Searching for something to write about for the blog today, I scrolled futilely through dozens of old pieces of writing. I thought ‘maybe I can just recycle something or maybe I’ll be ‘inspired’… But nothing pops for me. Too many pieces that are examinations of past miseries and I want to be done with that stuff, in the same way I do not want to dwell on the results of the election. Gotta move on somehow.    trails1

Another batch of the old writing, which I find more interesting, relates to my long-standing project of collecting Food Life Stories. I must say that ‘long-standing’ is an apt description, because it seems that the endeavor has been standing still for months. Months which add up to years.

A conversation with friends at supper last night rekindled my excitement about conducting the interviews and gathering these stories. But I still don’t know how I can use the raw, first person data I’ve accumulated.      I need a writing coach!         Wait, I am a writing coach. Physician, heal thyself.

I think I’ve returned to the topic of time. I’ve already acknowledged that managing money was never a strength of mine.   Many years spent reading what writers have to say about writing has underscored the fact that it takes commitment and sacrifice to write. I have echoed this simple fact endlessly during four decades of teaching writing and coaching writers. To cop a line from the Declaration of Independence… I hold this truth to be self-evident…

Perhaps I am stuck on the sacrifice, as much as the commitment. To give up time with friends and family seems impossible. To deny my desires to read, cook, garden, nap or (now) draw can seem equally difficult. So, once again I conclude that I am not really a writer. And I trash myself and my aspirations.

Yeah, how’s that working out for you, CJ?        nablopomo_badge_2016

Well, its not.

Post Script: D’ruther

I think I was a bit negative in the first part of Sunday evening’s blog post. The “Should/Don’Wanna” inner dialog is so familiar to me and perhaps to others as well. But what I didn’t include, in fact I removed it from the title line, was: “D’ruther”. And that omission is important because that’s what was really stumping me. The question is/was: “What would I rather do, instead of the Shoulds?”   It’s all well and good to whine and rebel against the (perceived) Shoulds with a petulant ‘Don’Wanna. It’s childish, but perfectly understandable from time-to-time.

But the grownup me, the one that has learned its okay to refuse some Shoulds, some of the time, (see 4/2/14 post…) is involved in a larger life lesson about choice. What do I want to do? To quote the esteemed and astonishing poet Mary Oliver: Tell me what it is YOU plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Might be the best question ever. But… Here’s the thing; at age 60+ it no longer seems like a question of planning, at least not long term planning. It’s about today and now.

Today is when my wild and precious life is happening, and choices abound. Forgive me if I have previously shared this quote from another esteemed writer, Ellen Goodman (formerly of the Boston Globe). Some years ago, I believe it was on the occasion of Hilary Clinton’s 50th birthday, she wrote these words: “Pick carefully and boldly… Triage what you want to do and what you want to quit… Live intentionally.”

Live intentionally; that’s what I want to do. Goodman’s essay also included these words of encouragement: “Leap and the net will appear.” Hmm. In my last post I stopped my self at the brink, before plunging into the dark abyss. But if I rotate my self, my perspective just slightly, the view is quite different. I see that I am on the brink of a new choice; standing on the ledge of possibility, not hopelessness. Really, why bother with hopelessness at my age? Isn’t existential angst for the young? Elders want to fly, or at least leap.

So, its time to face the D’ruther question head on. When I was unexpectedly and unwillingly unemployed five years ago, I presented myself with three possibilities: Study homeopathy, Start a business or Write. Sometimes I think that I have been spinning in circles ever since. However, as I whirl around, I haven’t drilled a hole in the ground. I’ve traveled a small distance. I think the famous dervishes also travel across the floor; and I’ve read that their spinning takes them into an altered state of consciousness.

I know how to write. I have always written. I cannot imagine my life without writing. I have (reluctantly) been working to acquire and strengthen some necessary skills: self-care, along with diminished care-taking of others; the urgent and delicate art of triage; saying ‘no’ and pushing through resistance (sometimes known as discipline), to name a few. I’ve even experimented with ‘reading until I am bored’, something I did not think was possible. These efforts have helped me to clear the space, literal and hugely figurative, to make writing a focus.

