Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From the great blog of local painter Randall Tipton

Last year I had a chance to work for a day with Randall Tipton, whose Painter's Process blog is a good one. I love seeing his paintings but I love his thoughtful words even more. He posted this on Dec 27. It seems a lovely entrance to the New Year.

"Since moving to Lake Oswego and beginning to teach, I`ve met many older adults who`ve taken up painting again after long hiatuses away. More often than not to have a family, or a more practical career. Sometimes there is a rueful quality in this decision as well as  a lack of confidence. Nearly all think the big issue is technique and the hours required to become skillful. It`s not. A long searching look within is required to figure out what you love visually. What fires you up with painting and why? This takes separating what we appreciate from what animates us emotionally. If we know what language to speak, that`s a huge advantage. Finding what we want to say will follow. If the technical ambitions correspond to the aesthetic goals, the process will have direction and focus.
Those that persist through their feelings of foolishness and inadequacy deserve respect. They are honoring their younger selves and the ideals they`ve carried quietly with them ever since. There is a parallel in psychotherapy where the adult patient learns to recognize, then comfort and protect the child they once were. I sense with many of the adult painters I meet a yearning to retrieve something of great value. While they still can. How truly noble."

You can find Randall's blog at

Monday, December 29, 2014

One of the best holiday gifts I give myself

Each Dec 26, I drive four hours north of Portland beyond Seattle to a tiny village called Mukilteo, where I catch the ferry for Whidbey Island and a heavenly retreat center called Aldermarsh. I started coming to writing workshops here in 2002, but for the last 9 years, I've brought my friends to two annual retreats: one over New Year's and one over the 4th of July. I didn't pick the times myself. The retreat center did, because these are periods when the staff are on vacation. This means we can come and stay by ourselves, care for ourselves, and pay a discounted rate.

But the timing is perfect. We come here where it is really dark in the winter (daylight is 8 to 4) and really light in the summer (dark is 10 to 4). We experience the deep reflection of the dark and the wide expansion of the light. I love them both, but I am particularly drawn to this dark time and its support of my writing and thinking.

I am deep in the drafting of my book on sugar addiction and having 8 full days of quiet and beauty and long walks and good food and peaceful country sleep is a huge gift. Something in me gets restored coming here, and my creative and spiritual lives deepen. I am so grateful.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A new poem by Kim Stafford

On the Solstice, my good friend Sue took me to hear the Aurora Chorus in their holiday concert. Poet and writer Kim Stafford was the guest artist and the conductor had put this poem to music. I love it.

Friend: Download This Free Proclamation for Local Use

Whereas the world is a house on fire;
Whereas the nations are filled with shouting;
Whereas hope seems small, sometimes
   a single bird on a wire
   left by migration behind.
Whereas kindness is seldom in the news
   and peace an abstraction
   while war is real;
Whereas my words are all I have;
Whereas my life is short;
Whereas I am afraid;
Whereas I am free--despite all
   fire and anger and fear:
Be it therefore resolved a song
   shall be my calling--a song
   not yet made shall be my vocation
   and peaceful words the work
   of my remaining days.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A recent painting

My niece Lisa Kelly Simmons posted a storm sky photo on Facebook and kindly gave me permission to paint from it. Here's what came of my efforts. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Taking care of ourselves in this season

I tend to go to more AA meetings in later December. I'm not afraid that I will drink. I do enough in my life to keep that at bay. It's more for relief from the ramped-up craziness of the world at this time of year. Along with the mulled cider and pine smells, there is a lot of tension and stress in the air. In an addictive culture like ours, it is very hard to stay off the bandwagon of overconsumption, whether it be food or gifts or festivities. It's very hard not to slip into the daydream of some mythical holiday where everything was perfect and everybody got along. We have hyper-expectations of fullfillment and satisfaction on these holidays that are so bound to disappoint.

The first year I was sober, I had three months clean at Christmas and no money to fly home with. I did a lot of meetings and I heard a man long sober say that he always volunteered to work (he had a retail job) on the holidays. It wasn't so much altruism as safety for him. He needed the holidays to each just be another Tuesday or Friday, another day of sobriety. "I need Christmas to be just another day on the calendar," he said. This idea has helped me keep some perspective. 

Most AA members have no illusions about their own craziness or the culture's, for that matter. So it's a very safe place to be: with like minds.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A lovely Solstice poem

My thanks to my poetry-loving fried Dale Allen for sharing this with me.

