Saturday, August 23, 2014

Joining the virtual blog tour

I've always loved to travel. Even if I'm not boarding a plane at the moment, I'm thankful to Emily Breunig for tagging me in a virtual blog tour in progress. Emily, who was a fiction colleague of mine at St. Mary's College of California, is a writer, teacher, editor and self-proclaimed cat wrangler who now can count an adorable puppy amongst her companions. She's had stints in China and Sweden and currently lives with her husband and menagerie in the South Bay. I'm happy to count her among my writing community.

A snippet from her novel "A Ghost at the Edge of the Sea":

The plane over the Pacific shuddered and dipped. Its wings flexed, and the metal groaned as the passengers groaned. From his position in seat 46B, Will couldn't tell which sound was which. He clutched at his armrests, his seatbelt cutting into his stomach with every jolt. The flight attendants had been strapped into their seats or at least ten minutes now, or twenty; he couldn't move to check the time, and outside, it was still dark. The woman next to him gasped and grabbed his hand as the screens showing the film flickered, then went dark, and Will held his breath, waiting for the oxygen masks to tumble into his lap.

"At least," the woman said softly, without letting go of Will's hand, "at least I know where I'm going."

Will raised his eyebrows at this, and then turned to her and gave her the best smile he could manage. "Shanghai still, I hope. Unless they've changed it to some small Pacific island."

The woman giggled and shook her head. Her blond bangs brushed at her eyes with the movement. "No, that's not what I meant," she said, pressing down with her hand and driving his own into the cracking gray plastic. "I mean after that, if this plane gives up. What's your name?"

"Will," he replied, cautiously, unable to come up with another to give her.

"Pray with me, Will," she said. "Pray that we reach whatever destination God has set out for us, whether it's of this earth or not."

As defined by another St. Mary's fiction colleague, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, who tagged Emily, the definition of a blog tour is as follows:

The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.

So without further ado, let's launch into the questions:

1) What are you currently working on?

I've just sent my novel, THREESOME, to my agent. THREESOME is an account of a couple whose daughter was killed six months prior and who, in order to try to cope with the aftermath, travel from Columbia, Missouri to Gualala, California. Having done that, I've been writing and submitting a ton of personal essays. Once I've gotten that out of my system, I'm going to start on PIRATE BOB, a first-person narrative from the perspective of a shelter dog.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I push the envelope until it tears. Once you get inside, you won't believe what you'll find.

3) Why do you write/create what you do?

I can't not do it. Some things need to be said, and they're usually the things no one talks about. I've always wanted to walk that edge, because while you risk falling and breaking your ass, you get a hell of a good view in the bargain.

4) How does your writing/creative process work?

Eight and a half weeks ago, it changed radically. I had weight-loss surgery and am down 35 pounds. Along with this came a rush of energy that has enabled me to write as much as 2000 or more words a day, which is awesome given that I was barely managing 500 words daily (if that) before. I write in cafes in the morning and at home in the afternoon, usually with music playing and with copious Facebook breaks. I type like a demon. If I'm not breaking my keyboard, I'm not doing it right.

And now to tag four others! Here we go:

Lita Kurth (MFA Rainier Writers Workshop, Pacific Lutheran University) has had work accepted or published in FjordsReview, Redux, Raven Chronicles, Main Street Rag, Tikkun, NewVerseNews, Blast Furnace, eliipsis…literature and art, Compose, Tattoo Highway, Composite Arts, Verbatim Poetry, the Santa Clara Review, Vermont Literary Review, and others. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her CNF “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” presented at the Working Class Studies conference, 2012, won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award (summer-fall 2014) and appeared in Lunchticket 2014. She contributes to,, and In 2013, she co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a reading series in San Jose.

William Yelles started Daily Possible to help you silence the world’s alarm with the wake up call to infuse your life and the lives of others with meaning and magic. New content each day provides solutions spiritual and practical. As a coach and consultant, William provides the right amount of inspiration, encouragement and passion to drive successful results. Learn more at

Tracie Handley is a Southern girl who, after years as a trial consultant, decided to chase her dream of being a writer -- a paid writer, that is. Working as a freelancer, she's written articles for AOL Travel, HuffingtonPost, Gadling Travel, Paw Nation, and numerous other outlets. She has one book in print, Divine Inner Vision: Living Life in Focus, which she co-created with lifelong friend, and extraordinary photographer, Sherri Rudder-Smith. Currently,she is collaborating with Sherri on a book which focuses on autism from the perspective of families who live with it every day, and, as always, she's chasing freelance opportunities.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Northern California Family Dog Cancerversary event

I volunteer at Family Dog, and founder Angela Lucia Padilla was celebrating twelve cancer-free years. (Go Angela!) This picture was taken with me and Xena, one of Angela's amazing dogs. I love it and made it my Facebook profile pic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More on the second step

From the OA book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

Compulsive overeaters are often people of extremes. We overreacted to slight provocations while ignoring the real issues in our lives. We were obsessively busy, then we were 'wiped out' and unable to act. We were wildly excited then deeply depressed. We saw the whole world in black and white. If we couldn't have it all, we didn't want any; if we couldn't be the best, we didn't want to play the game.

