Wrapping up…

This is the third and final part of ‘The MIddle’, which will soon appear as a separate page on this website.  Reading the previous two posts, along with this one, may make more sense.  Anyway, picking up where I left off on 4/2…

So, I was primed: emotionally clearer, with a modicum of time and momentum for writing my story. Then a few pieces of insight and information began to drop, noisily, into place. Books and the thinkers and researchers who wrote them came my way and like pieces of tinder, ignited spontaneously. I was on the brink, but still a-feared, reluctant to speak, as a writer, from my deeper self. Skating on the surface, using image and metaphor, dropping hints that led nowhere. I needed to be brave; to step up.

Enter NaBloPoMo, a challenge from BlogHer and WordPress to post on a blog every day for the month of November. (National Blog Post Month)  As I have seemingly done so many times on this journey that is my life, I decided, ‘on a whim’ to do it. I was ready to try out the deeper waters; to publicly poke around in the depths of my shame history and share the results of the excavation.

In terms of writing, I think this was the toughest task I’ve taken upon myself: to write and post daily. Yikes; it was hard work. And the ‘inner work’, or shall I say turmoil, was messy, messy, messy. However, although I do not credit myself with drive or ambition, I am stubborn. I said I would do it, so I would do it, ‘even if it killed me.’ And I did it. I survived a glorious and agonizing month. As the calendar drew closer to December 1st, the question loomed… “What have I done? What have I begun? Do I just stop after 30 days?” That felt wrong; a waste of the momentum I’d created. And I knew ‘the work’ wasn’t done, whatever I meant by ‘the work’.

So I’ve continued to post, twice a week, which has been fun and annoying and everything in between. Sticking to the practice of posting, as with meditation, writing ‘morning pages’ (a Julia Cameron technique) and practicing tai chi, is grounding. If I can do it/them on the days when it/they make no sense, when I don’t want to, then I have at least an inkling of who I am and where I am. I am in the middle of something. It is my life, it is this writing work, this exploring, exposing and sharing, owning my story.

MFB1_4I receive such kind support regarding this blog, from friends and family.  Thank you all for taking the time to read and sometimes respond to my thoughts.  My readership is very small, and that is fine, quasi-public is enough exposure for me. I’m still focused on fruits and veggies, but here are some peonies I drew.




Why have I been writing about the personal, political and cultural aspects of body size & weight?  Why am I doing this de-construction of shame?

fat bashingWhy does a cartoon like this get published? Why does anyone see this as funny?

I admit that I often read a book (or scan, because I am considering reading it) and wonder how such uninspired writing manages to be published.  I wonder how some of the writing makes it past any editor’s eyes and into print.

For the most part, I don’t understand a fascination with sports or porn or the stock market or violent video games.  But I subscribe to the ‘live and let live’ and ‘it takes all kinds’ theories.  And I figure there are plenty of folks who – if they bothered to think about it – cannot fathom my interest in cooking media or sudoku or biographies or sea turtles.  So, we’re even and it’s okay.

But this crap?  Come on.  Who pays Wulff & Morgenthaler to produce such tasteless and offensive garbage?  I would prefer seeing the colorful doodles of a two-year-old!  A quick Google tells me that they are a pair of Danish men, ‘brilliant writer/artists.’  So, Americans are not the only bigoted idiots when it comes to fat jokes.  Do I feel better or worse?

I suppose I hoped to finish out the NABloPoMo with a superb, thoughtful, exquisite piece of writing.  Early on, I suppose that I imagined there would be a wrap-up after 30 days, a meaningful conclusion.  Well, life isn’t like that, is it?  No neat packaging, except of processed foods.

The month is over.  The work continues.

Shame’s antonym

My grapefruit drawing:  gfruit

A friend forwarded a link to me, from the internet; a response to a blogger who was banned from Facebook for “fat shaming”.  I’ll put the link at the bottom of this post, in case you want to check out the original post and the responses.  I thank the sender and at the same time, I grow weary of the bashing, shaming, blaming cycle.  What struck me about the article was when author Dodai Stewart writes: “PRIDE — defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people.’ ”

Oh.  Really?  Well, knock me over with a feather.  Self respect?  Deserve respect?