Winter Solstice by Rebecca Parker
Perhaps for a moment the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling,
the computers desist computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised in the crystalline darkness, and then gracefully tilts.
Let this be a season when holiness is heard and the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One whose gestures alter earth's axis toward love.
In the immense darkness everything spins with joy.
The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars, cradled in a swaying embrace, rocked by the holy night, babes of the universe.
Let this be the time we wake to life, like spring wakes,
in the moment of winter solstice.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Pause when agitated

These three words are a common saying in 12-Step programs. They refer primarily to those occasions where we tend to do something we'll regret later: a nasty remark, a slammed door, an unkind email. It's a variation on "think before you speak" or "take a deep breath first."

I'd always assumed that it had to do with being angry, that that's what the "agitated" meant. And as I'm not someone who gets angry very often, it didn't seem to apply to me. But as I delve deeper into the writing of my book on sugar and food addiction, I see how this can apply. For agitation can be any negative emotion: restlessness, boredom, grief, irritability, discontent. And I quite often experience these, sometimes several in a day.

And if I could learn to pause when agitated, might I then not get up and go to the kitchen and find something to eat? Something to consider.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A lesson from Mr. Sam

While four cats is a lot and I'm reluctant to get a fourth again, my household of cat personalities was better balanced when Nellie was here. With the four, I had a social companion (Nellie), a doofus (Sammy), a feral spooker (Evie), and a fraidy cat (Frannie). With the loss of the soothing old soul that Nellie was, I'm less grounded, less comforted and there's an overabundance of timidity in the house.

So I'm looking to Sammy for lessons in how to be. In the weeks since Nellie died, Frannie has stepped fully into alpha position in the pride and has been tooting her own weight around. I've nicknamed her Prison Mama. She walks by the other two very closely, sniffs them while they eat, pushes them out of the way at times. Evie freaks and runs, but Sammy just looks at her and goes on doing his own thing. He's friendly, predictable, and dependable. Loves to be petted, including belly rubs, happy indoors or out, not finicky about food. Doesn't sulk, doesn't whine. Whatever's going on, he's good with it.

I could learn a lot from this boy.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wanting others to get unstuck

It's hard being a fixer. I've been doing it for nearly 60 years. I started with my mom, trying to fix her, to make her happy whenever she wasn't. Then I worked on my sisters for a while, then my school friends, my college classmates, my roommates, my boyfriends, my coworkers, my students, my clients. It's not that I think there was something wrong with them (well, okay, with my mom, yes) but they seemed unhappy or they talked about being unhappy and I couldn't stand it. So I'd want to fix them.

Maybe it's being a sensitive, maybe it's a little too much empathy in my make-up. Maybe it's my do-something-about-it nature but when my friends are stuck, I want them to get unstuck even though I have been stuck for years in some of my own stuff. And I know that we stay stuck as long as we need to and that sometimes that's a long time.

I've been realizing that my strong desire for the ones I love to be unstuck makes me a poor listener for them. Instead of really hearing what's going on with them, I'm off in fix-it land coming up with ways they can change. Not helpful for either of us. So I'm committing to taking off my fixer hat and to keep taking it off. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Managing our wants

At the end of the Money Program in October, we had a final webinar of last words and suggestions and one of them has really stuck with me. In order to have a real handle on our money, on our time, on our lives, we have to learn to manage our wants instead of having our wants manage us.

Those of us who suffer from substance addictions know full well what it's like to be managed by our wants. Alcohol and drugs managed us. Sex and relationships managed us. Food manages us. All because our wants were/are in charge: our want to be soothed, to be numb, to be loved and cared for.

I've been watching this in myself lately. My wants seem to be in charge at the grocery store and on amazon, and while my wants aren't quite living beyond my means, they sure could be. Another great reason to pay attention. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Coincidental encounters with the past

In October, I had two interesting coincidences that involved the two most important romantic relationships in my past. The first was odd enough. The second coming a week later made me curious about what's in my astrology chart!

