Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't Just Do Something --

If I were a Zen practitioner, I'd "let" that title end, "Stand There!"

If only I were a student of Zen.

I would tell you that it rained in the night and that the roses were bowed with water this morning. The sun has come out now & soon they will lift their heads again & perhaps smell a little sweeter for the bump up in temperature that's coming & that will also brown, wilt & kill them as a new crop comes along.

I've been taking w-a-y too many pictures of roses lately. They're in season; before that it was iris, tulips, daffodils. Close-ups. I am bored with Brooklyn Heights & so I've turned my camera on the individual, on the living & the dying, on the things that collect light & rain. On the blatantly sexual. I can't train my lens on the heart of a flower without knowing I'm peering into the Darwinian purpose & honeyed pleasure of life.

I don't know whether I respect roses. They're prissy until they're ready to fade & wilt, their skirts gathered together, their reproductive parts a maze for clever, delving bees. But from sex they cam'st & to sex they shalt return. Only look at that barely visible blood-red center & tell me that this girl is a virgin.

Which is where I could use some Zen.

My manuscript is out of my hands. I've caught up on my other blog obligations at Confessions of a Lab Lady and Psychology Today. I've done some advance cleaning in preparation for my nieces' visit in a couple of weeks. I've returned some emails. Today I have notes for my novel open. But I can't settle down, although getting those notes open is more than I could manage yesterday in terms of what I need to be doing.

I've been poking around psyches instead, always a dangerous business. Car on the Hill is too public to go into details, although I'm dying to because I want those details off my chest & this is the place I dump my brain-junk, so let me quote Mother Goose by saying that I stuck in my thumb & pulled out a plum & said, "What a bad girl am I".

A general mood has been set here, I hope, so in the context of the mood I'm going to say that I don't hide behind other blogs & poke my head out only to comment on them. I want my invisibility as I metaphorically eat forbidden pie so I'm being as obtuse as my accusation/self-justification. Still, can one create memoir without passion dripping off the keyboard in the form of brutal honesty? THAT, I think, you have seen here.

OK, I'm putting on my invisibility cloak again & closing that subject. If you're dying for details, ask & I'll think about responding individually, although only to named correspondents, if you please.


The other piece of brain-junk I need to get rid of is a whiny little rant about clothes. It doesn't seem fair to lose 41 pounds (in 104 days of abstinence: just for the sake of stats) & all Big Clothes still don't fit. I have to return a box to J. Jill today & I should be happy to do so: I don't need to spend that money when I have tons of clothes. But it seems to me that my clothes are either egregiously floppy (i.e., the leggings I'm wearing today sag) or ten pounds/one month too big. Where was I that I didn't get properly fitting clothes the last time my body was 229 pounds?

This has to be a general phenom, the righteousness of a serious loss within a weight loss in-progress. "We've come such a long way already," Dorothy protested the Wizard's demand for the Wicked Witch of the West's broomstick. I've traveled the Yellow Brick Road, I guess, but I haven't killed the witch.

& by the time I do, I'll be watching the balloon lift off without me as I lament what else doesn't fit.

"What a brat girl am I."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Free Fall

I turned in the revised draft of Angry Fat Girls on Thursday, then a slightly changed version on Friday & swore to my editors that was it, I wouldn't play with it until I heard from them again. We tweaked jacket copy so that it was less sensationalist & also made more literal sense (when did the word "raucous" take on the meaning of hilarious and romping? Its proper definition is loud & hoarse -- oughtn't the marketing department know that? Isn't "raucous" one of their favorite words? If publishing doesn't take this stuff seriously, who will?), & now I'm...empty-handed on a 3-day weekend. Call it post-partum angst, aided by food poisoning, the nervy push to finish, my neighbors 7 1/2 hour party in the garden where the beer keg was 12 inches from my window. I'm in free fall & just have to hunker down to survive myself.

As hard as this book was to write and then go in & revise -- five women's worlds of pain is not a thing one wakes up to eagerly in the morning -- the deadline of it gave me a surge of purpose. Now, intermittently, my purpose has to change.

I don't like change.

There is my novel to work on.

There is my Fourth Step to work on.

My niece & grand-niece are coming four four days in June, so there is planning & housekeeping to do.

It's time that I learned to leave the Bat Cave without a dog &/or a grocery list. My stomach wraps itself in a knot of protest at the thought but this semi-phobia must be attacked.