Not that I didn’t believe her, but I had to do a little research on my own, because I was taught that PRIDE IS BAD, bad, bad.  As in, ‘Pride goeth before a fall’.  Pride is a shameful thing, dangerous and a terrible thing to feel or own.  Can you imagine my surprise when I saw her definition?  Are you putting this together?  I had been taught that self respect and believing that I deserved to be respected by others was wrong.  What?

One fact that surfaced in my brief exploration of the word:  “In Christianity, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”  Sins!  Not that my parents were religious, but a repressive, WASP-y perspective was in full control of family values.  The sins, btw, are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.  Pride has been more accurately translated – from ancient Greek to Latin to English – as ‘hubris’, meaning arrogance.  Translation like a children’s game of ‘telephone’.  ‘Hubris’ being a less common word, ‘pride’ is put on the list…

Here are a few other definitions from the online M-W Dictionary/Thesaurus about PRIDE:  “self-esteem … honor … self-worth, self-regard … consciousness of one’s own dignity … If you take pride in yourself or your accomplishments, it means that you believe in your own worth…”

“ANTONYM: shame.”

“With a positive connotation, pride… is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, or a fulfilled feeling of belonging. Philosophers and social psychologists have noted that pride is a complex secondary emotion which requires the development of a sense of self and the mastery of relevant conceptual distinctions (e.g., that pride is distinct from happiness and joy) through language-based interaction with others.”  (Source)

A number of these concepts (self-esteem, dignity, self-respect, self-worth, feeling of belonging, sense of self) have been a regular part of this blog posting month; they are central to the work I am doing.  PRIDE can be considered not just the Antonym of shame, but the Antidote to shame.  Honestly, I think it will take a long time and a lot of practice on my part to be able to write or say that I am proud of something that I have done, without expecting the sky to fall (and crush shameful me.)  However, doing so, practicing this paradigm shift is clearly critical to my efforts to de-construct shame.

Link to article about woman banned from FB for fat shaming.

Family, expectations and numbing

grape 2cT.giving night.  Returned from T.giving with in-laws and step-in-law extended family.  Spent about six hours in the car, several hours in traffic.  Tired.

This morning as we were setting out, and off & on during the day, I found myself reflecting on family, expectations and numbing.  I think we all experience variations of these themes on traditional family holidays.

Who we will spend the day with?  Who cooks & cleans up?  How are we expected to dress and behave?  I understand that it would be/is hard to be alone on this family holiday, but, let’s face it, it’s also sometimes hard to be with family.

Expectations make me think about the 1950’s housewives, home cooks, who perhaps had never learned to cook a turkey.  Suddenly they were receiving a considerable amount of pressure to produce a golden beauty for carving at the table.turkey

This did not play out well in my childhood home.  The bird was always overcooked and dry, because my mother worried that it might be raw.  My father tried to tell her what to do differently.  Honestly, I believe they fought about it every year.  Such a tense and un-festive family gathering. Why?

When I left home and gained a little perspective (and also the know-it-all attitude of a 20-year-old), I suggested that he be the one to cook the bird. No way!  Of course I had also become a vegetarian upon leaving home, which did not go over well either.  My father put turkey on my plate every year, no matter what I said.  Yep.  Expectations.

And finally, for now, numbing.  The most common numbing methods for these quintessential events are:  drinking alcohol, watching football on TV and eating too much, especially sweets.

That’s all I can manage tonight.  I have more to say on these topics and tomorrow I will write more cogently, I hope.

A toss up

waterI am extremely grateful for water.

I’m not sure I can pick a favorite form of water, although a tall cool glass of water is about the best friend I can ask for, most of the time.