In the first experience, my good friend Sharon was over from Bend for a few days and we had a lovely dinner at Nostrana. Towards the end of the evening, she wanted to ask me a question that concerned a friend of hers from high school whom she had reconnected with in Bend. Usually these types of questions concern a problem with alcohol, but instead her friend wanted to know if I was the Jill Kelly who had been involved with a man named Robert Spott. The question took me so much by surprise that I could only nod. No one has spoken that name to me in decades. Rob and I were partnered for six years in the early 70s and had a most unpleasant end to our relationship, which I've written about in my memoir, Sober Truths.Turned out Sharon's friend had been married to him for a lot of years, had a son with him, and has been divorced from him for a long time. It was the oddest feeling. I told Sharon I'd be happy to talk with her but the woman hasn't followed up on it.

Two weeks later in North Carolina where I was giving a weekend workshop, I sat at a table at the final meal with some of the participants. I talked a little about living in central Virginia in the 80s and one of the women had gone to college then in the town I lived in and had had classes from Dan, my partner of 11 years, and was friends with the student he married after we broke up. She had read my memoir and now put 2 and 2 together. Another coincidental encounter with my past.

Not so many degrees of separation in our world.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Recovery film #2

The Anonymous People is a recently released documentary from an organization called Friends and Voices of Recovery. It argues that anonymity observed by those in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol does not serve the suffering alcoholic and addict, but rather that anonymity keeps the cultural  stigma of addiction going. It is a very interesting premise based on the fact that we need social services to step up and support those with this disease, not just through treatment centers but through ongoing support. I was particularly fascinated to learn that there are recovery high schools, college programs, and of course, prison programs. Worth watching.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Two recovery films: #1 Thanks for Sharing

Thanks for Sharing is a recent Hollywood film (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow) about recovering sex addicts. The men's recovery is based in the 12 step tradition although nothing overt is said about the SAA program. I found the movie fascinating. First, the sex addiction as it plays out in the film is just the same as all other addictions: compulsion, abstinence and relapse. Sex addiction is not one of mine and I had little knowledge of the difficulty these people suffer from.

Second, the film beautifully handles all the family issues, the relationship issues, the pressures, the problems. It's serious, kind, informative. I recommend it. (I found it on Netflix streaming).

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

One year of living with a wild child

This week last year, Evie came to live with us. She was nearly 4 months old, weighed about 2 pounds, and had been rejected by the Humane Society for being too old and too feral (it would take too long to socialize her).

She lived for the first two weeks behind the toilet where she had food and water and the other cats couldn't reach her (though they showed remarkably little curiosity). Then she spent two weeks mostly under the bed, coming out at night to eat, run around, and use the litter box. She spent another month mostly under the bed during the day but some nights I'd wake up and find her sleeping next to me and occasionally she would sit in the doorway of the hall and look at me in the living room. She hid under a big chair in the office when other people were in the apartment.

After about 4 months, she would occasionally sit in my lap and she slept with me most nights. At fve months, in the full spring, I began letting her go outside, leaving the door open to the terrace and she would come and go. By the summer, she would stay out all night but come in and sleep in the daytime.

I had been told that she would never be quite socialized but fancying myself a cat whisperer, I scoffed at that. Now I think they're probably right. When I'm the only human in the house, she's much like the other cats: she makes herself at home, sleeps on a chair or in the inbox or comes to be held. Lets me know in a persistent squeaky voice that the food is running low or she wants out. But if there's a noise too loud, if the doorbell rings, if a voice enters our home, she panics, races to hide. Of if I hold her and move just the wrong way, she'll claw me and scramble down as if she doesn't know. As if she doesn't remember all the holding and stroking and quiet soothing.

Yesterday in the bitter cold, she wanted out. After two hours, I started calling. On the third trip out to the terrace, I could her plaintive reply and I coaxed her as far as the cherry tree but she wouldn't come in. I tried again 10 minutes later and she came to the door and stepped inside and something spooked her and she was off and down the tree. It took four more efforts to get her in and once inside she was fine.

I do not know what all goes on for her, what wildness and fear of humans clings to her psyche, but I have enough of my own long-lived demons to cut her a lot of slack.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My kind of perfectionism

The next new chapter I need to tackle in the sugar book is the one on abstinence and perfectionism. I didn't really grasp that perfectionism is a part of the disease until the last few days. At least it's a part of my disease.

It's taken me a long time to see some of my behaviors as perfectionist. I'm not a neatnik. I'm the one with stains on my clothes and pastel chalks under my fingernails. Many of my hairs are out of place. My house is tidy but not perfect. You can't have three cats and have a perfect house. I'm usually on time but not always. I keep my word most of the time but not 100%. I'm forgiving when other people are late, when they forget things, when they are human.