But sickish and shaky, drained of words and my habitual insanity-loyalty to AFG not yet worn off, I get to be weepy & depressed this weekend, more imprisoned than usual in that I had to shut my windows on a lovely day yesterday while late-twenty-somethings sang pep songs over the air conditioning.

But two really interesting things happened yesterday in between naps.

I got a wedding invitation from my cousin's daughter -- I think this is a cousin once-removed? She's one of the few cousin's kids I know & I'm slightly sad that I won't make it to Beaverton, OR, for her wedding in a couple of weeks. I went to her registries however & ordered a Solid Gift -- a complete set of something essential. It was perhaps twice beyond my realistic means & I'm being very tight-fisted these days as I work at paying off debt.

So why did I do this without a second thought? I wasn't that sickly.

It was because I realized that my mom, on oxygen 24/7, very feeble with arthritis, nearly 88 years old, is in these sorts of matters, no longer the matriarch of our little Kuffel Pod. That baton passed to me & so I acted accordingly.

I find it interesting to think of myself as a matriarch when I'm single & childless. It goes against all those horrid Anne Tyler novels.

Daisy and I ran into the owners of a dog I used to walk. The dog died & they moved to a nearby state. I gawped at seeing them across the street -- it was dusk, I was heavy with tears at being alone, un-feted for turning the book in, lost without the book, sickish, etc. They were in the neighborhood for one night & said they'll come pick Daisy & me up soon to meet their new dog. That was lovely but they went on to urge me to apply for one of two writers' residencies with which they are intimately connected. Daisy, she said, will be allowed. It could be the perfect transition between Brooklyn & Seattle, & had I been less insane yesterday would have given me stuff to think about.

The good news is -- & really, ALL of this is based on good news that's merely depleting news as well -- that I was abstinent. I'm not Speedy Gonzales today. I slept in late. I've done little to promote my life in the directions I want it go. But I feel about 25% better & I could actually be tricked into feeling completely better, which was not possible yesterday.

Things are in a state of change here. Not big change but enough change to scare me. There's a 12-step saying I love (one of the few). If a normal person has a flat tire, they call AAA. If an addict has a flat tire, they call suicide hotline.

That, alas, would be me.

Now if I could make my Microsoft '98 dictionary thingie come back to tool bar, I'd be...happier.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Paws for Station Identification

The revision of Angry Fat Girls is due on Friday, 120 hours from now. I'm now working from a list -- have I established this point? Have I defined what this term means? Have I overused the following words? What is the arc of the story? My next task is big but I confess I've gotten to the point that it's all one blur unless I'm in the task. & that task is for after taking Daisy out for a run and writing this post before the feeling fades in the petty irritations of the guy who gave me & Dais a dirty look yesterday and not wanting to go grocery shopping.

It's good, every once in a while, to have a heart-stopping moment of near death. I had one on Thursday when Henry slipped his leash, ran into the street & got hit by a car.

Time stood still. He screamed. He scuttled back to me on three legs, holding his back right paw close to his hip. I grabbed him & held him close, then backed away to feel his leg. We were a block from a veterinarian & I turned in that direction, hoping he could make it there. By the time I looked back he had walked out the pain in his leg and was smiling up at me. Henry has the best smile.

We went home & I began fretting about what to do. I mean, he had tread marks on his rib cage. He began hacking & I began poking around his belly to see if it was hard, was there internal bleeding. He'd smile again and roll over for a belly rub. Finally I stopped in at a grooming shop, the owner of which was a vet tech for many years. "I always err on the side of caution," he said and advised me which veterinarian to take him to.

Terrible person that I am, I saw my hopes of going to Prague being pissed into the gutter. "Bring him by," Tom said. "I can take a look at least." I hustled Henry over. He jumped up on the counter & began eating cookies & Tom laughed. "If you see any lethargy take him in," he said, "but there's nothing wrong with this dog."

Then came the email I had to write to his people, in which I said I'd understand if they fired me. Mr. Henry wrote back serenely and thanked me for the update.

The relief was another moment of time standing still, & the relief was hours long -- a long walk taking him home, waiting for his owners, laughing weakly together about our concern as Henry humped his bed & Daisy humped Henry.

He's alive and alright!

I pulled my guts together to tell them what happened and I've been absolved.

Daisy is alive. I'm alive. Kids are practicing African rhythms in the basement of P.S. 8. The iris are blooming. I'll finish this revision in a week. I'll go to Prague. I'll go to the movies before I go to Prague. I could walk forever. I think my skull is touching the sky...

