Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good Writing is Good Writing



They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers start building only cars and mass transit that reduce our dependency on oil.

They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers build cars that reduce global warming.

They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers withdraw their many lawsuits against state governments in their attempts to not comply with our environmental laws.

They could have given the loan on the condition that the management team which drove these once-great manufacturers into the ground resign and be replaced with a team who understands the transportation needs of the 21st century.

Yes, they could have given the loan for any of these reasons because, in the end, to lose our manufacturing infrastructure and throw 3 million people out of work would be a catastrophe.

But instead, the Senate said, we'll give you the loan only if the factory workers take a $20 an hour cut in wages, pension and health care. That's right. After giving BILLIONS to Wall Street hucksters and criminal investment bankers -- billions with no strings attached and, as we have since learned, no oversight whatsoever -- the Senate decided it is more important to break a union, more important to throw middle class wage earners into the ranks of the working poor than to prevent the total collapse of industrial America.

We have a little more than a month to go of this madness. As I sit here in Michigan today, tens of thousands of hard working, honest, decent Americans do not believe they can make it to January 20th. The malaise here is astounding. Why must they suffer because of the mistakes of every CEO from Roger Smith to Rick Wagoner? Make management and the boards of directors and the shareholders pay for this.

Of course that is heresy to the 31 Republicans who decided to blame the poor, miserable autoworkers for this mess. And our wonderful media complied with their spin on the morning news shows: "UAW Refuses to Give Concessions Killing Auto Bailout Bill." In fact the UAW has given concession after concession, reduced their benefits, agreed to get rid of the Jobs Bank and agreed to make it harder for their retirees to live from week to week. Yes! That's what we need to do! It's the Jobs Bank and the old people who have led the nation to economic ruin!

But even doing all that wasn't enough to satisfy the bastard Republicans. These Senate vampires wanted blood. Blue collar blood. You see, they weren't opposed to the bailout because they believed in the free market or capitalism. No, they were opposed to the bailout because they're opposed to workers making a decent wage. In their rage, they were driven to destroy the backbone of this country, not because the UAW hadn't given back enough, but because the UAW hadn't given up.

It appears that the sitting President has been looking for a way to end his reign by one magnanimous act, just like a warlord on his feast day. He will put his finger in the dyke, and the fragile mess of an auto industry will eke through the next few months.

That will give the Senate enough time to demand that the bankers and investment sharks who've already swiped nearly half of the $700 billion gift a chance to make the offer of cutting their pay.

Fat chance.

Michael Moore

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Best I Can Do

I was just commenting over at "Dear Ethel" that I don't think the originators of Thanksgiving and Christmas would find it in the least bizarre that their heirs would be grouchy. The Pilgrims were a miserable lot & hungry as hell. The Indians were scared of the white intruders. Mary was not gracefully praying over the manger & Joseph was probably bedded down in the straw with both God & the Mother of God in order to generate some badly needed body heat.

All these folks -- who were grimy, cold, hungry, frightened & physically exhausted, as well as thankful & in awe -- were probably pretty crabby.

So I'm advocating the OK-ness of wishing people a Grumpy Holiday Season. Personally, I'm going to concentrate on doing the best I can, enjoying what I can & avoiding talking too much about myself for fear of breaking into tears.

Hence: one pretty bad photo of the Empire State Building in autumnal colors. My amazement at the roses that are still hanging on. Curling up with whatever dogs I have on hand & watching their trusting sleep.

Thanksgiving was a near-tragedy in errors. I spilled pureed sweet potatoes all over the oven & couldn't clean the mess up sufficiently to avoid an hour of smoke. On my way to bed that night, I smashed & broke a toe (another toe; again). I took three things to Thanksgiving dinner & felt like I was catering the whole meal for twenty people. My life has gotten so small over the last five years that I'm easily overwhelmed. I 1) have to respect that, & 2) have to work on it.

Getting Daisy, a crate, luggage & myself to Newark for a 6.30 a.m. flight should challenge my hide-in-a-shell mentality.

I had five dogs to take care of that day as well. One of them lives about a mile from where we had dinner. Too full, having drunk a number of glasses of wine, exhausted, I walked three dogs down to DUMBO & left my keys in Henry's door. I didn't realize this until Chance, Daisy & I got back to the Heights. No. Way. I saw a light on in my building. No one answered. We turned around & got the doorman at Chance's house to let us in & bunked down there & picked up the keys in the morning.

Pressure. Thursday Daisy & I move to Molly's house for three nights & four days. I leave for Arizona on the 18th for three weeks. I've wrapped all the presents I have on hand & will mail them by the end of the week. A little compulsive, Frances?

Yes & yes. I should be getting editorial notes this week & will have a little over two months to revise my manuscript in a publishing atmosphere of canceled contracts & retrenchment. I'm scared. I have a lot of work to do. I have to get as much Christmas done in advance as possible. It would be a wonderful thing if I opened the box of cards at my feet & started them tonight, but I still have Italian greyhounds to feed as well as myself.

I would like to not eat sugar tonight.

I deserve to not eat sugar tonight. I wrapped those presents, having hand-picked them. Some of them are inspired. I did laundry this weekend & swept the kitchen floor after cooking before putting down the clean kitchen rug. I put all the summer linens away. I've done the dishes & taken a bath. Surely I've done Enough to merit going to sleep easily, without the aid of sugar?

I can't be a size six for my parents this Christmas, which would be their favorite present. But I could lose six pounds.

But oh Lord, the oblivion! I love the oblivion!

Angry Advent, everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stumped for a Title...

Well. That was a hurtle, the simple act of committing myself to a title.

I've been absent for much of the autumn. There have been reasons.

In mid-October, I went to Arizona for my parents' birthdays (91 & 87) for four nights and stayed for two weeks. My mother had been taken to Intensive Care the night before I arrived, with fluid in her lungs. Thirty-six hours on a ventilator followed by four more days of intense antibiotics, fluid counts and respiratory therapy saw her released but very weak.

I was very weak. Hospital visits are a balled knot of waiting to go, then, once there, wanting only to get out ASAP. My father, who is blind, discovered a great deal of his helplessness that he's depended on Mom for. He is also a physician & pragmatist.

Last night I made plane reservations for me and Daisy for what is most probably my mother's last Christmas.

Writing and reading those words makes me pause. How do I go on, here and with life?

I've been doing a piss-poor job of life since the summer, cycling in and out of depression & food. After something like two years, my 16 hormones decided to stage a coup last week & I found myself at the drug store wondering what size of tampon was called for.

I find that I wake up with a fair amount of energy & that around 2 p.m. I start to slide down the slope of my despair. It lifts a bit around 7 or 8 p.m., enough to do one errand or chore but also just enough to run over to the deli.

They say the most dangerous time in starting anti-depressants is when they begin to work just enough to give the patient the energy to kill herself. In my world lately, I get just enough energy to poison myself.

It hasn't all been like this, but I knew Friday when I heard people behind me on the sidewalk and I cringed to the side to make sure they didn't have to step out of their way that IT was back.

Today I began a conversation with Judy. I had to think about what I would tell a friend who is feeling the fear of the holidays, a manuscript revision in a time when publishers are thrilled to kill books, and tight finances, with some heavy dollops of guilt and resentment, but first I had to decide who the friend was. I thought of Marilyn Monroe and of Judy Garland, poor souls. I don't think I could listen to Marilyn's breathy pipsqueak, so I decided I would reassure Judy of some things.

"It was huge that you made those reservations, Judy. You know it takes four times as long to do it when you have to book Daisy, too, but you did it."

"Just do one thing that feels impossible, Judy. One thing. Take your pills? Great! Brush you teeth? Amazing! You did it."

You can see where this is going.

My heart, I tell you, is exhausted.

My mother and father are not a perfect mother and father, but they have sheltered me, believed in me, loved me even when I feel unlovable. They called to forbid me to buy them Christmas presents this year but I had already consulted with my friend Ann about what she did when she was facing her mother's last Christmas.

"I bought her a beautiful, expensive gold bracelet. She loved it. I knew it would be mine soon and when I wore it, I always thought of her."

So they will have Christmas presents, whether they want them or not. I probably won't -- Mom is too feeble now even to call a catalogue order in. That will be weird but OK.

I want to make a beautiful Christmas for her. And I wish I'd gotten the china figurine of the penguin mother and hatchling rather than the necklace. It would have better said what I'm feeling.

Or what, for 52 years, I've felt.

Maybe I'll do it anyway.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Blues Are Good Today

It's raining tonight, but the Empire State Building is bathed in blue light.