But I have a thing about rules and commitments that is so deeply engrained as a survival mechanism that it runs my life without me even knowing half the time. In AA we talk about "progress, not perfection" but that doesn't really pertain to abstinence from alcohol, because for most of us, to drink is to die. So there is a kind of all or nothing stance around alcohol recovery. And my need for a stable structure, a simple rule gets met in AA. But with food, that kind of stance doesn't work so well. How do we do food recovery and let go of doing it one simple way?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Coming together, falling apart

Last week I was at an annual fall writing retreat with friends at the Oregon Coast. I have two books in the works: my fourth novel, which would have been fun to work on, and my book on sugar and food addiction. I hadn't worked on either book for quite a while as I've writing been some ebooks on self-editing.

Before I left, I decided to tackle the sugar book on the retreat because I felt stuck in the writing, and having a few days of silence and creative support seemed a good environment to deal with that stuckness. I spent the first days moving things around, finding a good organization for the material I had already written, reworking some of the older blog posts that were pertinent, and figuring out what needed to be written. It was very productive, something that always makes me feel good.

Then on the fifth day, I wrote a draft of the emotional eating chapter. I went into it with very clear ideas of the sections and what I needed to say. All that happened and yet something else happened too, some deeper knowing, some deeper feelings. When I woke up the next day, I was wiped out, exhausted, emotionally wrung out.

I didn't write again that day and since I've been home, I've worked on more mundane tasks for the book. I did good work that long, hard day but I suspect it's the tip of the iceberg. As the book comes together, I can feel my old structures of defense falling apart.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A family of fluctuating traditions

When I was a kid in a home that didn't feel emotionally stable to me, I loved the predictabiliy of holiday traditions. I gave my mother the same gifts every year (Jergen's hand lotion and a long-stemmed rose) and she always expressed delight, bless her. I needed the tree trimming to occur on the same day (my birthday) and the opening of presents to happen in the same way. I think I loved those traditions but I loved the sameness even more.

In the somewhat chaotic life I've lived as an adult, there has been a real need for flexibility in holiday and other traditions. And I'm so glad my family has embraced these changes so often that now doing different things feels normal.

For the last 10 or 15 years, my neighbor/friend/adopted sister Melanie has cooked a big Thanksgiving feast and invited all the orphans, those with no family or none they associate with. This year, she just didn't want to do it, so four of us are going to a nice hotel downtown for an afternoon meal on Thanksgiving.

For more than 15 years, I've done a first-Sunday-in-December open house with decorations, gallons of my own mulled cider, a real party. This year, I don't want to do it. So instead I'm having an informal drop-in gathering on a Saturday afternoon for folks to come by for tea and a snack and see my art and catch up.

It feels good to shift when traditions lose their ability to delight us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gratitude for my life

One of the most important teachings I got out of the Money Program this past year was that sufficiency, enough, abundance aren't specific amounts. They are a steady flow of what we need and what we want coming and going from our lives.

I am very grateful for the people who have come into my life this year and equally grateful for those who moved on. It was painful at the time, but I know that friendships have a lifespan too and that we move and change in our beliefs and interests.

I am grateful for deepening relationships with my family and close circle.

I am grateful for all the learnings of the past year, some fun to know, some hard to accept, but all have enriched my life.

I am grateful to have sufficient money flowing in and out of my life to have the things I need and some of what I want.

I am grateful to all the readers who bought my books, to the people who invested in my art.

I am grateful for retreats and a studio where I can write and paint. These are long-held dreams come true.

I am grateful for my health, my mind, my opening heart.

And I am grateful for all of you flowing in and out of my life. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

25 Small Ways to Help the World

I loved this post.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Some of what I learned from the More Money Guaranteed program

My 9-month program about transformng my relationship with money came to a close at the end of October. It was a highly successful investment for me. It was more money than I'd every spent on anything and I got more out of it than I could ever have imagined.