It lasted over night & into Friday, fading slowly. I remember that as Henry, Daisy & I waited to cross Old Fulton Street on the way home Thursday night, I had the sudden thought -- or even premonition -- I'm going to get married.

Relief is one way to live in the moment, although the cost for that kind of relief is so dangerous & so challenging to all my selfish desires to appear perfect & have my treats that I can't recommend it. By the time I stopped to talk to Tom, I was the worst dog walker ever. It was only when Mr. & Mrs. Henry & I were talking over what to watch for that Mrs. Henry asked if he'd been rubbing his ears as much this week. I had called their attention to his habit of going down on his head first & they'd been using his ear drops since. "His ears looked pretty bad last week," Mrs. H. said.

Oh, I thought. I forgot that I KNOW these dogs. I know when Hero's going to take several dumps in a walk & I know when Boomer will pick out a random stranger he thinks should be sprawled on the pavement. I know when Henry wants love and when his ears are bothering him.

Relief: Life vs. guilt. But when life wins out, it's s-w-e-e-t.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Close Encounters of Another Kind

I've come to an uneasy truce with the revision of Angry Fat Girls. I do as much as feels fresh and right and then I either quit or do something else and go back to it later. Certain days, usually Wednesday through Friday, I may not write at all. I'm busier with dogs and tired in that interim so I try to do something to ease my life around writing then -- a load of laundry, chopping salad greens, paying bills, whatever.

Today was thirteen pages. I gave up when I saw my editor's long note about addressing something or another in an epilogue. Epilogue? You mean, I have to write more on this subject?

Dusk is late now, by New York standards (I miss the lingering dusk of the mountains), and I decided to walk Daisy down to the Remsen Street entrance to the Promenade to see if a fine patch of bearded iris was in bloom yet. They're just starting to come out & I'll go back this week to smell them. Each kind has a different, ineffable scent.

As we began to stroll down the Promenade, a young man asked me to take his picture against the skyline. I did and he told me how much he loved New York, as much as Venice, which he lives near. I told him about my first night in Venice when, jet lagged, I walked across the Academia bridge and saw a full moon rising from the lagoon beyond San Marco. He was off to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge so we walked together, talking of how nothing in Italy works (him) and how nothing in the U.S. works (me). Daisy stalked a chocolate Lab she'd never met and had a drink from the water fountain and we ended up walking up Cranberry Street to Clark where I pointed him on his way to a diner and Cadman Plaza where the Bridge path begins.

I realized at that moment that I could have taken him home with me.

We didn't exchange names.

I was wearing clean floppy clothes and must have been a Curiosity to him. His English was quite good ("one thousand and two hundred dollars") & he was cute. I find myself enormously relieved that we didn't tell each other even our first names, although another part of me thinks it would have been cool to hook up on Facebook. But somehow that long walk we naturally evolved into needs to be just what it was. Chatty, comfortable, a little intimate, natural. It was like the scent of a brick-colored bearded iris. Light & reminiscent of childhood & sunshine, a reminder that men don't have to be work & don't have to be wham-bam.

For whatever reason I feel like telling this story. I stepped out of my usual tense self & just was. It was a connection after a day of wrestling with points-of-view & crying through The Warden.

Remind me I'm capable of it from time to time.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Fever

What a Saturday it wasn't!

I did not go to the Brooklyn Design Festival, in which all manner of future-is-not furniture was on display in unlikely spaces.

I did not go on the Brooklyn Heights Home and Garden tour where I could have ogled Meissen pots and stainless steel kitchens.

I did not go to the Unitarian Church's annual book fair.

Whatever all the crowds were outside of St. Ann's School, I didn't join them either.

The world smelled of flowers and wok oil. I stayed inside with the smell of natural gas and dogs. The pilot light is out in my oven and relighting it means moving a lot of stuff, stretching out full-length on the floor and hoping for the best.

I have no time for hoping for the best.

Today I took out great blotches in chapter 11 of what I now hope was not the necessary information I once thought it was and dumped it into a dummy document. I moved some definitely important and lyrical stuff into another document of usable things I haven't found places for. Then I lifted the first fourth of chapter 12 into chapter 11, stirred until blended and, after 3 1/2 hours, saved it and closed up shop.

As lovely as it would have been to be out in the gray, fragrant, tepid air, I'll take 195 minutes of unconsciousness any day. Especially when it's productive.