Now I seek the magic to maintain a belief in my self worth, that I have something to say and the ability to say it. Or when I occasionally (ha!) lack that strength, to rally my stubbornness and write anyway. I do know what I want to do. I know. I’m just scared.

The Middle

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am in the process of revising the pages on this website.  This is the first part of that draft.  The Eeyore drawings are for my mother and a writer friend. eeyore on head

I don’t know if this is actually The Middle, but in a way, that’s how it feels. Anyway, this is what follows The Beginning, as posted on this EAW website. Along the Way or In Process, any of these would be apt titles. It began, four or five years ago with a drawing pad on which I did randomly inspired drawings of food, encircled by writing, having a conversation with food; which itself grew out of a (still un-evolved, that is, un-promoted) consulting business and the ‘discovery’ that everyone has a Food Life Story. This project has led me deeper and deeper into my self, my own story, my writing and healing. Other circumstances have aided and abetted this process. All of these gifts, these open doors, some arriving unbidden, but welcome and some actively sought, have grown and expanded my inner and outer lives, producing changes.

And the largest changes have manifested in the writing, here. A few years ago, I began blogging. On the AaCL (Assembling a Cooking Life) site I was sharing ideas about creating a more pleasurable cooking life, given that “Everyone eats, so someone has to cook…” It was intended as promotion for the consulting business and in it’s way, it was satisfying. But I guess my heart wasn’t really in it; I’ve never been much for self-promotion. I was also blogging here on the EAW (Eating Art Work) site, journaling my way through the pages of drawings I had already done.

Now that I think about it that was the beginning of the middle. The writing was personal, albeit carefully edited. Taking baby steps into the world: putting my words, thoughts and feelings out there. My story. That too was sometimes satisfying. Satisfying, however, is not, was not, fulfilling. I was not fed by the effort. Simultaneously, the needs of my elderly father and the miserable chain of our mutual his-tory were draining me. And the slightly appealing and slight success of an EAW business, producing and selling products using the drawings I had done, was distracting, as well as time-consuming.

eeyore & poohWere these distractions false turns, tangents, and ‘wastes’ of time? I have thought that; I have railed against the draining, the siphoning off of my sap; to what end? Hindsight has made it clear that I had to complete that journey with my father, to the bitter end. After decades of submission to misery, I had to spend some time with him while I was aware of my anger. That was the only path to eventual self-healing. Was it fun? No. Was it necessary for growth? It most certainly was.

Back to the…

One thing that I’ve realized lately – actually the awareness has been there for some time, but I kept pushing it aside – is that I want to return to some of the early parts of the Eating Art Work & Food Life Story project.  I want to make the time to do drawings of food again, because I enjoy doing that.  Initially, as you may know, I always had a conversation with the food item, as part of the drawing, as the completion of the drawing. The words that I wrapped around the food image were (are) what makes them mine:  they speak for me.

Then I got caught up in the business of using the drawings on products.  Not only was (am) I spending a lot of time sewing kitchen towels and printing note cards (etc), but as a business person, I saw that while some people loved the words with the drawings, some preferred the drawings alone.  So I began to craft for a market, instead of my self.

This is when the buzzer sounds.  I won’t call it a mistake; it was clearly a choice to step away from the conversation part of the project.  But it has haunted me a little… going all the way back to the sugar snap pea drawing (almost two years ago now?) the drawings have felt naked, unfinished, abandoned.  Don’t get me wrong, a number of the newer drawings are favorites… but some thing is missing.  The talk.

I want to get back to that element.  First to revisit and complete the old ones. Then there are so many foods I’m eager to draw… onions, eggs, curly kale… to name a few.  So that’s one thing that I am publicly stating as an intention.  There are a couple of new products I’ve been playing with, as well as crafting the ones already on my etsy site.  But I don’t want the business to take precedence over the project, or alter the project work any more.

Another element of the original project was interviewing people about their food life stories.  I LOVE doing that.  Perhaps even a bit more than the drawing, because I have always been passionate about hearing people’s stories.  I have almost a dozen people who have agreed to be interviewed and I haven’t made time for that in more than a year.  There are also the recordings from the initial set of 15 interviews, waiting for my attention.  Writing about those interviews is both daunting and exciting; but I need to make the time!