But a little brook rippling through the woods of Vermont is pretty magical; looking down through the water, at rocks, peddles and minnows; watching leaves, twigs, dragon and damsel-flies skitter along the surface; the soothing motion, a tiny bubbling froth here, an eddy around a large smooth stone, gentle sounds and the deep, wet earth smell.

The scent of a pond or small lake has it’s own place in my memory.  Early swimming lessons when unsheltered toes would slide through the silty muck at the shore.  It isn’t quite mud, doesn’t stick like mud, because it’s under the water.  The ground is firm underneath, but the top layer slides like silk over my feet.  Yes, I hope that’s not a little fish nibbling at my toes.  The water is mostly still and when the light is right, I am stunned by the reflection of clouds, sky blue and the upside-down trees along the shore.  There’s nothing quite like the sound of soft droplets falling from a paddle, while gliding across the stillness in a canoe.

The salty water of oceans is delightful, with it’s own rhythms and powers.  Needs desalination before drinking, however.

A river, particularly a mighty one, is quite a sight.  Wide and slow moving or crashing over a waterfall, like Niagara.  So much sound, mist and foaming water; like the ocean, the elemental power cannot be denied.  The very air becomes charged with electricity and upright hairs on my arms and neck are the result.  If you have seen a tropical waterfall from a distance, cascading like a sparkle against dense green, from a great height, dropping far far below into a pool or simply disappearing into the foliage of the rain forest.

Bathtub baths, hot tubs & jacuzzis, the steam room at the gym, outdoor showers, mist and fog (if walking, not for driving) and all sorts of rain.  Torrential hurricane rains are fun  to watch, if you are safe and warm inside.  Soft quiet rains invite me for a walk among trees.  Then I want a bath or shower, maybe warm PJs fresh from the dryer and time to curl up cozy with a cat or a book or a fuzzy blanket or a cup of tea or a friend or good music or some combination of those.

I could go on about my personal appreciation of water.  Or I could begin a political diatribe about the polluting of water by fracking, pesticide run-off, coal-fired power plants and the other profit-driven industries that have and are fouling the worlds water supply.  Or I could talk about the lack of potable water in countries and communities all over the world, with the attendant disease and mortality.

Or I could talk about the game of Jacks.  ClassicJacksThe game of Jacks that looks easy and is not.  Why Jacks?  That was the image that came to mind when I thought about the four words I used as the title of yesterday’s post. These words that are beginning to come to the fore:  advertising, food industry, shame, pushers, habit, addiction, stigma, salt.sugar.fat, processed food, causation, deconstruction, politics, profit, bias, anger, happiness and joy…
I imagined these words tossed up and landing in a different combination each time.  Pieces of a puzzle that keep sorting and resorting, but are finally beginning to make the outline of a picture.
Not easy to scoop them up, before the ball bounces a second time.

So this is a ‘toss up’ with double meanings.  I could choose either water or Jacks as my topic.  Instead, I’ve done a bit of both and have decided to end with a touch of (pointed) humor.  I am not the biggest fan of Jerry Seinfeld, but he has made me laugh.  I generally like his stand-up routines better than his TV show.  Comedy is peculiar; what sort of humor tickles your funny spot?  I’ve learned that I appreciate jokes that make me think about human nature.  Seinfeld has a bit about water that I love.  See, there is a connection.  I suggest getting a nice cool glass of water in hand and then clicking here.

Happy and safe Thanksgiving to all.

Happiness, joy, habit and shame

I love sticky rice.  I love making it and I love eating it and I just plain love the look of it.

Although this drawing hasn’t ‘made it’ onto a towel or tote bag with EAW designs, it’s still a favorite.  Certainly the color makes me happy.

And how does this relate to the topic of this blog?  Well, I’ve been reading in Brené Brown‘s book about the difference between happiness and joy.  One way that she defines them:

Happiness is tied to circumstance and joy is tied to spirit and gratitude.

When I make sticky rice for my family, I have created circumstances that make me happy.  I enjoy the soaking and the rinsing and sight of the rice cooker steaming away.  I love the dousing with rice vinegar and the mixing with the wide, flat bamboo spoon that I brought home from Kyoto.  So I have made myself happy.