I've been struggling with the last three chapters. I am so not out of the woods that I might as well not have a word written. And now, of course, I've read one more book that will have to be referenced, this time Gary Taub's Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is more dense than its critics say on the back cover but is a fascinating expose of what the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Foundation, Center for Disease Control, American Obesity Association, American Heart Association and most diet books promote as good nutrition -- low fat, high carb. Turns out fat is not much of a worry. Even calories and definitely exercise are not much of a worry. It's overloading the system with insulin, which drive fatty acids back into storage as fat that is the problem.

And now dropping that into the book is my problem.

OK, can we stop harping on sugar now? Pleeeeaaase?

Let's celebrate the big deep pink and deep red peonies on Willow Street. Let's celebrate 85 days of abstinence and 234 pounds/about 36 pounds lost.

This is a totem weight, a fact I didn't realize until I realized that in the last ten years this is the most weight I've lost in one sitting.

Funny how goals aren't or are meaningless when it comes to day counts and scales. The fact of beating my 30-pound losses is big. Being 234 pounds is not a big deal. The big deal will come at 220, 210, 200, etc. But it's the first time I've thought that I will, in fact, have to contend with those numbers and what they mean to me. Having beaten that 30-pound barrier, I'm less afraid of them.

Why would I be afraid? There's something sexual after 220. There is ferreting out clothes from dark recesses. There is tucking in shirts. Mostly, from that point on, I feel that I risk becoming a visible if unremarkable human being again. Which is weirdly sexual.

But let's look at the bright side: it won't happen for a couple of months, if I'm very lucky in the first place, and maybe by then I'll be avoiding the onerous chores of pilot lights because I'm deep in my novel.

OK. That's all.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Answers, for My Sake More than Yours, I Think...

Are you angry because the author [David Kessler] glosses over the reasons people overeat, or because he doesn't offer much in the way of solutions?

Good reading, Susan. I was really furious and perhaps wasn't clear about this.

He all but calls sugar and fat addictive substances but stops at approaching them the way most clinicians would approach alcoholism. He stops short despite having spoken of people who feel out of control or obsessed by food, and writing widely about how sugar and fat stimulate the reward/pleasure/addiction/fear/pain regulator in the brain.

The reasons people overeat are as many as there are minutes in overeaters' lives. Tonight I would go out for Little Debbies because I was lethargic and tired today and didn't do any writing. (This post is supposed to save my ass.) Tomorrow morning I might go out for pancakes because I'm really tired of walking dogs and, hey, I need a little motivation.

In a way, I don't think the reasons people overeat matter. Everybody has to sort that out for themselves. But finding the reasons is not a eureka! moment. If I zone out on donuts in a land where no one can hurt me, all the reasons in the world aren't going to overcome that reward groove I've got going in my brain.

What I'm angry about is that he successfully describes sugar, fat and salt as an addiction but deliberately doesn't use the word or the techniques of the addiction model. He could have at least investigated it.

There was a lot of fascinating material in the book but I don't think anyone is going to lose weight because they read it. I do not feel that way about other books. People lose weight because of reading Atkins or Geneen Roth because they either give an inspiration of how to do it or why to do it.

The God Thing

I'm a doubter by nature, although when I walk into a Catholic Church I immediately believe the wildest fairy tales. When I did my Third Step this time, I decided I would create a god who is at my beck and call. I won't ask him for anything. I demand it.

There is a dusk bird singing loudly in the gardens beyond my window. Daisy has loved me through the emotionally toughest years of my life. I will have very cold stewed apples for dinner. That's my personal, capsule-sized proof that God exists.

I want to yack every time I hear someone say "Goddess, grant me the serenity..." or refers to HP for "higher power". But there are some tangible things that are bigger than me, one of them being my desire to eat sugar, fat and salt. Electricity, my favorite thing (where would ice cream be without it?) is bigger than me. The Rooms and their success stories and support are bigger than me. Inspiration is bigger than me. My sponsor's 20 years of abstinence and affection for me is bigger than me.

So personally I don't have a problem thinking that there are powers beyond my own. And I don't have a problem squooshing them together and inventing a god that suits me.

Some Rooms are really, really Jesus-obsessed. I've been warned that the South is not a good place to go into recovery if you kind of think Jesus was prissy. Some are so new age that my blood sugar rises at the thought of them. Some have a good balance where the god thing isn't too heavy.