Here are just a few of the things that happened for me:

  • I got the courage to double my hourly rate.
  • I made significantly more money as a consequence.
  • I finally found a successful way to stop overworking.
  • I got things done on my longterm to-do list that I didn't think would ever get finished: an inventory of my art, an art website, five ebooks written and published, an Etsy shop. 
  • I gained a much greater understanding of investing and how to make the most of the money I do have and orchestrated some changes with my financial advisor and jumped in to do a little investing on my own.
  • I met 70 amazing and inspiring people and became good friends with several of them. 
The program is happening again next year (Feburary through November). There are numerous payment options and some very hefty scholarships depending on your income and networth. If you would like to transform your money and your life, I highly recommend it. And yes, I am taking it again! That's how good it was.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning to feel sorry for myself

In our second conversation about the five stages of grief, Anna, my therapist, advised me to learn to feel sorry for myself. If you can't, she said, you can't really grieve. That's what grief is, she said. It's being willing to go into the deep parts of your loss: the person, the possibility, even the dream that has died or left you. Grief is truly feeling that loss, being with it, moving through it, not pushing it aside.When we tell our children "stop feeling sorry for yourself" or "get over it," we do them a disservice. We teach them that grief isn't a part of a life, when it is central to life. Love and loss are central to life.

I grew up in a "buck up" family. Keep busy, don't think about it, and it will go away. Of course, it does. But it goes away someplace deep inside, not through you and out. When my mother died, when my father died, I didn't grieve. I didn't become lethargic or depressed or weepy or even particularly unhappy. I pushed all of that aside and went on with my life as if that was the most important thing to do.

Anna wasn't talking about either of these big events or even about the death of Nellie although she could have been. Instead, she was talking about food addiction. If you cannot grieve the fact that you are a food addict, she said, you cannot let go of wanting it not to be so. And if you cannot let of wanting it not to be so, you can't make peace with it. I now see the broader scope of all this in my life. How learning to feel sorry for myself could change everything.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A few words about the election

I don't rant much politically. I'm not sure how helpful it is. But several things have struck me about the recent election, which was disappointing to me but not surprising.

First, those of us who are well educated and liberal seem to think that everyone will (or should) think like we do. It wasn't until I realized how few of my age peers (teenage in the 60s) became hippies or anti-war protesters that I understood some things about our country. We weren't all that many. For one thing, many fewer people went to college in those days and we protesters were mostly college students or college grads. Most of our peers didn't fight the draft, got married right out of high school, took minimum wage or factory jobs, and if they have money now (or credit to buy things), they want to hang on to it and they will vote conservative. That's what conservative means, conserving what you've got.

Second, I read somewhere that the mean IQ in the United States, as elsewhere in the world, is about 102. That's right in the middle of normal (90-110) That means that half the people are below that and half the people are above. While it doesn't take a high IQ to vote or to understand the candidates' ideas, it may take a higher IQ to understand that TV is not our best source of information. And while a much wider range and much bigger number of young people are going to college, they are mostly not getting thoughtful, reflective educations: they are getting job training in the guise of a BA or BS degree.

Last, it struck me on Wednesday after the election, that most of our compatriots are living mired in fear. Fear of change. Fear of loss. Illogical fear. When you have illogical fear, you can't be reasonable. You can't be reasoned with. When you have illogical fear, you stay with the husband who beats you, you keep drinking, you keep shopping, you keep buying. When you have illogical fear, you have no imagination to work with, no way to imagine a different life. So you cling to what you know, you cling to the ones who soothe you, not the ones who want to shake things up.

We do get the leaders the larger collective votes for. And it's painful when you can see a different and perhaps better way.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

One person is all it takes

Since I got back from North Carolina two weeks ago, I've been thinking about my presentations at the retreat and wondering what impact my message had. This group of women in recovery was the audience I had written Sober Play: Using Creativity for a More Joyful Recovery for. It was wonderful to share my many ideas about how creativity and successful sobriety are linked both to the whole group and to individuals as the weekend progressed.

I was delighted and not all that surprised to hear how many of those women had dreams of being an artist, a writer, a musician. I think most of us do, once we're exposed. Once we hear great music or see art that touches us or read a book that we love, we want to do that too. We want to do what others do and once we start doing it, we want to do more.

But something intervenes, often an external critic, a parent trying to be "realistic," a teacher on a power trip, a friend who doesn't get it and we stop. We don't hone our skills while we're young when it's easier, we don't take chances when we're young, we just stop.

I've no way of knowing how many of those 85 women will step fully into their creativity now. They will still encounter the "realistic," the naysayers, the friends who don't get it. And they will have to battle their inner critics as well, all too quick to pull the you're-not-good-enough card on us. But maybe one or two will pick up that novel, that paintbrush, that crochet hook and go for it. I hope so.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writing a book that includes failure

For the last five months, I've been working on a book on sugar and food addiction. I have wanted to write this book for some time. Many recovering alcoholics turn to sugar and why not? Alcohol is fermented sugar. In fact, many meetings serve sugar (doughnuts, cookies, birthday cake). And yet in most AA meetings, sugar addiction is not a topic on the table although many of us eat it like there's no tomorrow.