I've been an Obama supporter from the primary race, partly because I find Senator Clinton a little shrill and a little weak. I've never quite forgiven President Clinton for going down (as it were) on the gays-in-the-military issue or her loss of the reins on health care, all of which happened terribly quickly in his first term.

My support was deepened when I bought an Obama baseball cap. "I like your hat," was the most common reaction I got from African Americans, but one guy went so far as to say, "Thank you for wearing that."

This was in spring, mind you. Before AIG failed, Lehman Brothers went belly up, my bank was bought by Chase and foreclosures started to be a national pastime. Being thanked made me realize that I wasn't only dressing as an alternative to Senator Clinton. I was extending my hand in greeting and solidarity.

I AM Mary Six-pack or Josie Plumber. I own no property. My credit cards are groaning. I don't have health insurance. I worry about my teeth and the bump on Daisy's ankle. Despite that, I live in a wealthy enclave, where the per capita income is something like $45,000. Not per household but per toddler. The Federal houses and Victorian brownstones were a series of Obama posters. Last night I walked Daisy when the Ohio numbers came in. We heard cheering from the apartments above.

My brother, who I love dearly, is the antithesis, religiously and politically, of me. He once said that the East is, of course, Democrat, because all we're interested in is money.

I tried to point out -- not to argue, because our arguments last at least a year of silence -- that Democrats tend to increase taxation on the wealthy. My neighbors, who filled the streets with blue posters, are facing a certain tax increase.

Brooklyn Heights families send their kids to private schools that cost nearly $25,000 a year, then on to the most elite college the kids get into. They have jobs with fabulous health and retirement benefits. They don't need to worry about Head Start and education. They don't need to worry about health insurance or social security. They don't need to worry about the price of gasoline, their dogs' bumps, the filling that fell out four years ago. They don't need food stamps. There aren't a whole lot of moms, fathers, daughters and sons serving in the military.

They're Democrats because they care about those things for other people.

So whatever my brother meant in that statement continues to baffle me. The liberalness of people who will be paying more also continues to baffle me.

The joy last night was, however, audible and this morning, tired from an hour waiting in line at the polls before walking four big dogs for three hours, I understood what that joy will, in part, mean.

Daisy and I turned left and the first person we saw was her pal Kanga. Kanga is the super two apartment buildings down and he speaks fluent Labbish. Her butt started to wiggle and she was bucking on her leash, which I dropped so she could zoop straight to him. He was sweeping the sidewalk and hanging out with his grandfather. "Congratulations!" I said and he broke into such a big grin I thought he'd start to wiggle his butt. We shook hands, then I shook hands with his grandfather, who raised him when he was abandoned by his mother. "It's a new day," I said and we both started to cry. Then he turned to his grandfather and said, "I wish Grandma had lived to see this."

I was stricken at the same time I was alerted to an alteration in the fabric of my small life. How many African Americans are celebrating but also mourning the facts of those who didn't make it to see this day? On the other hand, this was the first time I spoke with his grandfather and we were formal in our shared elation. More importantly, we could admit they were Black. On the way to pick up Henry I congratulated another man, a stranger, and he thanked me. Another head bobbed up from the car he was inspecting and he, too, called out, "Thank you!"

And they were, in fact, thanking me. Thanking me for...congratulating them, recognizing it was their day, an historical threshold, a new dignity. Thanking them for not just walking by as if they were invisible, a thing I do to 98% of the people and dragons on the street anyway but not today. Today one word admitted our difference in color and our hope to make that immaterial. One word recognized the specialness of their color.

As a fat person, I loved it! There are franchises for everyone. No one has to accept invisibility or indignity.

My heart is overfull today. I almost can't carry it any more. I have had pride in many things the United States has the past. The Battle of the Bulge. The Declaration of Independence.

But until today I don't think I have been proud to be an American.

In an elevator later, I realized that we could not have elected Senator Obama without Black people nor could we have elected him without White people. Not to mention the various Olive, Brown, Yellow and Red people who came out and voted against their histories of discremintaion and non-inclusion.

Many many many people did this, one poll lever at a time.

And by the way: Kanga was sweeping up glitter.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Step by Step

Many, many thanks to everyone who responded to my last post. What a burden I have been to you and to myself. I'm getting better, three steps forward and one back. It's been fascinating [to me] to watch myself.

How did I start to pull out of the tailspin? I think that by the time I wrote my last post I was already pulling out -- I have no words when I'm in the depths. I was able to cry by last weekend. I have no tears in the depths. I confessed to a few people what had been building, including my mother. I hide my self when I'm in the depths.

I had a simpler week than usual, which helped because I'm tired when I'm coming out of the woods. It's like a long bad flu. The old energy takes a while to come back. I had little writing assignments to do. A brief review of a friend's book, an AFG post (the awfulness of which nearly knocked me back into the woods), a Lab Lady post, some overdue emails. I cleaned the bathroom sink, swept thoroughly, finished some reading, took clothes to the thrift shop. Such small things but such normal things and triumphs over the comparative catatonia of depression.

Now I need to get my food truly in order. I need to get started on the next chapter of my novel. I need to get out of the house without a dog and without a shopping list. I need to work on my apartment, a fact which is out of my hands until one of two men I've asked fixes the wall my air conditioner crisis crashed in.

Mostly I need to tell you I'm seeing more light than dark. I heard from one more old friend this week who wrote that I should come back to her town for a long visit. "Or maybe longer." It made me cry again; she was inspired to write because she'd had a dream about an adventure we had when we were 18. A lot of my past seems to want to reclaim me. Someplace early in the week I thought, hey. Frances. You matter to these people you've envied for thirty years. I missed SO much...but I was there in some way that some of these old friends haven't forgotten. I watched while they acted but in doing so, I can pinpoint their motivations and spin them. Watchers don't forget much. Thirty years of synthesis has its own merit badge.

I couldn't see two sides a week ago. I needed light. I've begun to get it. I've got to be careful. I'm reading a lot about schizophrenia right now but need to parse it out. I need to sleep. I'm going out to Arizona for five days but I'm collecting little projects to do out there and I'm taking a big Harry Potter book.

I ate junk last night. It could unglue me. I have THIS day to pull it around. I have dogs to take care of. I have Klonopin to get me to sleep. I took a very long nap this morning with no regrets, and I just had some yogurt and half a too-ripe pear. I can do this; I can invest in the next step, the next day, the next ray of light.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

We Shall Not Regret the Past...

nor wish to shut the door on it.

To any 12-step program member, this sentence is burned on our brains. My response to it is, "Oh, really???" Just as my response to the Promises of recovery is, when read aloud, "Do we think these are extravagant promises?" and everyone answers "We think not!" I either keep my mouth shut or say out loud, "Hell, yes!"

My past has caught up with me in recent months. It has been heartening to know that some bridges didn't burn down completely, that others were never erected but always had the potential to build, but they ALL send me whizzing through time to 1972 - 1984. I've been through one of the worst depressions I've had in a very long time.

I can tell how bad it was because it's slowly -- s-l-o-w-l-y -- lifting. I've actually told four people about it and three of them offered understanding &and faith. My mother, who last week was on my ass about insurance and retirement, said, "You're a strong person, Francie. You've weathered a lot when a lot of people would have given up." That felt validating. Admitting it is a first step. Realizing yesterday that Daisy is my anchor to having to get through it was a second step to crawling up. Having a fierce crying jag that has been building for weeks was good.

It's all been made worse, of course, by losing my abstinence & then getting off sugar again. Yesterday was Day Three & I was jittery and hyper-emotional.

Which was a good time to have something like a six-hour conversation with a friend I haven't spoken to in, um, like 20 years.

One afternoon when I was an undergraduate at the University of Montana, she stopped and asked if I was Francie Kuffel. I am sure I said coldly, "Yes." Undeterred, she introduced herself. I knew her brother from high school. That's all either of us can remember but it began a sporadic friendship for about ten years that was both acutely painful for what and who she was and what and who I wasn't.

One of the things she did that made me break down crying as we talked was fall in love with my hair. Age has done things to my hair. It's more red than black now. It's straight after being naturally curly. But I have glorious hair and she would sit me down in a chair in the back yard and trim it and brush it and gush over it.

It was the first time in my life I felt feminine. It would, in retrospect, be another 20 years, until I lost weight, that I felt feminine again.

All through the early chapters of PFT when I lament about the life obesity prohibited me from having is imbued with C. She was an adventuress. In fact, she googled me when she and her cousin got to reminiscing about showing up at my door at 5 a.m. to haul me off to Mount Lolo to watch an eclipse of the sun. I didn't go but I packed them off with chocolate cake for their adventure.

