Wandering

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.

Completion

A writer friend of mine finished NaNoWriMo yesterday, one day early. In case you don’t know or remember, NaNoWriMo is the older sister of NaBloPoMo. The intention is daily writing of between 1,500-2,000 words during the month of November, with a goal of 50,000 words – the first draft of a novel. This has always seemed like an extraordinary effort. Don’t know if I’ll ever attempt it. But my friend completed her draft of 52,000 words one day early. And, to quote her, “now the massive rewrite”.

As I write my final post of the month, I am struck by the fact that completion is always followed by a beginning. I know that for me, facing the ‘next step’ has sometimes been daunting, even discouraging. So, although it may seem obvious, this insight is actually a small thunderclap.

Now, with this post, I am completing NaBloPoMo 2015. As has happened each year previous to this, I am of two ‘minds’. That’s the expression, but not exactly what I mean. Oh well. There is one part of me that is relieved to have completed this self-appointed challenge. And another part that wonders if I want to continue with blogging on some regular schedule, or just remain dormant until November 2016?

I will reduce my expression further.

Completion = beginning.

Now what?                   NaBloPoMo_2015

Why

Why write? Why do I write and why do I write a daily blog post during NaBloPoMo? Well, writing has been a reliable, heart-opening and challenging experience for me all my life. It has provided a place where I could express my thoughts and feelings when there was no one to speak to. For many years, my words have been mostly private attempts to capture a sensation, idea or experience. I’ve partaken of some workshops, classes and writing groups now and then, but for the most part I’ve kept my writing to myself.

As I got older, and honestly, as I came to care less and less what other people thought about me (which had been a youthful preoccupation, not unusual) my writing began to shift, in content and in level of privacy. The benefits of getting things written down without mincing words, without holding back at all, are seductive. “If it’s bad, so what, I tried.” And with the dramatic shifts in the publishing world, it became easier to remember that always focusing on publication is no way to write.

I have spent about 35 years working with other writers, working hard as a coach, teacher and editor. I still enjoy working with writers of all stripes, but as time ahead no longer appears infinite, its time to focus on what I want to write. As I dig deeper and unearth unspoken truths, it is as if I am removing boulders from a path. Once I have removed an obstacle, there is no question about moving forward, I just do.

The relief and release (and relaxation!) that writing out my history, my angst and my joys is monumental. Giving myself a chance to freely express thoughts and feelings is no small thing. Okay, I’ll say it: It is healing. And what I have learned from reading blogs on the Internet and concentrating my book reading on memoirs, is that publicly sharing one’s truths can occasionally have an effect on others. I have been the recipient of so many ‘Aha’ moments while reading the work of others; that has been the richest part of my inner life, all my life.

The very first year that I participated in NaBloPoMo, catapulted me into a new arena. Speaking aloud, online, not only didn’t kill me, but there were two or three people who found words in the posts that meant something to them. That is more than enough encouragement to keep writing and posting, one month a year. As I have said before, it is hard work and I continue to be in awe of bloggers who post daily. But I am proud to be in the kindergarten of the blog-o-sphere. If I never graduate to first grade, that’s okay. I have plenty of work to do here: digging in the sandbox, making things from clay and taking naps.

NaBloPoMo_2015

The Words

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll It’s all about the words, I guess. I’d estimate, based on an average of 500 per day, that I’ve posted about fifteen thousand words in the last thirty days. It has been both a pleasure and a struggle. Pleasure because I simply love words and since I can remember, reading them and writing them is the most consistent joy in my life. Yes, more than cooking or eating, more than playing with babies or kittens, more than napping. It is all about the words for me, because it is about connection. When I read, I am privy to the thoughts and dreams of someone who lives (or lived) a life that is not mine, and yet I discover myself in those pages.

When I write, I get to share, to tell my story, both the moments I witness the world outside and the moments that only I experience, inside. I get to play with words, like building sandcastles or cultivating a garden, ephemeral arts. Somehow, through the medium of sound, stories are also tactile. The act of writing is “like a physical need… Someone waiting for your words – even [a single reader is] what matter[s], because then you [have] a reason to be, to bear witness, which is what a… writer does.” (from A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith)

The struggle with words, with posting daily on this blog, is to believe that I can capture even a suggestion of what I want to say. Words are so frequently misused, so violently, so ignorantly thrown about. I cannot bear the thought that I might be a wastrel, unable to strike the smallest spark of light worth sharing.

I spent some time this morning with one of my favorite books: Roget’s Thesaurus. If you haven’t played with this juicy tome, I say try it. Although, I understand that it is not everyone’s cup of tea. Because it is a source of wordplay that I love, I got caught up in a frenzy of cross-referencing, seeking the many meanings of LARGE.