Part of my impetus to write the book was my success with the food plan. For nine months, I thought I had my food addiction under control. I wouldn't have said "cured" but I was galloping in remission. And then I wasn't. My quandary now: are there readers for a self-help book that doesn't have the answer?

Of course, there's always room to tell my story, to talk of my struggle, but is that enough? I'm no longer sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Still bargaining, still negotiating...still angry?

When I saw my therapist/spiritual director last week, I talked to her about Nellie's death and my grief. How I had so wanted to be in denial about it, had been angry, had wanted to bargain, and negotated, how I moved into depression and then into acceptance. And then as we almost always do, we started talking about my food stuff and I talked about how I had fallen away from the Plan little by little and how I couldn't seem to find the resolve to go back to it.

And she mentioned again those five stages of grief and suggested that I had a ways to go around my food addiction. We acknowledged together that I have passed through denial and come out the other side of angry as well. I actually stayed there a fairly long time. Why me? Why this too? Wasn't one life-threatening addiction (alcoholism) enough? I still occasionally feel this.

But according to Anna, I'me now in the bargaining/negotiating stage: if only I can find the right food plan, I'll be okay. I won't have food addicion anymore. It took our conversation for me to realize that the plan, any plan, will work for weight loss if you stick to it. And some plans will improve our health. But they don't cure food addiction. Nothing cures addiction. There is only remission. This makes me want to weep.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Boredom, not shame

You may have noticed that I haven't written about food much lately. That's because I've gotten back on the Road More Travelled: eating whatever I want, whenever I want it. This isn't unusual, of course. It's what food addicts do. Just like alcoholics drink and gamblers gamble and sex addicts find new partners.I expected to feel a lot of shame around this. After all, I was doing so well. I'd found a great food plan that seemed to be working, I lost considerable weight, I felt great. And then bit by bit, that all morphed into the same old same old.

But instead of shame, I just feel bored by myself. Oh yeah, this again. I've been here so many times. It plays out the same each time. I find a plan, lose weight, feel great. Then I succumb to temptation: a candy bar, a piece of cake, and for a while I don't gain back the weight, so I think I'm home free. And then I've moved back into all the comfort foods, all the self-medicating (even when nothing really needs medicating) and the weight comes back and the struggle begins again. It's become very tedious.

I'm not sure where to go from here, but boredom is never a good place for me. Something has to give. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

A measure of life changes

Today I finished narrating my memoir for Audible Books. It was an interesting and intense experience (about 13 hours of deeply concentrated work over four days for the 72,000 words) and while I can't call it fun, it was very satisfying.

Today in reading the last 25 pages, I was struck by the changes in my life since I wrote them seven years ago. It's not just the numbers: 18 years sober then, 25 now, 13 years in Portland then, 20 years now. It was more the change in relationships.

My best friend then has moved to Rwanda and we fell away from each other when it became clear she was not going to be here anymore. No animosity, no disagreement, just a change in life focus. Another close friend, whom I had trusted and loved deeply, broke my heart. Both were wonderful (in hindsight) experiences of boundary setting and accepting what is, but seven years ago I wouldn't have imagined either of those relationship disappearing from my life.

And then there's Nellie. She appears several places in the second half of the memoir, my soul sister, my companion. And now she too is no more.  How sure I seemed at the time of the permanence of things. How less sure I am today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The intimacy of reading aloud

I am in the midst of the adventure of narrating my memoir for the audio book version. In two days, I have learned many things: It is extremely hard work. There's a level of physical exhaustion I would not have imagined. You sit quite still so that your distance from the microphone is always the same. You wear clothing that doesn't swish, jewelry that doesn't clink or ring. You read from a tablet (no page turning noises, please). If you swallow in the middle of a sentence, you have to do it over. And you can't run your hand along your pant leg. The microphone picks up everything.

Those of you who have read Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman know that the first half is pretty difficult. My life before sobriety was not pretty. While I was writing those parts, it was painful, but once I got things down on the page, I had some distance from it. But in order to read aloud successfully, to create a good audio book experience, you have to live it out loud so the reader can live it too. It's not reading to a group, it's telling a story to another person. Reliving that first half, which I have done the last two days, has been difficult. And at the same time, I am grateful to not be that person any more and to not live that life any more.