How fucking perfect. What a microcosmic look at my entire life. No I won't go but I'll send you off with cake. I'll provide but not participate.

I don't happen to remember this episode but it burns with all the toxin of my M.O. in life, all the things I didn't do.

It turned out, however, in the course of the conversation, that I said some perspicacious things about her that she found to be among the nicest things anyone has ever said about her. At that same time, I listened to her success and the aspects of her thick fruitcake of a life & felt I'd never lived or achieved anything at all.

There have been two other old friends who've touched my email lately. One I have yet to seriously deal with, the other I exchange witticisms with on Facebook, but by the skin of my teeth. She was brilliant in high school and is still an elfin character. I was thinking of her when I told my mom today that I'm SO tired of battling depression & food -- so, so, so, so weary of it. Had anyone noticed, which no one did in Missoula, Montana, in 1973, that this 14-year-old kid was drowning, I could have been so much more. Instead, the consensus, of course, was that I needed to lose weight.

I need fucking drugs, man, and the second I graduated from high school I asked for a shrink, which was pretty self-preserving as I entered my Suicide Years. But regrets have been flowing through me like another set of white cells. The men I couldn't have. The travel I didn't do. The sexiness I did not feel. Reed College, my dream school, far above my pathetic grades. C still visits her favorite teacher and asked if I was fond of her. I laughed. I had what I now know was a nervous breakdown my senior year and was out of school for three weeks. "It's just as well," said-teacher said when she asked if anyone knew what happened to me, "she doesn't belong in school."

She was an English teacher.

So, no, I'm not fond of that teacher.

Depression is like this, OK? I've been feeling on the verge of tears for weeks. It built. I self-medicated and was excessively tired. I played computer games and brooded and hated myself for not doing something constructive. The crisis, like scarlet fever, came yesterday: the fever broke enough for me to feel my feelings, to cry for not going to Reed College or playing the Poetry Game in graduate school, to look at Daisy and realize I was alive because I have to BE with this animal. To realize I had not been admitting for a while that I didn't want to be alive: the battles against myself are so so exhausting. To tell my first, beloved shrink that I'm in a Bad Place, and my friend D., and my friend J., who completely got it and didn't act as though I was insane when I asked in a small voice if she thinks Daisy loves me. To actually tell my mother what I've been going through and have her respond sympathetically.

Depression is like this: I published a book that cracked open an experience many women share that led to a cyberspace community of sharing. Maybe I saved -- or salved -- some lives. Now I'm getting ready to edit a book about the shame of regaining weight in an effort to tell these woman it's OK. It's OK to gain weight, it's what we're unfortunately wired for. And whatever battle we chose with regards to our weight -- diets, exercise, acceptance, surgery, depression -- they're all OK to. Because it's a war between self and self, society and self, and we Americans haven't won any wars lately. It's OK to love our success and to deeply revere and respect our failure and to celebrate every day that we stick to whatever option we have decided to fight for and with in this battle. Hell, let's celebrate every hour.

And then depression is like this: telling myself all that doesn't make me believe it. I'm still the young fat woman standing at the front door with chocolate cake wrapped in tinfoil, sending my friends off to have fun, have an adventure, drive 9,000 feet up closer to the sun while I went back to bed.

I hope to God I said no because I was writing a paper on Troilus and Cressida that day or had an Italian test coming up. I hope I was reading Proust at 3 pages an hour. And I'm grateful C and I found each other and that maybe I can make up for lost time in some small way.

Say a prayer for me, friends. I'm working hard to climb back up to the daylight. One day I'd like to be close to a tricky sun.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"All I want," she sighed, "is..."

Let me start off by thanking you for your understanding, advice and support. Further, I'm feeling a little grayer after so much blackness. Getting a very small cold that's kept me away from the nursing home has also given me a small space -- very small because I've been sleeping like it's my new profession and I am not abstinent. There hasn't been room for the Great American Novel in the gap my cold gave me, or even room to do the laundry or bathe every day. But I'm in less despair than a week ago.

Just before I set out on the afternoon dog rounds, I was sitting in my kitchen not enjoying the taste of my coffee and whining to myself. "I don't even know what I want," I said of today's soporific atmosphere.

That was immediately and transparently one of the stupidest things I've ever said.

I want to be abstinent, I retorted.

I want a bunch of money.
I want to be thin.
I want to start chapter three of my novel.
I want to get Pam's situation under control.
I want some energy.
I want to be in [my 12-step] Program.

Those were the items that came to mind at the moment. Here are some more:

I want to live in a home where I can give a dinner party.
I want my body not to ache.
I want a television that's not snowy and a DVD player in both my computer and my television that works.
I want Barak Obama to win the election. I want him to get us the hell out of Iraq. I want him to make Brian Schweitzer Secretary of Energy.
I want to go on a real vacation.
I want my debt to be less that five thousand dollars.
I want to know if my Missoula friends are still my friends.
I want lilac bushes.

I have no illusions that these things will make me happy-with-a-capital-H-Happy, but they would certainly promote comfort, satisfaction, community, existential meaning, and hope.

What have I done as I've slowly (and I do mean slowly) pulled myself up out of this dark place? I ordered most of my Christmas presents. I figured out how to make some stuff on Cafe Press. I've given reasonably good dog. I've eaten what I wanted, or thought I wanted, at night.

As I look at this list, I'm struck by how achievable they are. I'm pretty powerless over Pam's recovery in and of itself but I can coordinate things to facilitate it. I'm quite powerless over the election and I wish the Obama people would stop emailing me forty times a day to "call my friends and talk them into voting" for him. They have in their records my zip code. I live in a zip code that sports Obama placards in twentieth-story apartments; I don't know anyone here who's not voting for him and I won't risk yet another family schism by talking about it in certain quarters.

I'm utterly powerless over the appointment of Schweitzer to a new cabinet.

I'd say the big stumbling block in the way of everything is lack of abstinence and lack of energy.

I wonder if they're the same thing.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I'm going to sound very whiny in this post, so if you're a critic of that tone or that tendency in me, go away.

I was talking to one of Us last night and saying there's not much "me" in my days lately. Everyone I know is in terrific emotional and/or physical pain and I've become the listener and, in some cases, adviser or advocate for my friends and family.

It may have started when my dog Roger moved away. That was also about the time my mother, who has chronic congestive heart failure, was rushed to the hospital for three days to treat fluid in her lungs. My blessed brother Jim handled that crisis and flew down the day she got out of the hospital and stayed long enough to get everybody settled and for my father to have the first symptoms of shingles.

They asked Jim if we could take turns going to see them for a few days every two - three months, so I'm going out for their birthdays in mid-October & for Christmas. Jim will get to do the spring cleaning.

It was also about the time I learned my former sponsee, whom you may remember from PFT as "Pam," whom I gave my fat clothes to, has been back and forth between the hospital and nursing home since early April after everything that could go wrong with a hip replacement went wrong: raging infections, two strokes, a breakdown in health care, severe depression. Her health care agent, the person who is in charge of making decisions when she can't and advocating when she can't (and she can't: she's on so much morphine and in so much pain, she can barely remember her own name, let alone remember to ask why she has shooting pains in her left foot), lives in Michigan and can only do so much from so far away.

It became quickly apparent that she needs someone at hand to chase down doctors, go over medical records, get physical therapy for her partially paralyzed left arm going. It also became quickly apparent that person was going to be me.

This means I have to tightly organize my days. Get and drop off dogs on time, bathe in mid-day, have food ready for dinner, be braced to race over to Cobble Hill to talk to people. & I've become a pretty disorganized person who seems also to be on call for other people's problems. If it's not time I spend for and on Pam, it is, therefore, guilt. Which is also exhausting.

Mix in one of those 90-minute apocalyptic phone conversations in which two people lay their cards on the table and leave rattled but as up-in-the-air as they were before, the observation that one of my dogs was peaky -- losing weight, lethargic, drooly -- taking her to the vet and finding out she does, in fact, have Lyme Disease (my first thoughts were reprehensible: 1. thank God that HUGE amount of money I signed on their credit card came up with something, 2. I'm proud of myself for noticing she wasn't well when there were no overt symptoms), and finding two women from my Missoula past through Facebook and touching on old feelings...

You have someone who has been severely depressed, in and out of sugar, incredibly, seemingly incurably tired.

I'm getting a cold now, which doesn't in the least surprise me except for the question of how I could get one with so little human contact. I may well have dug into my own system to find a little teeny weak virus to exploit for the purposes of shutting down further -- shutting down even on the pain that I have allowed myself to feel.