As I’m breaking free of some of the old shame that slows me down, energy is released.  I intend to use that burst of juice to re-examine what I want this project to be, what I have to say and how I want to spend my time to express my story.  Okay, that’s it for tonight.  Thanks for being there.

Assembling a Cooking Life

I’ve been working on a section of my food life story that takes place when I was in my twenties.  Those were years when I was working professionally as a cook and/or baker.  I was also living with a group of friends, contentedly cooking vegetarian fare and learning, by doing, the meaning of home and hearth.  Cooking was central to our lives, of course.  Post-college there were no more dining hall meals; far from our parent’s homes (literally or figuratively) the duty fell upon our selves.  We had weekly responsibilities for every aspect of a cooking life, from working a shift at the food coop, to doing the shopping there and hauling the bags and boxes home (up a long steep flight of stairs from the Central Square Food Coop.) A shopping list of foodstuffs was created by the group, with consideration of the needs and desires of each member.  That alone was quite a learning process.

Once home, the perishables were refrigerated, the staples poured into their pantry jars and someone would begin to cook supper, a task we each did one night a week.  And of course, after supper there was the washing up.  I don’t believe we were really aware of participating in a daily rite-of-passage from child to adult.  Looking back, I see that finding our way, expressing our own preferences and adapting to those of others in the matter of food is a central aspect of developing an independent life.

One evening, as I carried food from the kitchen into the dining room, which was in a drafty, glass-enclosed porch space, one step down from the rest of the first floor, I had my first conscious epiphan-ette.  Simple, powerful and a sensation that is as alive for me today, almost 40 years later, as it was then.  I’m going to tell you, but it may not ‘hit’ you with the internal combustion that I experienced that evening.  In fact, having never thought about this event quite so intently before, I realize what I experienced could be called mindfulness.

peasoupHere’s what happened that evening, as I was carrying a pot of Split Pea Soup or pan of Spinach Lasagna, or platter of Walnut Cheddar Loaf, or Falafel, or Three Precious Fried Rice.  As I carried it carefully across the uneven floor toward the dim, cozy, ramshackle room, filled with laughing and chatter,  voice, far older than my years said to me:  “Pay attention now.  This is it; these are the times that hold the powerful magic.  The routine times, not the special events, that’s when our lives are lived and built.  Be awake and cherish the day-after-day repeated gatherings.”  And so I did.  I can still feel the deep thrill, filling-my-body with juicy emotion: the satisfaction of that moment.  And I am grateful.

How is this my food life story?  I cook for others for the satisfaction of feeding.  I cook for the sensory pleasure of handling delicious ingredients.  I cook for the olfactory delight of the chemistry wrought by combining foods with heat.  I am ever-hungry for new ideas, hearing what others have created in their kitchens.  I share my own experiments and how-to’s to spread the joy around; to see others light up with possibilities and the fun to be had.

Everyone eats, so someone has to cook.  There are so many pitfalls available in our contemporary food culture, from culinary excesses to nutritional deficits.  The processed food industrial complex and their advertising cohort pound us with deception, alarm, seduction and fear.  The practical foodways of our ancestors certainly had their drawbacks, but of necessity, they also got some things right.  We can’t go back.  Eating more locally, with fresher food is a huge plus, but the world is far too global now to turn back the hands of time.  Nor do I wish to.  I believe we can move forward into a simpler time, when the essential human pleasures of cooking and eating are grounding, not fracturing.

Making stock and taking stock

This post might be more appropriate for my Assembling a Cooking Life website, sister to this Eating Art Work site.  However, since this is where I have currently pledged to post regularly, here it is, a small piece of my Food Life Story:

Three reasons why I make chicken stock.  broth

First of all, it’s a thrifty thing to do and in a strange way, I enjoy pulling the meat off of the bones of a roasted chicken and plunking those bones into a pot of water, like the old timers. Sometimes I stockpile the little carcasses in the freezer until I have enough to make a good size pot ‘o stock.  I do call them ‘chicken bodies’, which some people find unappealing, but it’s my attempt to use humor as a defense.