So, then, overeating is a symptom? That seems so much like a duh, ten-four good buddy!, but I don't think I realized it until right now. In going to these meetings, we're not necessarily tackling just the symptom. We're looking at the cause.

I'm not saying I'm an OA cultist. My father-in-law went through that for a period and I know it was destructive not only to him but to his family. I go to one meeting a week, not six. That said, I know I can be an obsessive and compulsive person. I can also be bipolar -- either really up or really, really not. This has been the most heavy-duty period of working on myself that I can remember. Let's see where it gets me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

And more Awakening Joy

"When you slow down and pay careful attention to what is happening inside you and around you, a new world opens up. Everything comes alive. In fact, you may notice that surges of joy arise in you spontaneously, even when nothing special is happening, and even in the midst of difficult times. ... With mindfulness we can appreciate that every moment of life, whatever our experience, is precious. When we live in this way, a certain kind of vitality comes into our lives."

So if I pay attention to what's going on right now, what do I find?

I'm at Cafe Trieste at Dwight and San Pablo. There's a decent-sized crowd here, mostly either people alone or in pairs. I just switched away from this blog to check my email. I'm so used to doing that, but doesn't it take me out of the moment? See, there, I did it again. I've conditioned myself to jump into the future -- what messages have I gotten -- instead of just experiencing the present. Why is that so damn hard? I'm listening to Jim Croce's "Photographs and Memories: His Greatest Hits." The song that's playing now is "Rapid Roy" (that stock-car boy; he the best driver in the land) and I just stopped to put that on Facebook. I'm always switching back and forth. I'm not sure if that makes me happy or not. Sometimes it does. There is a guy in a blue shirt ordering his drink right now. He just took the honey and asked that it be added. Or maybe he added it himself, I couldn't see. For some reason I just thought about that old saw that always goes around Facebook (see, Facebook again): Be kind to those who you meet, for everyone is fighting a battle you may know nothing about. That can be easier some times than others.

Outside it is gray and cloudy as it has been all day. People are coming in and out of this cafe the way thoughts do in and out of your head all the time. What draws people here? I know for me I get lonely, even with the dogs, and need to get out in the world. I've always worked in cafes. I just took a picture to add to this post so that I can visually remember, even though I always know what Trieste looks like. I've been here millions of times. Okay, maybe just thousands. Hundreds, definitely.

Thinking about the second step

The OA second step is: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. First off, I don't see myself as insane, but okay, I understand what that means. As I wrote yesterday, I've really been hedging on this whole Higher Power thing, but then I went to the East Bay Meditation Center half-day workshop, where they talked about Nirvana. In part, Nirvana is defined as release, a liberation. Mushim brought up the idea of a clenched fist holding a desired object. In Nirvana, the fist naturally opens and its contents fall out with no rancor.

Could that be the meaning of recovery?

Nirvana is also, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, the release of notions, of the ideas of the way things should be. In accordance with this definition, does that mean that my Higher Power is the absence of these notions? Is my Higher Power within me?

Wild wacky stuff.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nirvana versus Higher Power

This morning I went to a half-day workshop at the East Bay Meditation Center. The topic was Nirvana, and teacher Mushim (Patricia Ikeda) greeted us with the following Thich Nhat Hanh quote:

Nirvana is the ground of being, the substance of all that is. Water is the substance of the wave ... we carry in us the ground of interbeing nirvana, the world of no-birth and no-death. Nirvana is the complete silencing of concepts.

We did some reflective journaling on our ideas of nirvana. This is what I wrote:

What comes to mind with the word nirvana? There is the idea of a waterfall, something clean and spilling with no dictation from above or below. Nirvana is something achieved, but not demanded. I wonder if it's possible in this lifetime, at least on an ongoing basis. We achieve moments of it, but a solid state? That seems quite a bit more difficult. I'm not even sure I want ongoing nirvana. Wouldn't it get a little tiresome. Then again, maybe the pollyanna definition of the word isn't the real thing. I'll probably never know. 