I talked about this last night and ended up in the sugar. Writing about it will either do the same or begin to shake off some of the load that's been so heavy I don't want to talk about it. We all know that depression and food are the Catch-22 of all Catch-22's. I know that I can shake out of my depression a lot faster by getting out of the food and that I cannot entirely shake it if I'm in the food.

So it's Day One. I can't take my germs to the nursing home (how convenient) and I discussed with one of Us last night how, when we're really depressed, brushing our teeth or taking a shower counts for a lot. I think I can brush my teeth today. I have written a blog, which seemed beyond me.

Now I need to learn how to build rooms for other people's pain and lock the doors on them until I need or must get into them.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Waiting for Hannah

You can cut the air with a butter knife right now. Until the storm really blows in it's going to be sheer unmitigated misery outside.

Then it will be a different kind of sheer unmitigated misery outside.

Yesterday was borderline horrid but evocative. I've never really been any place tropical but the very tip of the Caribbean was covering Brooklyn, sometimes in sticky stillness, sometimes in a breeze that "almost" made me want to dance. Almost = it was still damn humid, hanging out at between 60 - 80%.

So we wait. I'm in several cycles that I don't enjoy but have to go through. I have two extra dogs today, who hated each other -- "Allen," who needed to be out of the movers, & Henry, whose humans are suffering through the US Open. Tomorrow Daisy and I go to Mally's house for 3 1/2 days, juggling Mally with the other dogs, although thankfully Boomer is away for two weeks -- they hate each other & Roger went after Henry today that left a number of bloody scratches on my left arm & thigh, which is enough for a while.

The best thing about Roger moving, aside from fewer scraps, is that I gave him a red triceratops that is sewn as tightly as any object I've ever seen & is only slightly smaller than Roger. It's become his demon twin & he is hilariously attached & scared by it in turns. The other best thing about this dog is that when he goes in for a scrap, I can pull him out, not only because he weights about 25 pounds, but because he lets me. I hauled him away & we sat & had a talk about being jealous of Henry & I told him about the people I'm jealous of & I cried & he rolled over for a belly rub.

The worst thing about Roger is my sore heart at losing this demon seed. He's a scary, scared dog but so smart & understands me better than anyone but Daisy. Unfortunately, because Daisy owns me, she doesn't give a shit very often about how my novel is going or how much I wish most parts of Henry's humans' lives were mine. The second worst thing is that he didn't kiss me goodbye, but that, like losing weight & waiting for hurricanes, is an act of nature & nothing you can ask for.

The best thing about the Mally gig is his owner asking if I was prepared to hydrate their elderly cat. The cat's nickname is "Little Boo" but Tim put the question both more and less formally: "You OK with Left Pocket and the bag?" You tell me, but I had a long pause in which I had to put various scenes from The Godfather out of my mind.

The latest act of nature perpetrated upon me is that I got on the scale this morning & it told me I've gained four pounds. Oh God, why hast thou forsaken me??? What did I do? It's one of those "All I Want" days: "All I want is to break 240".

All "All I Want" modes are suspicious, even when I think they're realistic. I'd like to say, for instance, that all I want is a shower. But I want a cheeseburger more & I want to NOT want a cheeseburger even more than that. Whatever accounts for those four pounds is in the wait-and-see ether.

Still. I really want to break 240.

This is a grab-bag post. I'm listening to Annie Lennox. I cleaned the tops of my stove today & bought a flame-thrower with which to relight the pilot light in my oven. I walked past a Ford Explorer this morning & thought it said "Extortioner," which made me giggle, & when Henry wanted to kiss a baby's feet & I steered him away, I heard myself saying, "You don't eat babies' feet, Silly. You wait until they're toddlers."

I've spent too much time alone lately. Can you tell?

With more to come as Hannah sweeps up from New Jersey.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Consumed with Details


Day 45 of abstinence
Starting weight: 262
Today's weight: 240
Total loss: 22 pounds
Dogs walked today, besides my own: 3
Attitude: frustrated & sad, in that order...

I have more than half of this week off, at least in terms of the first half of the day. Henry & Hero are away which means two - three dogs in the afternoon & I'm done.

I was gonna:

  • Exchange my Montana driver's license for a New York State license
  • Get a massage in Chinatown
  • Finish Chapter Two of my novel
  • Got to the NYC Aquarium
  • Take the 7 p.m. harbor cruise around the waterfalls
  • Visit an old friend in a rest home
  • Deal with the enormous stack of NYers dating back to September, 2002
  • Get batteries in watches
  • Assemble the Daisy calendar for my mother's birthday
  • Buy a sleeve for my air conditioner & make arrangements for it to be installed and the dry walling repaired

I've managed to:

  • Wrap a couple of packages & mail them...but not all because I had to order more printer cartridges as well as a shipping label from Zappo's
  • Write my Lab Lady post for the brooklynheightsblog
  • Write two sentences of chapter 2
  • Get down to 7 New Yorkers, throw out the plastic thingie they were in, recycle a lot of boxes and paper bags, donate school supplies to Housing Works
  • Talk to the neighbor who said he would call today (and hasn't) about the air conditioner and dry walling
  • Get my hair cut
  • Take a lot of pictures for a friend who's painting flowers and doodle them around in Adobe Photoshop, then make prints for another painter-friend who doesn't have a computer

Keep these lists in mind, as well as the fact that I'm meeting a friend for dinner in 90 minutes, need to go to meetings tomorrow night and Saturday morning, and am going out to dinner at friends' house on Saturday night. Four of those items mean leaving Brooklyn Heights for a considerable length of time -- visiting my friend won't be a quick heist either.

My dreams have been violent -- dragging a black witch (as opposed to a witch of white magic) around by the ears, teaching tough seventh graders.

Now add the ingredients of five dogs dying this summer, three of them "friends" of mine, and the news that my walking time bomb, Roger, is moving to Long Island in a week.

Roger. Roger, Roger, Roger.

There is a particular kind of love one has for a dog that hates (i.e., is scared of) everyone. There are four people in the world who can pick this little man up and I'm one of them. Only three of us are asked for belly rubs and two of us get humped and I'm the only person he kisses.

And he's leaving.

I've been on the verge of tears or crying ever since I heard. Before I took him out yesterday, we had a long talk. I asked him to remember me. I told him how much I love him. I told him how smart and beautiful he is. I asked him to remember our cookie game, our scary game, how I cam over and crawled into bed with him when he was so sick. I told him I will always remember reaching over to turn his ears right side in, and his gray beard and how he runs in great exuberant arcs. His owner called me today and asked what I did to him yesterday -- he spent the evening asking for cuddles rather than staking out the bathroom as his private territory.

I think Roger understood me, at least emotionally.

And I think I'm weepy not only about Roger but about the loss of Godiva, Barley and Zeke. The privilege of being trusted by a dog to turn up, love it, walk it, make it comfortable, make it feel loved, make sure it has some fun and pleasure has made me public in a way that nothing I've ever done before has. "Are you the Lab Lady?" bare acquaintances are beginning ask now, having read the bhblog. It's gone another step beyond being the Mayoress of Hicks Street's tender.

But it comes down to the dog. I won Roger over the same way I won Godiva over. I sat down on the floor and was. I sat and was Frances, whatever that is. They decided it by looking me in the eye, smelling me, eating some cookies, tasting my skin, walking on me. I feel as though I'm losing a percentage of my love and validation in the loss of Roger.

Old issues. I can see them however, and I can feel my sads and know they'll pass.

I just wish I could have wiped that list out...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Wonderful News

If you've been wondering why I hadn't mentioned my publisher's reaction to the Angry Fat Girl's manuscript, it's because the original buyer changed its publishing focus and released the contract into my and my agent's hands to be resold.

This morning I got an email from a friend in the "industry" to congratulate me on the piece she read in Publishersmarketplace, a daily news source, so I think it's safe to announce it generally: "Good" is code for the general amount but to my delight I no longer remember the numbers or vocabulary of the code. Let's just say it's...wonderful.


Frances Kuffel's ANGRY FAT GIRLS: Five Women, Five Hundred Pounds, and a Year of Losing It. Again, a no-holds barred, painful, humorous, and deeply personal look at the "yoyo" syndrome of weight loss and gain that affects millions of Americans each year, to Denise Silvestro of Berkley, in a good* deal, by Fredrica Friedman at Fredrica S. Friedman and Company.

* "Good" is code for the general amount but to my delight I no longer remember the numbers or vocabulary of the code. Let's just say it's...wonderful.