You see, I was a vegetarian for a long time, (back when it was considered an odd ball thing to do, but I’m not telling that story here.)  I want to tell the story of learning to cut a whole chicken into its parts.  This happened when I was a very serious veg, but I also had very serious financial issues (read:  living with a bf who was a ‘musician’ and therefore found himself unable to work any job that would earn money for us to live on…)

So, I took any work I could find and one job was working as a cook in a small nursing home.  It was tiny, only eight men in a private home that had been modified to meet the (minimal, 1970’s) state standards.  Hall Rest Home existed because X had married a man 30 years her senior and when he could no longer work and required a quasi-medical setting, this was her answer:  take in seven other old men and earn her living that way.  Oh my, so many stories about that place, from the first interview, when I should have seen the writing on the wall and run away as fast as I could, to the seven grain horse feed…

But I digress.  Of course she purchased whole chickens (cheaper), but the Mrs. did not know what to do with them.  So my lesson in cutting up a chicken was taught by the ailing octogenarian, Dr. Hall.  (He had been a dentist.)  The raw bird was placed on the hospital table beside his bed and it was there that he instructed me how to pull out the leg and slice between the thigh and the breast.  Followed by bending each leg back until the thighbone popped out of its socket.  Oh yes, the sounds and sensations of chopping through the bones of a slimy chicken body were quite an education for my sensitive veggie self.  But I did it, guided by that old man in his pajamas, unable to sit up on his own, his quiet trembling voice describing each step.  Nowadays I do eat fowl and I relive that surreal experience every time I carve up a bird, raw or cooked.

The second reason I make chicken stock is because it smells so darn good and is the best way to use up the sad little celery, carrot and parsnip units in my refrigerator.  An onion, some salt, bay leaf and thyme, maybe a couple of tired garlic cloves and irresistible, mouth-watering scents fill the house.

And the third reason is because it thrills me to have those plump little ziptop bags stashed in the freezer, neatly marked with Chicken (or Turkey) Broth and the date.  The stock from the Thanksgiving turkey has become a traditional part of the New Years Day pot of rice, greens and black-eyed peas.  But tonight, with the temp outside in the single digits and my forty-fifth head cold of the winter kicking my butt, I will thaw a baggie of that golden liquid, mix up some matzo balls and put supper on the table.  matzoballs

So, from the pleasure of being a thrifty gal to reveling in olfactory bliss to selfcare when my engine is out of juice, those are the three reasons I make chicken stock.

Defining shame

from Shame, by Gershen Kaufman.

“To feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense.  The self feels exposed… to anyone… present.  It is this sudden, unexpected feeling of exposure and accompanying self-consciousness that characterizes the essential nature of the affect of shame.  Contained in the experience of shame is the piercing awareness of ourselves as fundamentally deficient in some vital way, as a human being.”     

In this country, we are inundated daily by weight-loss diet suggestions, from every media source and of course, ‘well-meaning’ friends, family and strangers.  Sometimes I can tune them out angrily and sometimes I am lured by the promises.  Why?  I know the answer and it’s the reason why the diet biz is so profitable.  We want to look and feel the way that we are told we should be.  Vicious cycle.

The above quote includes a word that keeps appearing as I study shame:  deficient.  As in, not efficient?  A guess.  Even if that were the word’s root, that’s not how the word is heard and used, not the familiar connotation.  I think ‘deficient’ is pretty clear:  less than.    Worth less.  Oh… worth less, two words and the combination word:   worthless.  Eww.

Deficient: not having enough of a specified quality, insufficient or inadequate; lacking, limited; defective, faulty, flawed, imperfect, inferior, substandard, second-rate)

So, is it primarily about appearance?  Well, its certainly about judgement, the belief that one thing, in this case, one person is of greater value than another.  Is this not the foundation of racism, as well as sexism/patriarchy, class-ism or any form of bigotry?  One person or type of person is considered to be worth more, is more valuable than another.  Without going into particulars, I will simply state that the messages I took in as a young woman led me to believe that I was deficient.  I will note that I do not generally feel this way anymore, b u t… the shreds are still there, tenacious.