Due to my size, I have frequently been slapped by the word FAT and its many insulting variations. I try to remain cognizant of the irony, that in so many ways LARGE is considered a good thing. Just not regarding the body of a woman in this place and time. So, take a look at this partial list of the positive synonyms for LARGE, by way of closing out this month of NaBloPoMo.

ABUNDANT: copious, abounding, rich, overflowing.  AMPLE: enough, sufficient, plentiful, spacious, large.  BIG: huge, great.  BROAD: wide, expansive, capacious, full.  BOUNTIFUL: generous.  COPIOUS: lavish, profuse.  ENORMOUS: gigantic, immense, colossal, mammoth.  EXTRA: more, extraordinary, additional.  GRAND: sumptuous, splendid, magnificent, monumental, stupendous, mighty.  GREAT: numerous, big, imposing, conspicuous, grand, august, Olympic.  HUGE: tremendous, enormous.  LARGE: massive, substantial, sizable, gigantic, goodly, commodious.  PLUS: surplus, positive.  SUBSTANTIAL: considerable, solid, sturdy.

Food for thought?

In closing, here are some words from the essay In Praise of a Teacher, taken from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea by Nikki Giovanni:

“I always loved [the subject] English because whatever human beings are, we are storytellers. It is our stories that give a light to the future. …History is a wonderful story of who we think we are; English is much more a story of who we really are.”

Here’s to telling the stories of who we really are.

Why

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Yes, I have reached the point in the month of November when I am asking myself, frequently, ‘Why am I participating in NaBloPoMo?’ One answer is the choice to challenge myself; with an external motivator (accountability) I find that I become more stubborn and committed. Twice a year for the last seven or eight years, I have participated in a two week Ayurdevic cleanse (see explanation here) which is challenging on many levels. I always contemplate ‘bailing’ from the cleanse midway and I’m always glad that I have done it, at the end. The same thing was true with doing NaBloPoMo last year.

But that’s another, ‘Why?’ isn’t it? What is it about choosing to take and then meeting a challenge that feels good? Speaking for myself as an individual, I know that truly feeling a sense of accomplishment is rare and difficult. Other people can tell me that I have accomplished something significant (small or large, brief or long lasting), but I am not able to take that in, to feel the sense of accomplishment. Don’t know why, always been that way.

Speaking as a sample member of humanity, I wonder if some accomplishments just seem too ephemeral? Have we (perhaps I need to qualify ‘we’ as western culture…) become trapped by our concrete thinking? Does this explain, in part, the avarice, the drive to acquire money and possessions to establish achievement?

So many ‘Whys’ that I can ask myself. And then there is the other option, ‘Why not?’

Negative Space

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Negative space is a concept that I (eventually) learned about in relation to visual art… There is power and image in the unfilled space.  It is part of the art work, a choice made by the artist, as much as the shade or depth or even shape of the pigment used in the ‘positive space’. What does it say about our culture, (or at least my way of approaching art, which is common for the uninformed), that we focus first on the obvious, what was ‘put there’, not what was created by leaving space open?

Okay, I’ve demonstrated my limitations when it comes to ‘understanding’ visual art. To return to: negative space. My primary association with the words is using them to express my feelings, when I have entered or chosen to be in a negative space. Where the view, the attitude toward pretty much everything is relentlessly negative. That is how I felt about my writing and about the section of that writing that I posted yesterday. Bilious, as in bile, as in vomit. (I went back this morning and took much of it out…)

However, there is another way to look at the idea of space, which was gifted to me by this piece of writing, which I happened upon: Fat Bitches Don’t Sit On Trains: How A Crappy Morning Commute Doesn’t Have To Ruin Your Whole Day

The entire piece caught my interest, as you might expect, seeing as how it deals with the prejudging and treatment of a fat woman in public, as well as the author’s use of writing and ultimately sharing the story as a response. Been there and trying to do that. But there is one small (hah!) section of the piece that I want to focus upon. She captures in detail the effort many women, especially us XL types, but I think it’s a pretty standard behavior for many women, the effort we make NOT to take up space in public.

I sat down as I usually do when it’s a middle seat: I positioned my butt on the edge of the seat and gingerly slid back as far as I could without infringing too much on the space of the riders beside me, keeping my legs locked and my shoulders squeezed in as close as possible.

This offers another layer of meaning for the words ‘negative space’. How small can we make ourselves, in order not to offend, or in order to fit in? A daily practice for me, passing by animate objects, like people, and inanimate objects everywhere I go, even in my own home. I’ve become quite adept at assessing space visually and knowing whether I will fit. When it is within my power, I arrange the world so that it works for me. Passageways in my small home are as wide as they can be. I push back against my family members when they ‘forget’ and I feel blocked, constricted (disrespected) in my own space.