Thanks to everyone for your support, words, stories and wisdom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Weight Loss


69 degrees with a high of 85; 75% humidity; fair skies
Day 33, with a serious slip
246 pounds, holding; down from 262

I've learned a couple of things this week & thought about a couple of things, & I'm going through a phase of the fuck-its.

One of the things I've learned is that I can't eat at someone else's house yet. There are further conditions to this. I especially can't eat at someone else's house when I'm not at ease with the circumstances and people, and it's very dangerous for me to drink 2 glasses of celebratory champagne.

This is to say that I like to be able to take Daisy with me whenever I can and having to keep her on leash in her best friend's house because the tottering gentleman of the house is afraid she'll jump, and who criticizes her for it while Daisy's best friend leaps and smudges my glasses, puts me so on edge that I want to eat to buff that edge right off.

And a little alcohol, when I take antidepressants and haven't had sugar in a long time or filled my stomach with lots of dense food to absorb it, diminishes my judgment.

I decided, after discussing the matter with two close friends, NOT to go back to Day One. Quelle horreur! my 12-step readers will say but I say, gently, not. There is such a thing, after all, of imperfect abstinence -- and that's a last resort.

The two most important things for me, right now, are not to get yet more demoralized by this awful process, and to LEARN from my mistakes without being further punished by them. It's taken three days so far to arrive at some peace with myself over my night of sin (which was not a binge). I don't need any more of the set backs, like loss of day count, to deepen the fuck-its that currently have me by the short hairs.

I will not, however, consider Friday as part of my abstinence. I did not go pick up a 30-day coin the next morning. I did not reward myself for Day 30. I will not be going to dinner at anyone's home for a long time unless Daisy can run free, be loved, and I can bring my own prodigious amounts of vegetables. Being able to smoke would also be a plus.

So I've lost no pounds in the last five days, or at least I don't think so. I have an old-fashioned scale that is marked in two-pound increments. My eyesight for those lines is rather blurry. Maybe I weigh 145, a weight I intend to honor by dropping a couple of bucks in my savings account, lately emptied by the Air Conditioner Crisis -- but does it matter? Does that one pound make my shorts looser or my face more defined? Does it make the mile-and-a-half walk to Henry's easier?


Only cumulative weight loss does that.

Which is more important -- what one has lost, or what one weighs?

We aren't even going to have the conversations about a) how much one needs still to lose, or b) how much one will either lose or weigh in a month.

I'm pleased to have lost 16 pounds. I'm not pleased to weigh 246 pounds. As far as states of minds go, the answer is simple. But which is more honest?

The fuck-its are part of the territory but they require drastic action. I know that in ten pounds I'll be able to wear other clothes. I'm chomping at the bit for that. I also want to give this weight loss to readers -- in my author photo for Angry Fat Girls, as a simple presence in the world. I do not intend to be an example. That backfired terribly. The only example I'd like to be is how MUCH I want to live -- and live right-sized, emotionally improved, with new and funner challenges than this ridiculous Ferris Wheel of weight and food.

The fuck-its of a plateau or a blah weight mean I need to get out of my head and into the world or a productive mania. They also mean that I have to be grateful for every other good thing in my life -- this computer, the breakfast nectarine I'm finishing as I write, the dogs I walk, the sunny cool morning, Daisy just to my right, the love in my life...

The fuck-its are another diet within a diet, or another abstinence within an abstinence. I have to change the blahs to other progress and other celebration.

That champagne was celebrating some wonderful news. Wonderful news makes me want t0 eat. So, of course, does bad news, no news and the News of the World.

Eating diminished the joy I should be taking in the wonderful news. I don't know how to feel wonderful very well. It's a little like being drunk, from the times I remember feeling that way. It was scary and jittery and completely enveloping, a physical experience. That's why champagne is so fabulous, I guess.

There is a lot I don't know. I wrote in my inventory last night that,

"I had an interesting walk w/ God this morning on my way to the office supply store & Hero's. You know how [12-step people] say that you should pray for everything you want for yourself be given to the person you hold a grudge against? I've been doing this for Alix, but this morning after my usual list of things I prayed she would receive, I compared what I wished for her vs. what I wish for myself. They aren't at all the same. Do I pray for contentment, diligence, showing up, doing my job, working on progress for her, or the stuff I'm pretty sure she wants -- lots of money, fame, flirtation, health, great shoes, fabulous vacation, her husband's health???"

Someone recently said in my hearing that when you wish an enemy evil, you hang on to your enemy. When you wish them well, you separate yourself from your enemy, your lives diverge. That was the most powerful inducement to this form of prayer I've every heard.

So there you have it. Other than the battle scars of food, eating, prayer, and hatred, I've gone through almost all my papers and filed them, discovered I need a different kind of file box, washed my down winter clothes, replaced my clumsy rolodex, gotten a raise, thrown out all the pens that no longer have ink or are missing caps, and am making, I think, a new friend.

Actually, all in all, it's been a fruitful, not uninteresting five days...even at 246 pounds and holding.

Friday, August 01, 2008

72 Degrees

Vital stats:

Day 22 of abstinence.
Thirteen pounds lost, from 262 to 249.
Room temperature: 72 degrees.
Outside temperature: 87 degrees, 40% humidity.

I have survived 80% of the air conditioner crisis and the new unit is holding steady . I have rarely felt as profoundly grateful as I have in the last week.

A total stranger overheard me wondering if it was a bum machine or the Edison-era electricity to blame and he came over with industrial strength extension cords & got it working on a different socket with the advice that I needed a real electrician to work on the fuse box. The Real Electrician finally came yesterday & in 10 minutes the A/C was plugged into its dedicated socket & having my computer & lights on was no longer a risk. I still have to have it re-installed with a sleeve & some major carpentry work to fix the wall, but I have had a refuge from the heat that was sorely missing.

I can't remember the last time I had three weeks of abstinence. I see it less a steel-willed thing than a grace bestowed without deserving it.

OK, maybe I deserve it. I do the abstinent shopping & food preparation, I stay in touch with my sponsor, I do meetings. But the willingness to do this is not mine.

Going through four days of a heat wave without the A/C definitely underlined what my weight is & also made it impossible for me to eat sugar, which gives me the sweats -- the last thing I need. And the difficulty of staying abstinent has underlined the need for simplicity in my life.

Like everyone, I tend to make huge lists of things I have to do each day. These lists become my task master as much as my food plan or sugar or the scale or the heat dominates me. No air conditioning, & then fragile air conditioning, meant I had to slow down. There was no way I was going to fold hot laundry or saute greens. I couldn't even see my computer well enough for serious writing in long stretches. I started taking things off my list that didn't have anything to do with basics: my 12-step commitments, finances, food. I was tired not only from the heat but from moving furniture every day and from the stress. It's taken me a week to begin to get interested in writing, cleaning, being social.

I like the lessons, however. My reaction to the heat bolstered my commitment to lose weight; the Crisis smacked me back to basics; crawling out of the Crisis has allowed me to choose what to put back on my list. I learned that I can't be overwhelmed or get what I want when I want it. It took 10 days to go from a 90-degree dark apartment to a cool, amply-lit apartment & I really tried to make it go faster & I'm not yet done. It took the time it took.

My first sponsor said when I began abstinence, "Put on the bedroom slippers." I didn't quite know what that meant but it's been in front of me a lot in the last 10 days. It's akin to those other expressions that raise the hair on my neck -- "be gentle with yourself," "be good to yourself," etc. This has been a time I had no other choice but to take it easy, keep things basic, be grateful -- very grateful. Cool air, lights, enough money to pay bills, going to Map Quest & figuring out that the no-frills distance of my dogs is now 5.5 miles a day. If I'd known that ahead of time, I would have flipped. I'm glad I did that investigation after I got used to walking to Henry's new apartment one neighborhood over.

I'd like to think that the Crisis Lessons won't fade. I'd like to think back on this time as one in which I had to be patient & in the moment & by being those things, I had to forgive my tasks of omission. If I can forgive myself for not working on my novel, maybe I can forgive myself some of the other gunk that's been plugging up my chi -- & my mouth.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 24, 2008


But I am, in fact, in action.

First of all, thank you so much for the many compliments. I suppose I know I'm pretty but we all know what it's like when we're squirming in our own bodies, of which this week has been chockful of. This is the email I wrote my sponsor this morning in lieu of a formal inventory. It seems crafted enough to post here...

Monday: jury duty and my air conditioner died. Taking it out of the wall pulled out part of the wall.

Tuesday: Bought a new air conditioner for twice what I expected to spend. Called Craig's List guy to install. He did but my socket is so old it couldn't plug in. All stores closed for converter.

