Thursday, May 31, 2012

Forgive Me Doctor, For I Have Sinned

One of the things that is lost with electronic books and readers is the physical page, and all that it can provide. It’s not just that writing is printed on the page; it’s that the page has margins, gutters, corners and numbers. You can interact with a page, decorating its borders with marginalia, turning down its dog-ears, and staining it with your life. Even a very roughed-up book is still a book that can be read. The page can become a palimpsest of layers forming a more complex narrative for having been read.

Sometimes, a found book can carry with it the detritus of someone else’s life — a forgotten bookmark or recipe hiding within the  pages waiting to be released.

Tucked into the page of Dr. Stillman’s disastrous diet book that offers his response to common excuses for those falling off the diet wagon is a slip of paper bearing dense, penciled notes on Latin vocabulary acting as a bookmark. The page it marks bears this confession:

“I’ve been a bad girl, I ate like mad.”

Was the girl bad because she ate like mad, or did she eat like mad because she had been a bad girl? The possibilities are intriguing. It’s an intimate confession that ties behavior — possibly sinful behavior — with consumption, loaded with guilt. This is a very old chain of events: the Eucharist acts as a form of redemption through the consumption of bread, the transubstantiated body of Christ. At the alter rail, you are only allowed one meltingly thin host, which must suffice for all the bad behavior you can think of.

This confession also reeks of the idea that the eating itself was bad. The girl didn’t simply overeat or fall off her diet; she “ate like mad,” implying a loss of control with which her rational mind could not compete. Eating like mad is akin to bingeing, which only serves to stuff the eater with anything to push the guilt out.

Perhaps the girl was simply ravenous, having only consumed 600 calories all day on her liquid diet, and was playing catch-up to survive. Perhaps she bristles when she reads Dr. Stillman call her kind “heavies,” and “overweights.”

comedamus et bibamus cras enim moriemur

The Doctor’s Weight Loss Diet, Irwin Maxwell Stillman, MD, and Samm Sinclair Baker, 1969

Also from this book: Little Drummer Girl
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