In Mushim's dharma talk, she addressed the three seals that indicate the truth: 1) impermanence; 2) non-self; and 3) nirvana. Nirvana, she said, was part of the Buddha's spiritual practice and is the realization of truth with no greed, no aversion (hatred) and no ignorance (delusion). There are no fixed thoughts, no concepts and no perceptions. Mushim suggested thinking of thoughts as objects -- heap them into a giant pile and burn them. No ashes, nothing. Gone.

She warned that nirvana can sound unsexy and unexciting. No desire? No suffering? No craving? No urge to shop? "There is no shopping in nirvana," she said.

This got to me. I've been busy transferring my food addiction over to shopping -- clothes, jewelry, boots, all the girly stuff I always claim to hate. Could a nirvana state mean an end to that kind of craving and searching? Perhaps. I may never find out for myself.

It also got me thinking about the Higher Power they talk about in Overeaters Anonymous. I have such issues with the idea of a Higher Power, even with their codicil: as you understand Him. I'm not sure I know or understand Him or Her or It at all -- and I'm not an atheist, just a skeptic. I do believe in a God, but I don't know that I need to turn my life over to that concept.

What, though, if the Higher Power is Nirvana?

Whoa. That blows my mind on a Sunday night. Does that mean that instead of turning my "recovery" over to some sort of god, I'm surrendering to the progress toward nirvana?

I gotta think about it.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Ready for the second step?

I'm trying not to rush through the 12 steps of OA, but rather do it right so I don't have to go back and do it again. (Which I probably will have to anyway.)

The first step is: we admitted we were powerless over food -- that our lives had become unmanageable. I think I've done that, but can I be totally sure? At a meeting yesterday someone said something about knowing they could move on when they had turned it over to a higher power. I haven't 100 percent done that, nor am I sure I want to. Common sense or resistance? I'm not in OA to treat it as the God's honest truth, necessarily -- but am I hindering what they would call my recovery?

Of course it's hard to know. That's where a sponsor comes in, but I'm not at that point yet. The closest thing to my sponsor is my therapist. Maybe I should talk to her about it.

So what's the next step?

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Am I there yet? Am I working that step, as they say? I mean, I do believe in God, and they always talk about God as you understand him. It is very tempting to turn it over to that higher power. But there's still resistance. I guess that's the part I've got to figure out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Seven weeks out, 33 pounds down

Interesting exercise from Awakening Joy

Just As It Is

Pause for a moment and notice right now how you're feeling, physically and mentally. You may be seated comfortably somewhere as you read this or on a crowded subway train in New York. Wherever you are, check to see if your body feels tired or energetic. Notice the sounds coming and going. Rather than just looking around you, become aware of the fact that you're seeing. Notice any tension in your shoulders, neck, hands. Observe the thoughts going through your mind ... Your experience may be pleasant or unpleasant, but allow it to be just as it is without wishing anything were different. You might notice how restful it is to simply be aware of what is happening in you, instead of getting caught up in making an assessment of it. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More Awakening Joy

"With mindfulness we live in the present moment. This is not, however, where most of us spend a lot of time. We topple forward into the future and worry about the next day or month or year. We thin about what happened yesterday or last week or five years ago. We plan a vacation for months, then we're finally lounging on the beach, our mind drifts off to the problems we left at home. The habit of being a little (or a lot) ahead of ourselves, living in the past, or lost in fantasy, exacts an enormous price: we miss out on our life."

Robin Williams

How is it possible that he's gone? I was shocked yesterday to read it. Shocked doesn't even begin to cover it, actually. The words comic genius are tossed around so liberally, but in his case they are so true.

The thing is, depression is a bitch. It lies to you. It tells you it's true and no one can convince you otherwise. As I wrote on Facebook yesterday, I am so sorry no one could reach Robin Williams in time. I feel for his family, his friends, his fans. I am certainly among the latter.

Adam and I saw him at Bimbo's in 2006, I think. Or 2007. Not sure. I don't laugh easily. I howled that night. He was one funny son of a bitch. Irreverent and yet so lovable. There won't be another like him.

RIP, sweet man.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Today we were talking about my memories of childhood and teenagehood, of being in the pantry and eating. Susan talked about doing the "archaeological dig" of trying to pull up the feelings from that time, to really dig down and get at what was going on in those moments.

At the end of the session, she said: "We're trying to get to that little girl in the pantry. We're trying to see what she needed. We're trying to integrate her."

I think that little girl is key to so much. Thing is, I like her. And I want with all my heart to integrate her.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My tea bag reads ...