I can’t change the width of the center aisle on an airplane. I know when to turn sideways to move through a narrow space, although sometimes the repositioning is pointless, since ‘round is round’ and I am only choosing whether I put my belly/butt or my hips in the lead as I pass through the insufficient gap. In restaurants, I automatically gauge the space around and between tables, pre-planning my exit, seeking dignity in moving past others. I have become increasingly bold about moving empty chairs out of my way or saying an assertive ‘Excuse me…’ when asking someone to move their chair so that I can pass by. Actually, it is annoying just to think of it that way; that it is bold to behave as if I have the right to move through space!

I recently returned to my car in a local parking lot, to find that the thoughtless driver of an oversized vehicle (hey, I drive a station wagon, I’m not taking a Mini Cooper or Prius superiority attitude here) had parked so closely beside me (I do love how we identify with our car, referring to it as me) that I could not open the driver’s door wide enough to get in. I tried and wrenched my back for my efforts. In the end, with a surprising sense of humor and lack of shame, I stopped a young man who was passing by. I explained the situation. His first words, endearingly, were “I just had a beer…”. I said he just needed to back the car up about five feet. Which he did and we both laughed and he went on his way.   I wonder what he thought and if he mentioned the experience to anyone later?

I guess that is an example of when I could have moved into a negative space and I did not. Hmm.

It was suggested to me that I could try a poem in these daily blog posts. Here goes: it’s an old one… (With apologies for excessive spacing; I can’t seem to fix it.)

“We call them thigh peg chairs:

The ones with front legs that poke above the seat”,

I say to her, speaking to and in spite of her smallness.

 

Sharing vocabulary from the other side:

Booth bulletins, cushion updates,

Reports on seat depth and…

 

Newsflash!

Chair arms that discomfit while dining,

Leaving bruise-like marks on ample thighs.

 

Airline seat-belt extenders,

Narrow seats with immobile arms

That cut into soft flesh.

 

Theater seat arms that

Wedge and take the fun out,

Giving an edge to recreational pastimes.

 

I wonder…

‘Why do I go there?’

‘Do I forget?’

 

The fact is

Normalcy tricks me,

Beckons to me, seduces me.

 

Why must I announce,

To friends & strangers, over and over,

That I don’t fit?

 

Am I misshapen or is it the chairs?

Story (P.S.)

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogroll Post Script:  I spent quite a bit of time yesterday, thinking and writing about the idea of story. At the end of the day, I had a lot of notes and nothing that I was happy with, nothing that captured what I had been thinking. But because I am committed to posting every day this month, I posted a small, bilious section. This morning I chose to take most of it down. I will leave two quotes from the work of others who have influenced my thinking. Here they are:

Creative non-fiction, also known as memoir, is a popular form of writing these days.  In the introduction to her book, Old Friend from Far Away (title taken from the writings of Confucius) Natalie Goldberg says of the word memoir: “ It comes from the French mémoire. It is the study of memory, structured on the meandering way we remember. Essentially it is an examination of the zigzag nature of how our mind works.”

When I was young, I read the work of the great Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I found his theories fascinating and they made a lot of sense. [Based on decades of research, Campbell postulated that there are two basic plot lines for all stories.  One is ] “… The Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through all of humanity’s mythic traditions…”

 

The Ides

NaBloPoMo_1114_298x255_blogrollHalf way through… This month of daily blogging, that is the month of November.  Well over halfway through this year of 2014 – zooming along toward the blast of holidays.  And, a sobering thought, certainly more than half way through this lifetime.  It’s a beautiful, late fall Saturday here in New England.  Perhaps if I didn’t have this unwelcome head cold, it would be a grand day for a hike.

Housebound, with a mug of tea, it is time for reflection.

Reflecting on friendship, as I have been doing, (as well as the ongoing topics that keep slipping in: family, shame, body size, addiction, the cult of appearance and the PFIC) inevitably leads me to evaluative questions.  Am I living the life I choose to live, or just reacting to circumstances as they arise?

It is a challenge to write a post every day, something that feels true and honest, that I feel capable of ‘publishing’, which is to say, sharing publicly. Friendship, writing, sharing are all about connection and relationships, central to what gives my life meaning.  So, I guess I am doing what I want to be doing.

Then why do I continue to question myself?  Not enough hours in the day to accomplish all the writing, connecting, relating and sharing that I want to do?  Too much stuff in the way:  piles of papers, books and what all here in my writing space; too many unanswered emails, letters and phone calls (back to that!); too many options, influences, interruptions and distractions; so many things to read and contemplate.