Like the shreds of a plastic bag that cling to the twigs of the maple tree outside my window.  It has been at least two or three years since a white plastic grocery bag first caught in the upper branches.  That shredded bag, or now, just shreds of a bag, is symbolic.  Scouring winds and weather have reduced the size and presumably the strength of the plastic bag, but it remains.  In fact, I would not be surprised if some tree bark has grown over a bit of the bag.  Trees do that.  If something is there long enough, it’s claimed.  It becomes part of the plant/tree.

So, following this metaphor, these crappy, shredded, negative beliefs about my self have grown into my body, in ways both literal and figurative.  They cannot be willed away, wished away or even with the strongest intention – hurricane force winds – eradicated.    The image has its limits.  For now, I am engaged in remembering, seeing, naming and source-seeking.  Without these steps, I don’t think I can lose the shame.  It must be seen, named and sourced.

If doubt arises

So, here is what has been happening…

I have been working daily, writing out some of the ugly stories of abuse regarding body size, weight and appearance from my youth.   These are incidents that have clung to me, stuck with me all these years and which played a significant role in my belief that I was unworthy.  After writing the blog daily for a month, it became obvious that I had to unearth and expose – not publicly, but for myself – these toxic experiences.  So that’s what I set out to do.

I’ve been trying to write them out with the same commitment that I’ve used with my Eating Art Work drawings:  no judgment.  Yes, I hear voices – particularly of my family members – who disagree with my reconstruction of events.  I’m okay with that.  Because it’s clear we all experience events differently, even in the present moment.  Therefore, it’s to be expected that our memories of events are different.  What I am writing is what I remember experiencing, as in feeling, not just a recitation of facts.

At first, there was a sense of almost giddy relief/release in getting these words on the page/screen.  I am purposely NOT rereading as I go along; using a technique I encourage student & client writers to use, blacking out the screen.  That way everything is fresh, not predigested, with all the life worried/edited out of it.  There is so much to say, I’m not at risk of running dry anytime soon, now that I’ve set myself to the task.

Ah, but there is a price.  As with any committed writing task, you begin to live with your characters or your topic, all day and all night, away from the keyboard.  So there is this yucky sensation, kind of a slimy, greasy film that settles over me or has settled into me.  I guess it’s the toxicity.  But it has bloomed into self-doubt.

Toxic bloom… the expression rang a bell.  It’s used to describe the algae that grow in fresh water lakes and tidal areas of the ocean.  Runoff from human waste and pesticides are considered major causal factors.  I was struck by this language:   “One thing [we] know for sure is that [toxic] blooms can cause dead zones. In Lake Erie’s central basin, the algae can die and sink to the bottom. Bacteria eat up that dead algae and rob the water of oxygen at the bottom of the lake.”  (Taken from: Warmer Waters Fuel Toxic Algal Blooms In The Great Lakes: Wisconsin Public Radio News-Nov 26, 2013)

Okay, so what I’m doing here may seem like a stretch, but I’m trying to express how the toxicity of these long ago experiences robbed me of oxygen, inhibited my growth and caused dead zones in my psychological development.  The self-doubt I am experiencing today is not a questioning of my memory; it is a recurrence of doubting my self-worth.   The “WHO cares? WHY write this stuff? WHAT is the point?” questions are flying around in my head, shouting.  It’s not that I’m actually listening to these voices, it’s just that they are so loud.

Fortunately, the cross-fertilization thing is happening again. This quote from the yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar came my way.  “If doubt arises, … let it come. You do your work, and let doubt go about its work. Let’s see which one gives up first.”

So, that’s my plan.  Tomorrow, I will invite doubt to come in and hang out while I get on with my writing.  Sounds a little goofy, but if I can exorcize the long nurtured and toxic self-doubt of my youth by writing out these ugly tales, then I’m thinking that today’s self-doubt will lose much of its energy.  I’ll let you know.


Have you noticed that when you commit to exploring or doing something, when you set an intention to really open up and take risks… there seems to be a lot of synchronicity, all of the sudden?  About this time last year, as the exhausting holiday season of selling Eating Art Work design products came to a close, I decided that I would set aside time in January & February for writing.  Within days, I saw a posting for an online class about Food Writing.  Seemed like a good way to learn, to practice not being the teacher/coach in a writing environment and to hear what others had to say, in their work and in their feedback on my work.  The door appeared, was easy to push open (paying for things online – as retailers know – is frightfully easy) and so I entered.