Wednesday: Found out there is no converter, the socket would have to be changed. Joe from CL brought an electrician friend over and changed socket. Plugged in air conditioner. It works for less than a minute before shutting down and flashing numbers at us. Called store -- they told us to return it. Joe went out to get tools to do so and saw his car being towed.

Luckily, the weather was cooling off. I went out and bought another fan because I don't have the time to go to store & be here for installation until Saturday if I'm fair to Joe & fair to myself.

So. I'm out approximately (and this is gonna hurt because I haven't added it up yet): 430 (air co.) + 120 (removal) + 25 (car service) + 140 (Joe, so far) + 40 (electrician) + 2 (subway): $757. And we still don't know if it's a matter of the wrong amp for air conditioner or the air conditioner itself.

AND the wall will have to be re-drywalled AND we need a sleeve for the air conditioner.

But I'm abstinent. My meals have been small and cold because I'm so fucking hot and so fucking anxious, but they have been self-contained and, if not weighed and measured, not excessive. Today is Day 14 and I've gone from 262 to 252, and yes, I've been drinking my water.

I woke up today and didn't pray. I thanked. Daisy and I stayed here last night rather than at Boomer's house; there were big thunder storms; it's cool but very rainy today. I'm thankful we could stay at Boomer's but we were both very happy to be home, even with the door on the chain, ajar, & fans.

I'm behind in meetings. Will do my best to catch up. One reason I nixed tomorrow night or Saturday morning for the air conditioner is that I want to go to live meetings. I need them.

I haven't done anything nice for anyone because I'm in a nasty, jealous mood -- they have air conditioning, let them put their OWN garbage bales back. I haven't felt in the least feminine -- hard to do when I sweat so much that my hair stand up in thoroughly wet spikes. The scale is part of my higher power right now because I know that every pound I lose will make the heat more tolerable and the walking less painful to my hips and back, and it will help me restore order to the Bat Cave, which is a wreck with a million sizes of clothes for all seasons that don't fit.

I've had to deal with workmen, sales people, hosts and sympathy calls from dog owners, as well as a distraught M, who is borderline suicidal over her eating and in desperate grief about a death in her family. I can only listen & pray and DEAL with what's on my plate and hope that she sees if I can do it, in the same relapse as she's been in, then, maybe, she can try too. She calls me because I'm probably the only person who understands the eating, the weight, the Rooms, the loss, the walking of dogs, and the jealousy of her clients who HAVE family. It's strange that the person who, in a sense, inspired my book (she broke off our friendship, which were the first strong Amazon posts I wrote), turns to me when she's grieving and hurting.

An odd thing about being so focused on one problem -- the restoration of physical comfort and a refuge from the outside world -- is that it takes me to the bones of my misspent life. All kinds of regrets, people, incidents come up as my sadness, physical duress and frustration bubble to near-tears. Things from 20 years ago are vividly in my mind. Other times that were painful replay themselves. I feel self-absorbed and guilty -- was it especially painful for M to walk Daisy (or try to: Daisy is extremely reluctant to walk with anyone but me)? How can I pay for Joe's towed car? Where are the words to address other people's problems -- R's stolen wallet, M's grief, Joe's car?

And why am I alone at 51, dealing with this shit by myself? My alone-ness is very evident.

OK. Enough. Breakfast: 1 c. rice, 1/2 c. cottage cheese, 1 nectarine; lunch: steamed kale & a tomato, 4 oz. chicken; dinner w/ friends, which will be abstinent.

Love to you --


Friday, July 11, 2008


In the last month, I have spent five nights in my own home. My latest foray was to The Land of No Irony, also known as Sun City, AZ. Actually, the town may have an Irony Store now, but it was too hot to find out.

One week of 110-degree days, my parents' very small lives, reading and sleeping and eating. I zoomed through a badly written but interesting book, Paws and Effect: The Healing Powers of Dogs, which my mother is now enjoying, Pride and Prejudice and The Starter Marriage. I slept for most of 36 hours. I filled their freezers with homemade cookies and found one of my father's long lost the Denver Post obituaries. I lopped off all my hair. My friend, A, said this morning that it's one shade away from overalls and flannel shirts and motorcycles boots.

It was awful but useful in sorting out some of the unmanageability challenge.

Here's the deal: Everything in my life is a mountain. Forty-eight hours ago, I wanted/needed:

  1. to be a good daughter -- helpful, entertaining, loving, companionable
  2. to pack
  3. to work on two editing projects
  4. to answer hundreds (I'm not kidding) emails
  5. to be in touch with old friends I've not spoken to in months or years
  6. to work on my novel
  7. to work on the tablecloth I've been embroidering since the 1970's
  8. to sort photographs and unpack boxes for my parents
  9. to help my father make pasties
  10. to tape record my parents' stories
  11. to blog
  12. to read blogs
  13. to return phone calls
  14. to rewrite my addresses in my Filofax
  15. to work on a guest blog for a major fashion magazine
And a few other things.

All of the above was in my power (or in my suitcase) to do. Instead, I started reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while I ate cookies.

When I got up yesterday morning, I was disgusted with my food and still shuddering from the hair stylist trying to show me that back of my hair (I saw my profile as she turned me around and slammed the mirror down). I had a six thousand page book to add to my backpack that was already heavy with my laptop. I had done very few of the items above, except to chop vegetables and make pasty dough in the Cuisineart for my father, and [too often] grudgingly chat with my parents.

All of that stuff remains, as well as the last of the unpacking to finish, dogs to take care of, laundry that needs to be done, cleaning, getting to meetings, buying groceries and cooking, trade in my Montana driver's license for a New York license, get out of jury duty, and read a spate of books I need to read for my novel.

What got in the way? Laziness or exhaustion. Wanting to tune out my real life, the one in which my parents are feeble and my shoulders and right hand are yacked out from dogs pulling and the obligation to write.

These are fine reasons for not embroidering or writing chapter two except that I went there with Good Intentions. The best way to obliterate Good Intentions is to binge on flour and sugar.

My bowels are a mess, I'm looking at a seatbelt extender in ten or twenty more pounds, I'm NOT looking at myself, I have a mountain of self-loathing side-by-side with my mountains of flesh and my mountains of food.

That's three mountains I have to climb before or simultaneously with getting myself to the DMV or the washing machine. It was an opportunity lost to find out exactly who immigrated from Lvov in the 1880's. I'm still at one chapter when I'd like to finish this book by Labor Day.

Those are the mountains behind the mountains.

The Black Beast and the Red Demon are at war over the turf of me today. I should be calling writing this blog & getting to the bank a success.

But the fur is flying and the hills are alive...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Of Grapenuts and t-shirts: Steps Part 2

Of course Grapenuts are a danger signal. Anything processed beyond freezing or being canned in my house is a warning sign that I'm either going to lose my abstinence or have to do some serious cupboard cleaning.

I don't have very much time today so I want to talk about how the near-end result of compulsive eating, my weight, makes my life unmanageable.

Today I weigh one pound more than I did when I began blogging on Amazon a couple of years ago. Two Five One, folks. I'm in a good place to note how physically unmanageable -- or compromised -- my life is because of Grapenuts.

It's warm out. Not hot but a breezy 80 degrees or so. Five years ago I would have walked in the sunlight to keep warm. Now I sweat through my underwear and have to p-e-e-l off my clothes when I get home. My shorts ride up at the crotch and I have to try to find a private moment to tug them into place. My hair is wet after an hour in the dog run. My back and hips ache from walking.

I wanted to find a big tenty dress with pockets to wear when I walk dogs in the afternoon but soon realized I chafe my thighs. This was a real ugly realization. Just like the bad ol' days.

On top of which, I don't get the sizing of things, partly because I'd about rather slit my wrists than go in to the five stores that carry my size and try things on. The 2X sweat shorts and capris I just got also chafe my things because they hang so low in the crotch and I can't cinch them any tighter. The same size in cotton trousers is too small altogether.

I'd have to hunt high and low for those fat lady stores. Five years ago I'd have bought my dog walking "Rat Clothes" at the Gap and Target.

Why did I keep these things that were too big and why didn't I keep things that were slightly too small?

Because I don't trust myself.

Ouch. Talk about unmanageability. If I can't trust myself to control my eating and my size, what can I trust myself to do and be? My food, which my size represents in this blog, is the front line of how little I believe in myself.

I like what I found and ordered more in the same vein. It doesn't take long for me to be bored with my clothes now.

I have to do more laundry because of the sweat and because my body pokes out to soak up grapefruit juice and chicken. I'm lucky to have laundry in the basement of the building -- but it's $1.75 a load for the sweat and stains.

Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to plane travel next week or the [hopefully] silent reaction of my parents.

And the clothing that spans size 6 - 24 takes up ENORMOUS space in my little Cave. Have I mentioned the chaos I live in???

What was once not a big deal now makes think twice -- cleaning the bathtub and the oven, looking under furniture for a missing dog toy, theater seats.

I've been doing a lot of meetings on open-mindedness to God's will lately and my panic over this day diminished a little when I realized I could simply take Henry home, rather than risk having him eat the Bat Cave while I did my afternoon walks.

It was thinking hard about how to keep myself sane (remember Steps One and Two: "We admitted we were powerless over food and our lives had become unmanageable," "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity") in order to bolster my chances of staying abstinent, repeating the word "willingness" to remind me that there might be options, divine or otherwise, I haven't thought of in regards to a difficult day, that made that light bulb go off to take Henry home.

But it's 50 stairs, a total of 100 more stairs for the day. My first instinct was to say, ah fuck it: I'll risk my flip-flops. I was thinking of the airless warm journey up two floors. Willingness, willingness, my mantra went on. And yes, I wiped sweat of my face when I got back outside.

I do not look in mirrors, even from the neck up. I do not look at my shadow. The light burned out in my bathroom and it was only because I need stuff in there -- clothes, hydrogen peroxide, hair brush -- that I changed it. I certainly didn't do it to look at myself.

I'm relieved when I can step off the sidewalk to pick up dog poop -- it's another three inches I don't have to stoop.

It's Day 3. I had a cup of brown rice, 1/3 cup fat-free cottage cheese and a grapefruit for breakfast, a salad with 4 ounces of chicken and a tablespoon of mayonnaise for lunch. I feel clear-headed and energetic.

I'm lucky as hell. At 51 and this weight, I will walk dogs for approximately 200 minutes today, including about 250 stair steps. I came home from 80 minutes of three dogs and set to work cleaning said oven, then got in the shower. I chopped eggplant and onion and am roasting them for dinner now. I will prepare to relocate to another dog's house tomorrow, and in doing so will prepare to go to Arizona. All of these things require energy, strength, willingness and strong knees. I can do them. I couldn't do them 80 or 60 pounds heavier.

But I used to do them a lot more gracefully.

Monday, June 23, 2008


My sponsor has sentenced me to hard labor as I struggle to get off the sugar train.

I have to do a meeting a day (in our cyber age, one can "do" a meeting rather than "go to" a meeting because they're online or on the telephone as well as in church basements) for 30 days.

I have to call one other compulsive eater each day.

I have to read one page of Alcoholics Anonymous each day.

I have to email my sponsor what I'm going to eat each day.

I have to email her a daily inventory each night.

And I have to start over in my step work, which has always been one of my weak points in the Rooms.

The first step of the twelve steps for compulsive eating and food addiction, based on AA's twelve steps, is "We admitted we were powerless over food -- and that our lives had become unmanageable."

The usual approach to working on this pretty grim step is to do a food history. I've done that -- I've published it, for God's sake. She suggested I move on the second step, "We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity," but I observed that the second part of the Step One, "our lives had become unmanageable," is often overlooked.

Taken with the point of Step Two -- the restoration of sanity -- that phrase is particularly important. These Steps are not so much about food as they are about the mental and spiritual balance I lose every time I lapse.

This has to sound cliche, but as I write these statements I understand the direction they can take me in better than I have before.

I want to talk about the last couple of weeks and the weeks coming up.

Daisy and I boarded at two Italian greyhounds' house for ten nights. The first weekend, I was also "boarding" another dog -- that is, hanging out with him as much as possible, tucking him in at night, getting him out first thing in the morning. That weekend I also had another set of IGs to go in and feed, clean up after and love.

I literally needed to be at least three places at once all weekend long. Following that weekend, I agreed to several nights of 9 p.m. walks. I was back-and-forth between the Bat Cave and the IGs. My yogurt was in one apartment, my salad makings in another, nightgown there, clean underwear here. It didn't take long for me to start eating between meals, eating Bad Stuff, and then eating Really Bad Stuff. I had no internet connection at the IGs and couldn't always make the times for online meetings. My bowels cramped from stress; I was exhausted. I didn't get to any live meetings for a week either. I'm now six meeting short of my 30 in 30 days. (In 12 Step parlance, we call such a marathon a "30 in 30" or "60 in 60" or, God help me, a "90 in 90".)

This is the first day I woke up in my own bed since June 15th.

On Thursday, three mornings from now, I start staying at Mad Mally's house -- he's a big crazy black Lab & he has two cats, one of whom I'll need to inject saline into each day. Daisy and I will stay there until July 3rd, when I leave very very early to visit my parents in Arizona for a week.

Yum: a week with my parents in Arizona in July!

Lately, Step One could be reversed -- "My life is unmanageable and I'm using food to get some power". Of course this power is mostly illusionary, although it did quell some of my rebelliousness about being away from home, living in chaos and resentment and self-induced boredom. I can't quite say that eating was unproductive. Rather it was one of what someone recently called "defective habits," a phrase I like a lot.

My life is unmanageable in an infinite number of ways. Play with a dog and I get puncture wounds and a hug sore bruise on my right thumb. Change a light bulb and cut my big toe on the step ladder (talk about ironies). Spend 16 hours a day at another apartment and mine turns into one big dust bunny.

Worse, by sitting in front of TV with pop corn, I didn't pay as much attention, qualitatively, as I could have to the dogs. By debating ice cream as an option all day, my attention was yet further divided.

I wanted OUT of the prison of obligations, even when I wasn't actually in it. Granted, it's hard to work on a novel when one only has an hour at a time to do it, but I played a few too many computer games when I was home and not enough note-taking or cleaning or other tasks that could be done in a short space of time. I'm one of the people who gets to watch TV because it's the Weather Channel or nothing at home, but I was deep into Bridezilla and, oh-my-God, Tori and Dean Inn Love. I wasn't watching the news or something topical that requires time to get the gist of it. I was sucked into what can be digested as fast as cotton candy.

And my reading went unread. Phone calls were not made. Letters were not written. I used food and junk TV to escape not only my resentment, but the alternative ways of spending my time. I chose unmanageability over sanity and usefulness.

My life feels particularly unmanageable in the areas of my career (no word from my editor, no decision made about rounding up letters of recommendation at an online site, my usual reluctance to work on my book), finances (I'm trying to get taxes and my credit debt under control; I want to get medical insurance), my home (winter clothes still waiting for the arrival of storage bags, desks waiting for me to figure out how to organize, a bathroom gray with grit -- although I did one layer of cleaning my oven this morning ;)), stress (it simply comes AT me; I feel like Tippi Hedron in The Birds) -- and my desperation to escape reality.

I need to thin further about how food increases this unmanageable life of mine. I'll keep you posted if you want to read more...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Price We Pay

I've decided I can no longer afford to binge -- eating healthy, weighed and measured food has become prohibitively expensive enough.

I'm just back from the store where I spent $16.06 on a 10-ounce can of generic coffee, a container of Fage yogurt, a small box of Grapenuts and a cauliflower.

A package of Oreos and a pint of Hagen Daz is $9.96.

That's a bag of Beneful for Daisy.

Lots of rain here -- restless dogs who would come back caked in mud if they went to the park. I'm reading Emma and deciding what my next step in my novel is.

Oh, the humanity, she sighs...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not to Decide Is to Decide

I'm in my jammies tonight wondering where the day went & how badly I cheated it. A woulda-coulda-shoulda day that I misspent.

My intentions were to get Daisy & Hero to the Hill for some exercise. Boomer was with us for the day, however, & it all got too complicated, so we had a few prinks on the Promenade & headed home.

Poor Daisy. Hero can take it. Her idea of a fun time at the park is to walk around squeaking a ball at other dogs. Daisy, on the other hand, is there to work. Consequently, she was owly today as well, lashing out at people & other dogs as much from boredom, I think, as from distrust.

I intended to go to a meeting tonight. I had 90 minutes to pull it together. There were three obstacles. 1) I didn't want to, 2) I hate all my clothes (or how my clothes look on me), & 3) a friend has been hung out to dry in a public way & my initial call on her jurors' shittiness needed to be broadened into a case-by-case point. We AFGs are really a pretty civilized bunch -- we should give ourselves some credit for that.

I'd also intended to roast some vegetables but that, too, went by the wayside. Along with getting a copy of my apartment key made (two tries elsewhere have failed), writing (throwing out & starting over) the first page of my new project, & maybe a load of laundry. How does time flitter apart like this? I was up at 5:30 this morning, you'd think I'd get something Real done in the ensuing 16 hours.