I am beautiful.
I am bountiful.
I am blissful.

Add "sick as a dog" to the list. Yesterday I made the mistake of having some bottled Yerba Mate tea, ignoring both the caffeine and sugar counts. I was up late last night and now this morning I feel like hell. I got some ginger tea at Au Coquelet and can't even bring myself to drink it before it gets cold.

I know this is going to happen and I'm not angry at myself. I just want to feel better.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Awakening Joy

"Because everything changes, no circumstance, experience, or object can give us lasting happiness. Our bodies change, our minds change, the seasons change. As Joseph (Goldstein) puts it, trying ot hold on to anything in an ever-changing reality is like holding tight to a rope you're sliding down. All you get is rope burn. And the more you hold on, the more you suffer.

"What is the way out of this predicament? Awakening joy isn't about fulfilling goals or changing particular circumstances. It's about training the mind and heart to live in a way that allows us to be truly happy with our life as it is right now. Not that we stop aspiring to grow and change in positive ways, or that we remain in harmful situations, but we begin to find the joy inside us right where we are."

- James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander

Monday, August 4, 2014

Step One, continued

I've been continuing to go to OA and I think I'm getting something out of it. My therapist says it can be helpful, though the format is "corny" in her words and I agree. It would be helpful to have a sponsor, but I haven't yet met anyone who I know well enough to ask for that favor.

I did have a good breakthrough moment last night, though. I wanted to get up and eat. It was late at night, the perfect time for binges. I wanted, I wanted ... but instead I made myself go to bed. This morning I felt really good about that and I had lost weight.

I might as well just admit that I would smoke pot during these binges. I know this is a public blog and not everyone is on-board with the marijuana thing, but I have to be honest about these things. Pot is a bad, bad thing if you're a compulsive overeater. It just makes you want to eat more and more, whether or not you're full. It was like eating was a goal. It was its own reward.

I always thought I was so smart when I was stoned. Total philosopher. Now that I've had the surgery, I can't smoke, and that's for many reasons. First is the obvious: it'll make me want to eat, and that's totally counterproductive. Also, smoking causes ulcers post-op, and that's no good. Third, it's a transfer of addictions. Bad idea.

So, back to the first step. From what I can see, it's basically saying yeah, I'm powerless over food, so help me God. Does that mean I've already done it? I already do believe in a higher power, though I don't believe that that higher power controls every element of my life. I don't want to rush through these steps, though, the way I rush through dishes and walking the dogs and so many other parts of my life. I want to do it right. I need to do it right. To be continued, I guess ...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bariatric support group

I went to Alta Bates' bariatric support group this weekend. It was really helpful to sit with people who get what it's like to have your guts rearranged. If I had to assign numbers to how I feel right now, I'd say it's about 85 percent positive and 15 percent difficult. There have been minor meltdowns and a little bit of tears over frustration -- can't eat things I want to eat, can't have alcohol, that sort of thing. I really have to be mindful about what I eat, which I think is a great thing, but again, frustrating.

One of the weird parts of bariatric surgery is that you can't eat and drink at the same time. You have to wait 30 minutes both before and after you eat before you can drink. That's so that the fluid doesn't wash the food out of your stomach and leave you hungry. You're supposed to eat every three hours (obviously, with the exception of sleeping) and get a ton of fluids in at the same time. It was really, really hard when I first left the hospital, but I think I'm doing okay.

I'm not going to say much about this, but certain family members have been extremely remiss in getting in touch to see how I'm doing. They're going to hear about it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Nearly 30 pounds down

Working Step One

The disease of compulsive eating is threefold in nature: physical, emotional and spiritual. Compulsive eating does not stem simply from bad eating habits learned in childhood, not just from adjustment problems, nor merely from a love of food, though all three of those may be factors in its development. It may be that may of us were born with a physical or emotional predisposition to eat compulsively. Whatever the cause, we are not like normal people when it comes to eating. - "The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous"

I admit that I have no real clue how to work these steps, as they put it. Yesterday I had a minor meltdown. We were at a beer garden with people eating, drinking and smoking. One is limited and the other two forbidden. It felt like nothing I've done thus far has mattered. I just wanted a veggie burger, a beer and a cigarette in my hand.

Thing is, I can't overeat, not if I want this thing to work. One false move and I fuck up my stomach. Forever. It's fairly intimidating, but it's also a blessing in a way. It keeps me from doing what I need not to do. It's all escapist, all this stuff. As Adam says: "That's not the worst thing sometimes." But it was for me.