The actual six-week class experience had it’s ups and downs.  I learned that it was challenging to let go of my teacher-self in any writing environment.  But on balance, it was a great door to open & enter.  I met the women who now form my bi-weekly online/teleconference writing group.  Although my Food Life Story writing didn’t exactly fit into the traditional food writing genres:  restaurant reviews, recipe development, cookbooks, food memoirs or magazine articles, I felt safe, heard and at home.  The class ended, but it’s been an absolutely wonderful year working with these women, as we each develop our focus and voice. I believe we all hope to continue ‘meeting’ for a long time and to meet face-to-face (from our far-flung locales) in the not too distant future.

Synchronicity and intention have brought me a fabulous new connection with an old friend who has become a writing ally.  Wide-ranging conversations about our lives and the thoughts, feelings and ideas that are emerging as we embrace being in our 60’s, have produced more strands of inquiry than I’ll ever be able to explore.  But each one leads to more and the fertility is, quite honestly, breath-taking, head-spinning-ly fabulous.

If you have read any of these blog posts, you know that NaBloPoMo was another door that popped up, popped open and gave me a terrific jump start.  My teeth are firmly engaged in daily writing on the book I’ve been talking about for several years.  Big yahoo!
The lovely and loving world of books has welcomed me since I was very young.  I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have entered, yet again, into the ideas and words of others.  One after another, books from a wide variety of disciplines have appeared over the past couple of years, and with increasing frequency in the last six months, to nourish and expand my thinking.

De-constructing shame is still my topic and goal, but it is exciting to uncover more and more of the the spiritual, linguistic, political, historical, cultural, psychological and personal aspects of this quest(ion).

PS:  about the title… one of the ways I love to play with words is by taking them apart and/or mispronouncing them.  Cheap thrills?  I love to say Gal-a-PAY-goes (Islands) and watch people squirm, wanting to correct me.  I recently played around with the pronunciation of Gore-GONE-zo-lah (cheese) at a party with people I did not know.  They thought I was strange.

Theater seats

I’ve always liked the Cooks Illustrated magazine a lot.  I’ve previously mentioned that I enjoy reading Chris Kimball’s letters in the front of each issue.  I also love the fact that the magazine has no advertising – so no need for me to analyze their food industry politics, as I did with Cooking Light.  Their independence from sponsors is refreshing.  I enjoy the detailed walking-me-through the recipe development articles.  And I love, love, love both the “Kitchen Notes” section and the “Quick Tips” submitted by readers.  It’s all very down to earth and person-to-person.

Just spent 90 minutes at an event featuring the staff of America’s Test Kitchen, the folks who publish the magazine, as well as producing the ATK TV and radio shows and the sister magazine, Cook’s Country.  I laughed and I (figuratively) drooled and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Kimball and his crew are all very personable and I could have listened to them chat about their work for hours – if the seats in the old Brattle Theater had been slightly less painful.

I am so bitterly tired of uncomfortable seating, on planes, in restaurants and theaters.  Those new-fangled [sic] cup holderscupholder that were added to the already narrow old seats in theaters make wedging myself into the seat a real production.  And I was not the largest soul in the crowd tonight, nor in the restaurant with the in-laws on Thanksgiving.

I loved hearing a bit of the back story for each of the Test Kitchen folks tonight.  It would be such fun to interview them about their Food Life Stories.  In fact, Adam Reid, one of the ATK staff, is the friend of a friend and agreed some time ago to let me interview him.  Guess I need to get on that!  So eager to get back to my interview list, in general.  Time.

I have been able to get more deeply into the writing this week.  NaBloPoMo really did give me the jump start I had been seeking.  These twice weekly posts may have a different tone for a while, a little less soul-baring, but I have also learned, by experiencing (is there any other way to truly learn?) the value of writing in this public voice and hitting that ‘Publish’ button.  So, thank you again to WordPress & BogHer for the structured challenge.  And thank you to any readers who are curious, as I am, to see where this Food Life Story project will take me.