I guess I did, though. I'm abstinent. I had two huge epiphanies yesterday that have watered that abstinence. One is that I HAVE to put program first. (Did I make that meeting, 10 minutes from my house that lasts for an hour? Have I made a phone call? Noooooooo...)

The other was walking my 17-year-old Zeke. We were waiting for a light to change & a woman bellowed, "Move your dog!"

"I can't," I said.

"Yes, you can," she yelled back over her shoulder. "He's your dog."

My response? "He's 119 fucking years old!"

I have a friend who gets into these situations & reacts by singing back, "Love you!" As Zeke & I turned back toward his house, I realized the correct response to that woman was, "God loves you, too!"

The Red Beast has been upon me, you see, but not running my whole life. Still, I gotta get to the Friday night meeting.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cindy Nails It --

Oddly, I had been thinking about another aspect of my moods, one that is more active & more me than the other beasts. I had even been thinking it was Red. Then Cindy responded:

I also have the red demon, she makes me do stuff I regret. Gives the black beast something to talk about. She's pissed and bored of the grey beast and trying to fight back and get even. But she over-does it.

Yep, I thought. That's the one.

The Gray Beast is a condition that happens to me, while the Black Beast is a prosecutor, judge & jury all in one miserable mood. The Red Beast, however, takes a small emotion & builds a jungle out of it. It's not entirely my fault -- I may feel something really uncomfortable or the Black Beast may have really driven home one or another flaw -- but it's my job to keep from using a feeling to wake up my Red Beast & poke his ribs until he (or I) rampages.

This weekend was a case in point. Friday night I went to a wedding. I knew exactly 3.5 people there -- the mother of the groom, the father of the groom, the groom, and I've said hello to the bride. This is in descending order of my involve
ment with the family. I twisted on the end of a string for months about my R.S.V.P. But talk of the wedding filled our dogs walks & I helped search for Ann's dress & accessories & found myself getting wrapped up in it.

I bought a dress at Victorian Trading Company, which is a brilliant find for those of Us looking for beautiful formal dresses & funky otherwise.

I found the perfect shoes at another Big Ladies Sometimes Luck Out catalog, Brownstone Studio.

I found an Edwardian satin evening bag & had myself an ivory orgy happening.

The trouble was that I had 90 minutes to go from dog walker to Edwardian lady & I find this a most difficult turn-around the few times I've had to really transform myself like that. It's a mind game as well as a shampoo & eye liner game. & then again, the trouble was that I was doing this why? To sit alone in a church & thread through crowds at the reception & force up a conversation at dinner & be the only person there who didn't know anyone?

It was & wasn't that bad. My table mate at dinner knew as many (& the same) people as I did. But I certainly found myself feeling the outsider looking in. & when I'm like that, the Red Beast starts being nasty about the mother of the bride (I first thought she was a drag queen), the bridesmaids (three of them really shouldn't have been dressed in strapless gowns), the dancers (the blonde Connecticut wife barely moved on the dance floor: is she like that in bed??), the bride (this is all about her & her fantasies: it's not a ceremony, it's the ultimate Girls' Night Out).

The Red Beast acts. I stuffed myself with hors d'oeuvres & champagne. I really wanted cake but it was 11.30 when the waitstaff cleared our dinner plates & the desserts looked anything but tempting. I was exhausted & cell phone to the rescued myself home.

The Red Beast was not done. Somehow I was invited to the two families' brunch the next day. I thought I was going to help set up but found myself sucked into the party where there was a buffet of French toast & other crimes. More small talk was called for, although it was easier with the people I happened to sit with, & by 1.30 I was exhausted with all socializing. & I still wanted cake.

So you know what the Red Beast did, of course.

I slept a lot on Saturday, then again yesterday. I'm sitting in front of roasted vegetables after a fairly energetic but paced day. I'm pacing myself after having gone through the Gray, the Red & the Black. Too much shoving & I provoke either of the latter two & given that it's a holiday weekend -- my neighbors are having a barbecue, the neighborhood has been quiet as a cemetery except for tourists dining outside -- I have too many opportunities to feel left out & pitiful & ripe for the Red Beast.

So I walked Daisy & Boomer around Cadman Plaza. I finished two New Yorkers. I went -- gasp! -- to the post office. I only need to survive the next hour or two in order to call it a useful day.

But I have no terms for Useful Days, or Content Days, or whatever else is on the other side of the Beasts. Isn't THAT significant?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fingers Crossed

Thank you from the bottom of my benighted little heart for your responses yesterday. That I could write about how I've been feeling was, in itself, a sign of my hope that this blip of depression would end soon. It has also been fascinating to me that I can see it, note the symptoms, chart my progress & wait it out rather than giving into it with a full black-out of the soul & communication.

Three things happened yesterday that made me actively resent the intrusion of the Gray Beast.*

I didn't take the dogs down to the Hill because of heavy rain. I had skipped it on Monday as well, telling myself that my fall had made me too shaky but really because I didn't have the energy. I was feeling guilty about their time cooped up in the Bat Cave but at least I was very present for them, cuddling & instigating. Daisy had claimed the prime spot on my flopped over futon, next to me, sprawled so no one could get near. Henry, however, wasn't having any & forced half of himself between us. I reached up & pulled him over so that he was lying sideways on my, his butt on my knees, his head lolling over my shoulder. He slept for twenty minutes that way.

All the dogs are affectionate, & Boomer & Daisy will sit in my lap, but none of them would relax and sleep stretched out on me like that. It was such an act of love & trust. I held very still & put my book down so as not to disturb him.

The rain ended around supper time & I took Daisy for a walk. We ended up at the big park where there is actual grass (the Hill is ground up bark) & a playing field of Astroturf. I took her leash off & she shot off in a million directions, sniffing, playing the puppy, then rolling ecstatically on the wet playing field, throwing herself down to writhe & wiggle over & over again. That, my friends, is what happiness looks like. I appreciated her happiness even if I didn't feel happy myself. It reminded me of what happiness can feel like.

The last thing is maybe a writer's thing. I spoke one good line & thought another yesterday.

I was walking Hero & met Gerry & Molly, who we joined for a block or two. Hero peed & I praised her, trilling when she looked at me expectantly, "Oh, what a pee! You are a cham-pee-n!"

Gerry said, "It was definitely a ten. She could teach us a thing or two."

"I'm a defecator from way back," I retorted.

As Daisy was prancing around the playing field, two people stopped & began doing serious stretching, knee to ear stuff. I sighed to myself that I really resent public acts of yoga.

& then I thought, Damn: what do I DO with such good lines???

The Black Beast woke me up this morning after a bad night's sleep. You've mistreated the dogs, it said. You've been eating way too much food. You're so fat -- you're always going to be fat & you're going to get fatter yet. When are you going to get a manicure for the wedding, h'mm? How are you going to pay your bills? Do you know how much your back is going to hurt by the end of the day? You should really pack up blankets until the new storage bags get here -- the house is a mess. Speaking of messes, when was the last time you showered? When are you going to get keys made & buy cards? Do you KNOW how much money you've spent on clothes lately?


I finally, in my second cup of coffee, said, "Enough!" I'd get the dogs out today. I'd try to keep my food by the book. I'd keep my to-do list minimal so that I wouldn't have so much failure at the end of the day.

More to the point, I told the BB, I'm staying in the minute. I'm going to do the next right thing, one after another. I know what they are but I forbid anybody in my brain to talk about it before the minute has arrived. AND, I told the BB, I'm going to thank God for every walk I have to do, for an aching back that means I did the walk. I'm going to thank the guy for everyfuckingthing that happens to me today because no matter what it is, I can react to it properly.

I went into the bathroom to get dressed & realized as I was pulling my socks on that I had been spraying my wounded knee with antibacterial stuff but hadn't actually cleaned the thing.

That is what depression is, I noted. It's not disliking oneself, it's ignoring a seriously skinned knee.

I got out the hydrogen peroxide. It stung; the wound needed debriding that badly.

So is it any wonder that when, twice today, I got dog shit on my hands, I minced my dogs along until I could get to the nearest soap & water & wash up? That's what reacting properly is.

The dogs were smiling & filthy when we walked out of the dog run.

*The Gray Beast is without affect -- with no voice. It's a tactile Beast, preying on me with a heavy gray net that blocks out life & light. The Black Beast, by contrast, is auditory. It has a snarling voice of accusations, reminders, things to do, recriminations & dour predictions.