The beauty and simplicity of the cooked rice and the memory of the little side-street bamboo shop in Kyoto awaken my gratitude.  Those pearlescent grains remind me of the joy of cooking whole foods and connect me to all that I have en-joyed in this life.  That’s an especially wonderful thing when I’ve been raking muck, about PPFIC and personal shame history, as I have been so often lately.

So what about Oreos?  Am I happy when eating Oreos?  Not an Oreo; Oreos.  Me and the rats.  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  None of the sensory pleasure that I’ve been extolling about the rice, that’s for sure.  In fact an Oreo eaten whole can be a bit dry.  I’m not a ‘dunker’; although tea or water does help.  But it’s that creamy white center: sugar and fat whipped up together to seduce my bliss point.  Pleasure centers in my brain start ringing and singing and, as I understand it, producing a spurt of happiness chemicals.

But memories? Nothing but shame.  No gratitude or joy to be found.  Sneaking cookies, hiding cookies, eating cookies when I wasn’t hungry.  All for that unbelievably brief illusion of happiness.  How did I respond to that flush of shame?  How did my body respond to the shot of sugarfatbliss?  I would reach for another Oreo.

But to repeat the question:  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  I believe another important piece of the puzzle is habit.  Okay, maybe that seems ridiculously obvious, but the thing is that while the pleasure centers are being zinged by the creamy filling, neurological patterns are being reinforced in my brain.  Every time I would reach for that Oreo, the habit became a bit stronger.  Again, that may seem too obvious, but understanding the process has been eye-opening for me.  It’s all part of the same show.

I read Charles Duhigg‘s book, The Power of Habit almost as soon as it was published in 2012.  I am rereading now, along with the other sources I’ve been writing about, because it so clearly dovetails with my explorations.  I want to make sense of the connections between the PPFIC’s push toward producing addictive food products and personal habit and shame.  It’s all there, it’s all of a piece, I am sure of it.

A final note about getting the car into position for jump-starting.  It has taken years of sweating and pushing to turn the vehicle of my life around, so that a jump start was even  possible.  So that this writing exploration could begin.  And as you know, you can’t push a car by yourself, even a 1960’s VW beetle.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me, believing in me when I have not, reminding me I am not alone no matter how hard it gets and helping me onward by sharing her own courage, I am ever grateful to my dear friend and writing ally, jc.  Tea and toast for two.

Jump start

The end is in sight.  The end of NaBloPoMo raises a question…what shall I do on December 1st?  Right now, I think the answer is:  keep writing.  In fact, I know that’s the answer.  The jump-start I was looking for has taken effect; engine is humming and I am off down the road.  I supposed the general understanding of a jump-start is hooking cables from the battery of a running car to the battery posts of a car that is out of juice.  That image works a bit.  But what I’m really remembering is the jump-start that was possible before cars had computers, automatic transmissions and all that.

Indulge me.  A car with a standard transmission, circa 1966.  A Volkswagen beetle or my old 122S Volvo.  Dead battery.  Get that car pointed down hill on an incline.  Doesn’t even need to be a hill.  Release the hand brake and start rolling.  Pop the clutch and shift into first gear.  The engine kicks in.  Give it a little gas, and go.  Bee-U-ti-full, every time.  That purring sound, forward motion and an exhilarating sense of power, control & freedom.  Yep, that’s what this month of blogging has done for me.  Took a while to get the car into the proper position, but now…

I know what I need to do next, how to approach the ideas I want to express and I’m more ready than I’ve ever been.  I think my blog postings will go down to twice a week for the time being, so that I can put daily writing time into the larger piece.  Truth is, some of what I need to write is exploratory and personal in a way that isn’t ready to be shared.  Some of it can be, but I see now that the major work is to be done privately for a while.

