake of a show special. The show tracks back and forth between the present misery of their separation and flashbacks to the Feed'ee gaining weight as she dates the Feeder.

I felt both compelled and repulsed by "Feeder" and that's a compliment. I think that's the vibe Carter was going for in this story. I was repulsed by the level of gluttony and sickness. There were moments when I just wanted to leave because the descriptions of the food was so enormous that it made me sick to think about someone eating all that, and aware that there are people out there doing just that. As someone who had and still has issues with food, I come from a long line of foodaphiles. In the Black community we like to sweeten things by calling it soul food and comfort, but most of what fits in that category is quite disgusting and unhealthy. The past few years I've been a vegetarian and have never felt better. That has eliminated a lot of the junk from my diet and caused me to be more conscientious about what I'm eating. But there is still sweets, which is a constant threat against meditation and wellness.

I'm not as bad as I was in the past when it comes to sugar, but I still have a ways to go. As I've grown older, some of that compulsion has gone away and now been replaced by cravings for sour and spicy foods. I satiate this in a lot of stir fry vegetable dishes and steamed meals that I garnish with pickled preserves or exotic curries. Health-ier, simple, more protein, and vitamins. I feel amazing in comparison to my early twenties when I was constantly bloated, gassy, sluggish, and tired. When I sleep I really sleep. When I'm awake, I'm mostly awake. Along with being a vegetarian I'm staying away from more breads, cheeses, and eggs. Yesterday I had a sandwich on white bread and then white potatoes that came with the banana. Wow. Not good and it made me realize how infrequently I eat white bread.

My weaknesses are still pizza and fries. But to think about where I've been and now to think that I have occasional cravings for pizza and fries, then it's amazing. The change in my diet wasn't just calorie counting. It was a change in my reaction and use of food. It's strange that it took me so long to realize this, but food is just meant for energy. That's it. If I'm not using food for energy then something is amiss.

As a child I didn't really think about the purpose of food. I was too busy eating it. And in not thinking about the purpose, I began to create my own for food. Comfort, numbing, excitement, reward, punishment, escape. These became the purposes of food for me. I escaped into it and comforted myself. The nutrients and energy was secondary to the emotional love attached to food. It was a strange compulsion and I think my parents have the same issue.

I wasn't worth love and was scared of it from other people. Food was my lover. It didn't talk to me, reject me, or criticize. I just ingested it and felt taken care of by the scents and tastes. And never fully satisfied, I would ingest more and more.

In short I was the Feeder and the Feed'ee. I was feeding myself and -as a result- imprisoning my body and my life. Fortunately I did have a saving grace: my love of sports. Tennis, football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, I always had a natural connection to activity. At a certain point it was sports or food. And in my teenage years sports won out. I became quite lean and muscular. All-state athlete, dancer, mover. And from sports, I began exploring the energy behind it: sex. In college I made the transition and now I needed to be somewhat appealing to a partner. I couldn't just indulge in my first love because I craved the interaction of competitive sports, weight lifting, as well as sex. The gay community is very ruthless when it comes to body image, so a certain level that fascism kept me in check. I critiqued my body, deprived myself of food, not because I had figured out its purpose. I deprived myself in order to get the reward in other men.

And then from sex, I discovered spirituality. Imagine that. From the depths of my compulsion I stumbled into Venerable Lobsang Chunzom. In our first one-on-one meeting she read my mind and was commenting on sexual purity. It was done in a very gentle manner and I was scared. Could she see it on me? I had been good that week, been relatively clean. Did I smell of it or was it something in what I said or did? I'll never know. But I began taking in the suggestions, all done with laser-point skill. I began keeping a vow book, meditating, studying and then at certain point I faced another crossroad: sex or spirituality. I couldn't go on substituting sex for when I felt emotions and keep a steady meditation practice. Slowly I made the transition away from sex as a drug to mask emotions. And now it comes full circle. From food, to sports, to sex, to spirituality, all of it was done from something lacking. But they don't have to contradict each other or fight. The three S's can work together.

I dance at Alvin Ailey and love the physical aspect of losing myself in the drums and movement. To me that is both athletic and deeply sensual. Spiritually I'm mindful of what I eat, where my lustful mind wanders, and what I do with my body. Underneath it all was not feeling love and trying to feed the hungry mouth.

I'm thinking about all this as I watch "Feeder." This was my attraction and repulsion with the story. I related to it all too well. It scared me and intrigued me. There are no easy endings when it comes to the feeding. The only thing I can do is to ask myself why I'm feeding. The feeding of food, of love, of dance, of art. Is it to give me energy and life? Am I feeding in a conscious way that sweetens my mind? Or am I feeding to stop thinking, to stay numb, to escape?

At the end of "Feeder" the couple breaks up. Their relationship wasn't sustainable because it wasn't based in love. In dysfunction, the dynamic is built to fail. The parts don't fit. There is an inequality in which one side will eventually overwhelm and consume the other. In this case, the Feed'ee had to choose between her life and her co-dependent lover. If she would have chosen the lover, she would have lost her body and life. When she choose herself, the lover couldn't continue to passively entrap her through feeding. His desires were killing her. My own desires were killing me because they were based in dysfunction and compulsion. They were meant to overwhelm and consume me. But for today, I have pulled back from the brink. I am no longer letting myself be fed by dysfunctional needs. And the dysfunction can not sustain itself unless it's also fed.

Animals feed. Mindlessly and in a primal gluttony. I have the chance today to eat, to enjoy, to love.

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