And tonight, a need for some healing sleep wins the coin toss.  Until tomorrow, then.

 

Speaking up

When I was younger, I protested.  As I became aware of the ‘wrongs’ in the world, I marched, picketed, rallied and performed civil disobedience.  I was mostly inarticulate, but I put my body out there and let it speak for me.  “Count me” as against the Vietnam war, U.S. interference in Central America and the perils of nuclear power plants.  “I am one of many” supporting civil rights, women’s liberation, workers rights, gay rights, environmental causes and reproductive rights.

When I look back now, I can see that my activism protesting injustice was partially fueled by the indignities and unfairness that I had experienced as a child and adolescent.  My drive to protest was largely unconscious, that is, I just knew what was ‘wrong’ and I acted.  In many ways the pattern of my life can be seen in that way; my instinctive reaction to a situation informs my response.  And I am perfectly okay with that.

Nowadays, in my later middle age, that ‘gut reaction’ is still my primary motivator and I rarely question my perceptions and instincts.  However, there is another element that has come to the fore.  In a much broader way, facts have joined with instinct to inform my opinions and actions.  And what is personally most significant – I am using my voice.

Often it is in my writing; sometimes in person.  Call it the confidence of age, if you will, but I am quite comfortable speaking my piece.  I am angry.  For decades I reacted with indignation and outrage on behalf of others.  Now I feel free to express fury on my own behalf as well.  The movie I have been urging you to go see next week, Fed Up, eloquently presents the case against the PFIC pushers I began writing about last fall.  It exposes the food industry and their governmental lackeys.

Did you know that the World Health Organization proposed guidelines (for at least the second time) more than ten years ago, limiting the amount of sugar recommended in our daily diet?  Did you know that the American Sugar Association and our government (led at the time by G.W. Bush) actually threatened to withhold U.S. funding ($406 million) for the WHO unless the recommendation was changed?  If you need proof that the bullying was effective, look at a nutrition label.  You will see that although sugar is listed under ‘Amount Per Serving’, there is nothing listed under ‘Percentage Daily Value’.  What?  The pushers won.  Outrageous.  In case you want to know more or I have been unclear, here are a couple of links to articles, in Mother Jones and the British paper, The Guardian.

Veering away from the PFIC for a moment, I want to bring your attention to an eerily parallel story regarding our public schools.  Here’s a link to a magazine article I read.  The early section entitled The beginning of “reform” really stunned me.  When the author says “Corporations recognized privatization as a euphemism for profits”, my feelings went from misery to rage. Add in the fact that something like 80% of our public schools have contracts with the PFIC to provide food products (not real food) for children…

To quote my beloved grandmother Inez Lewis Johnson, “It makes me mad enough to spit!”  Which was strong language for a lady born in 1895…

Until next time, be well.

 

Pen-ulti

Something has been growing clearer to me over the past few weeks. It’s time for me to wrap up this phase of ‘The Middle’ of the EAW/Food Life Story. Perhaps what I mean to say is that it has come to its own conclusion and I’ve become conscious of the fact that it’s time to make a change. Time to shift priorities.

Going forward, my energy, my attention will focus on my own health and the people who are nearest and dearest to me. I won’t become a hermit, but a significant aspect of this ‘Middle’ path has been recognizing how my time and energy are used. I have slowly been eliminating the less-healing parts of my life, shifting my tim-ergy back to myself and attending to my own well-being.

Let me expand for a moment on what I mean by health, in this context. Physical health is an obvious priority, especially as I age. My mental and emotional health have both improved dramatically in the past six months.  This is in no small part because of the work I’ve been doing on this blog. Speaking up about my burdens of shame, anger and sadness; sharing them in this quasi-public arena has been immensely healing and fulfilling. I feel like I have traveled countless miles toward wholeness, sanity and health by choosing to commit to posting on this blog.

To state the obvious, these ‘different’ elements of health are completely intertwined. They are all of a piece. So, when I speak of spiritual health, it is not separate from the others, in fact it may be the overarching piece. I don’t claim to know. Breaking down the meaning of the word health is sort of artificial. To some extent it is merely a way to expand on the basic simplicity of the concept or perhaps it is an attempt to condense the enormity of it.

Point is, I am “feeling healthier” than ever before in my life and self-ish-ly (see post from 4/20), I want more!  I’ve been faithfully posting here for six months – daily in November 2013 and twice weekly in the months since. This Wednesday, April 30th, will be my last scheduled post for a while. I plan to return as a daily blog poster for NaBloPoMo in November. I suspect I will be a pop-up blogger here over the months until then.  Although I won’t be posting regularly, I will be writing and there will undoubtedly be things I want to share.

Please go and see the movie Fed Upfedup

I would love to hear your thoughts!