My writing allies in W3 ‘uttched’ (nudged, pushed) me toward clarity yesterday, with their thoughtful, caring questions.  Thank you E, L & L for all that we share.  And while I’m at it, thank you to the (one or two) regular readers of this month’s EAW blog.  Your support means a lot to me.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve done an awful lot of writing over the years that has never been shared.  Hitting that ‘Publish‘ button every day this month has eased me over that roadblock to public writing.  Actually, the image is more like a wind-up car or toy that makes its way into a corner and gets stuck there.  The whining noise continues, the wheels or legs keep moving, but the nose is stuck against the wall and stays there till the spring runs down.  Hmm, writing with my nose in a corner.  Interesting.

Real cars and toy cars; not what I expected to be writing about today, but it’s always satisfying to find metaphors that really feel accurate.  As my local food pantry preps to hand out turkeys and trimmings tomorrow evening; grocery stores and kitchens overflow with (mostly) real food for the food-focused holiday this week;  I find that I have less appetite for spitting nails at and about the PPFIC.  I’m not done with that, but for now I more drawn to a compassionate consideration of food and addiction.  Here’s an old drawing of a sweet potato chip to close this post.

SwtPot         Sweet Potato = autumnal harvest.   Chip = addictive food loaded with S S & F.

Process notes

Thank you NaBloPoMo.

I have learned so much, or shall I say I’m learning so much.  My evaluation of yesterday’s post, on a scale of 1 – 10, was zero.  Okay, maybe one.  (After all, I did include my old sketch of Oreos – actually the Newman knock-off sandwich cookies.)

I do believe that one of the ‘reasons’ why I gave myself such a low score was the topic…not only difficult, but also gigantic.  And there were other factors at play:  a busy day and fatigue… In truth I didn’t want to write or post anything, but… I am stubborn and I’ve made a commitment to do NaBloPoMo, so, even though I didn’t like what I was posting, I hit publish and went to bed.

In the night (so much happens then, ‘intelligence gathering’, I call it, except that it’s intelligence of the unconscious, not the thinking mind) I realized that what I posted (published still seems like a different thing altogether) were simply my preliminary notes on the subject.  Which is fine, actually.  Yes, I sort of wish I had known, or seen, that that’s what they were at the time,  but hey…so be it.

When I hurried down here to write this morning, the Brené Brown book from which I have been quoting arose from the chaos of my desk.  Subtitle:  “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”.         Oh.       Yeah.

For decades, in my work as a writing coach and teacher, I have been telling students & clients the wisdom of the writing sages. They all say it in one way or another.  “Basically it’s about practice (like everything).  You have to do some lame, lousy, crappy  ‘bad’ writing to get to the good writing.”   Well, coach, listen to thyself.

So, in fact I’m glad that I did (wrote & posted) what I did yesterday.  Woke me up, in a way.  Yes, this challenge to my self, to push and begin wrangling with the more dense elements of my topic has been/is really great.  I’m much further along that I was 24 days ago.  But “progress not perfection” has long been a mantra of mine and I am invoking it again on this cold November morning.    purpear

Adding up

Addiction is scary to write about.  I am no expert; I am quoting experts; I am sharing my reflections and welcome feedback.  Addiction is a word that carries a pretty big charge.  Mostly people use it either somewhat lightly, as in “I am totally addicted to Mad Men or knitting or sports talk radio…”  Alternatively it is used with a darker, ominous tone, as in “I’m worried she may be addicted to pain killers…”

I am going to repeat a couple of things.  First is this definition of addiction I posted yesterday.

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”

Then a link to the Connecticut College write up about the Oreo study.oreos
The language is uncannily similar, is it not?

“Brain reward” = Sugar/fat activates more pleasure neurons than heroin.

“Motivation, memory & related circuitry” = Rats hang out in the part of the maze where they got dosed with narcotics or sugar/fat.

“Environmental factors interact with the person’s biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence” = The food products consumed can shift the balance, increasing likelihood of processed food addiction.  Repeated caloric deprivation can alter biological factors such as metabolic set point, leading to inevitable weight gain.