But I definitely get it that the God Thing can get in the way. I happen to take it for real, but not very seriously and not very zealously.

If it's what's stopping you from dropping into the Rooms, you can write sarcastic emails to me.

Eaties and Foodies

Everybody seems to see themself in that post. There are moments that I'm a foodie, but when I am, I often want more.

Right now I'm ruminating on how abstinence makes me a foodie more often than I am when I'm not abstinent. I love what I'm eating when I'm abstinent, partly because I'm actually hungry and food is gratifying under that condition.

Goodnight, all. Dream of good things tonight!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

If It Looks Like a Duck...

I. Am. So. Angry.

I've stopped in the middle of revising the eleventh chapter (don't get excited: I didn't dig into heavy revising until the fourth or fifth chapter & have lots of places marked to return to) to read a hot n
ew book, David A. Kessler's The End of Overeating. The first half of the book focuses on the power of sugar-fat-salt in our diets and on the food industry which exploits those qualities. Good stuff, albeit in need of editing -- you'll have a lot of "Didn't I just read that?" moments along the way.

The last half explores how to get off the sugar-fat-salt "hypereating
" that the U.S. has evolved into in the last 30 years.

Within the first 30 pages, Kessler presents a couple of colleagues with unwrapped fast food candy and bakery products. In discussing the affects of their sight and smell, one of his friends says "'...I cannot control my desire to eat them. I'm obsessing. I feel totally out of control.'" (p. 25) Throughout the book, people liken eating calorie dense food to the experience of a compulsive gambler who walks into a casino. He ends the book by talking about the aversion therapies used by those who treat smokers and compulsive shoplifters, and five pages from the end of the book he writes, "We can lead long and healthy lives without consuming alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs of abuse, so treatment for those addictions can be built around the principle of abstinence. But since we can't survive without eating, we need other strategies for changing our perception of foods..."

Did I mention I was angry? Actually, I'm shaking with anger.

He states early on that he's not talking about "compulsive overeaters" or "bingers" or bulimics, and yet he blandly passes by his colleague's sense of powerlessness and his friend's gambling simile. I really, really need to ask Dr. Kessler: If it quacks like a duck (or fizzes like a rootbeer float), isn't it possible that it's..."an acquatic bird of the family anatidae"???

I talk about 12 step programs for eating disorders all the time in this blog so if you're really adverse to the idea of them, first remind yourself that I have never recommended that anyone go to one. You are the only one who can decide to do that and the day you decide is going to be one of the ugliest days of your life. There aren't many people I'd wish that on.

Next, I advise you to stop reading this now.

Having established, in mind-numbingly over-technical, new-fangled language that made me go back to reread in the same way that a slice of pizza drives me to more pizza even when I hate myself for it (i.e., "incentive salience" = desire-driven, or "hyperpalatable," which means extra tasty and confounds my and Blogger's spell check) that industrial food stimulates serotonin production (also not in Blogger's spell check) and blocks dopamine receptors, he suggests a largely self-monitored cognitive cure.

To whit, did you know that a pint of Ben & Jerry's is a dangerous thing to bring home at night? Maybe you shouldn't eat ice cream. Maybe a diet of moderate portions high in protein, whole grains and vegetative stuff is what you should be eating instead of Big Macs...

By dressing up all the stuff that many of us have been writing about, talking about, doing stepwork over and reading about in swan's down, he's still turned out a duck.

Although fascinating in many parts, especially so to those who haven't dug around to find the heretofore obscurer studies on sugar addiction. At least he's brought half of it out into the clear light of National Public Radio.

The other half is that if neural pathways change over time because of the disproportion of mood-changing neurotransmitters affected by what I eat makes it hard for my brain's pleasure centers to get going from anything except sugars and fats...then I've got an addiction that works exactly like cocaine or heroine or speedballing or booze. And like them, it's degenerating because I need increasingly more to keep my buzz on. (Or off, in the case of
serotonin.) In the end, after having taken my life, it will simply extinguish my life.

And I don't see him suggesting self-rehab for that.

Nota Bene: I told my sponsor about this post and she, too, was outraged. She called Kessler a quack...

OK, maybe it's just funny in the moment after a long day of trying to fit serotonin, dopamine & endorphins into as little space as possible...

The Martha Beck book looks interesting & yes, I, too, am glad whenever an expose of the food industry comes out. He does some fascinating work with industry consultants.