“Resiliencies the individual acquires (through parenting or later life experiences) can affect the extent to which genetic predispositions lead to the behavioral and other manifestations of addiction” = Social stigma, particularly if it is reinforced  by parenting choices, can lead to experiencing shame, greatly reduced resilience and addictive behavior.

“Culture also plays a role in how addiction becomes actualized in persons with biological vulnerabilities to the development of addiction” = Cultural biases re:  body image & appearance can isolate the individual, exacerbating shame.

Sentences in quotes are from same source as yesterday.  The link is here.

Bad timing

At 6:15 this morning, while still in bed, I started laughing.  Nice way to start the day; albeit feeling a little nutty, since I was laughing aloud at my own silent thoughts.  I don’t think that I can translate my train of thoughts in a way to make anyone else laugh, but I will try to explain some of the train.

Since taking up this NaBloPoMo self-challenge, I find myself, not surprisingly, thinking about what I’ve written (or what I am going to write.)  The phrase I used a couple of days ago, that I was “barely chubby” at age eight, echoed in my mind. Then I remembered something that I learned when my daughter was growing up.  Basically it is that children grow in more or less alternating cycles of width and height.

It’s a generalization, of course, but think about it, if you can picture a young child you know or have known.  One day they are roly-poly little babies, then they seem to stretch out as they become toddlers.  The waves of growth continue; as a preteen, there’s often some chunkiness going on, and then ‘phtt‘, growth spurt.  Interesting that the expression ‘growth spurt’ is used almost exclusively for height spurts.

Okay, before I get lost in my ramble, I’ll go back to my 6:00 AM thought.  It wasn’t that I was chubby, I was actually in a normal growth stage.  So it wasn’t my weight that triggered the over-reaction of parents & doctor; it was my body type!  Like I said, you may not be able to get the laugh here, but what cracked me up was thinking of the supermodel of the 1960’s:  Twiggy.  twig

That’s when I thought, ‘bad timing’, as in, what an unfortunate time to be a prepubescent girl.  My parental units were frightened, ashamed & concerned about my size, and it was completely unnecessary.  If only they could have waited a bit & let me grow normally.

There are other elements to the ‘bad timing’ idea, of course.   I think I’ll skip the factors that were most specific to my family, although the self-loathing of my mother and the mysogynistic attitude of my father (both culturally-reinforced) were certainly powerful.  Not to mention the overt sexism of Dr P, who told me , straight out, that “boys would not be interested in [me] because of [my] weight…”. Well, to a young person, a doctor was an unquestioned authority figure.  He must know, right?

His biases apparently overrode any knowledge of the medical fact that bodies change frequently as children grow.  But, perhaps most un-luckily for me, he was unaware of (or ignored?) the fact that putting someone on a dramatically low calorie diet (especially a child, for heavens sake!) wreaks havoc with their metabolism.  The now-prevalent understanding that ‘starvation‘ diets alter the metabolic set-point of an individual, was perhaps not yet common knowledge.  When the body registers caloric deprivation, it goes into crisis mode:  “Emergency!  Starvation risk!  Stockpile calories for energy!  Store Fat!

I have previously noted another ‘bad timing‘ element for me; that I was born at the same time that the PPFIC was taking off, big time.  [I’m really having fun with my acronym:  Packaged, Processed Food Industrial Complex.]  The exhilarating explosion of scientific research, post WWII, was harnessed by the PPFIC to create and utilize more versions of the big three:  salt, sugar and fat.

Cheaper and more addictive foods = more heavy users = way more profit.

Okay, so I’ve come back again to Pushers and Addiction.  I’ll close with this, from The American Society of Addiction Medicine.  Lots of intriguing language here, to be discussed another day.  For now, remember the Oreo cookie study...

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.
Genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction. Environmental factors interact with the person’s biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence. Resiliencies the individual acquires (through parenting or later life experiences) can affect the extent to which genetic predispositions lead to the behavioral and other manifestations of addiction. Culture also plays a role in how addiction becomes actualized in persons with biological vulnerabilities to the development of addiction.”