It is one thing to write your intimate stories for other people to read in the privacy of their own world. It's another to speak them out loud. The recording engineer, a lovely man, is my audience, and it's both odd and interesting to tell him about the depths of my drinking and my sexual history. There is an intimacy in reading aloud that I never really thought about before as a writer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Grief in the Green Chair

I have been home from the East Coast for a week now. It was easy not to think very much about the loss of my beautiful Nellie Girl while I was away. I was busy and in new places and the sadness only came over me at night and first thing in the morning. But here, I look for her everywhere. I wait for her to get on the bed in the morning and bite my chin so I'll get up and put canned food in the dish. I look for her in the window as I come up the walk. She was always there. I listen for her extraordinary purr, which was audible from a room away. And mostly I look for her in the big green chair, her most favorite sleeping spot.

My other cats are reorganizing themselves in her absence. Frannie, now the oldest at 4 and the biggest at 14 pounds, is tooting her own weight around. She has a prison mama swagger and is doing her best to intimidate the other two. Sammy, my handsome doofus, could care less and Evie, the little feral girl, steps out of everyone's way. So maybe Frannie's posturing is for me. Or maybe it's how she grieves.

But what I find most odd, most mysterious is that each  night one of them sleeps in the green chair.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Great food--It's all relative

I just came back from teaching a 3-day workshop in North Carolina. We stayed at a Ramada Inn on the beach near Nags Head on the Outer Banks. All through the retreat, the women raved about the food. And it was good, in its way. Lots of choices at each meal: bacon, eggs, sausage, muffins, grits, potatoes, juice for breakfast. Cream soups, chicken salad, tuna salad, bread for lunch. Pork, beef, fish, chicken, mashed potatoes, pasta with cream sauce for dinner. Everything cooked in butter. Three desserts at each meal including sugar-free jello with cool whip.

This is so far from how I eat these days. Me with a vegetable juice smoothie and oatmeal, big salads and veggies soups, little dairy, little wheat, little meat. Of course, I can go with the flow when needed. We did have a big bowl of naked romaine lettuce at one meal and I put it on everything on my plate, and one night there was buttered zucchini and I ate a lot of that. But it was interesting to me that no one else seemed to miss vegetables or find the shades of brown that filled the plate unusual. Different palates, different cultures. All relative.

Monday, I got home at noon. Dropped off my suitcase, went to the local organic grocery, got kale/cucumbers/apple/romaine/carrots/spinach. Made juice. Mainlined it. Ah!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

So many thoughtful poems

Missing the Boat

by Naomi Shihab-Nye

It is not so much that the boat passed
and you failed to notice it.
It is more like the boat stopping
directly outside your bedroom window,
the captain blowing the signal-horn,
the band playing a rousing march.
The boat shouted, waving bright flags,
its silver hull blinding in the sunlight.
But you had this idea you were going by train.
You kept checking the time-table,
digging for tracks.
And the boat got tired of you,
so tired it pulled up the anchor
and raised the ramp.
The boat bobbed into the distance,
shrinking like a toy—
at which point you probably realized
you had always loved the sea.

Different Ways to Pray- Breitenbush Publications 1980

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A lovely irony

This week I'm on the East Coast, Virginia and North Carolina, to be exact. I'm leading a retreat in Nags Head on the Outer Banks of NC for AA and Alanon women. I'll be giving four presentations on one of the topics dearest to my heart: creativity for everyone. I'll get a chance to encourage other recovering women to develop some kind of creative outlet, as mine have brought me great joy and I believe they have strengthened my sobriety.

Here's the lovely irony. In the spring of 1990, at barely six months sober, my sponsor at the time dragged me kicking and screaming to a beach retreat for AA and Alanon women. I was still a confirmed intellectual cynic and I hated every minute of it. It was corny, it was stupid, it was sentimental. You've probably already guessed that I am leading this same retreat 24-1/2 years later. (The retreat has been going for 40 years.) It's in the same place at the same hotel (hopefully upgraded).

This will be a perfect opening story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

For Nellie

I'll have many cats in heaven
if pure souls always go
I'll meet them all again

Max with three-legged courage
Faithful Sasha
Jake, marked down to $9.99 at the pet store
Reinie, the beautiful
Maurie, the homeless

There've been others too, in and out of my life
Wanderers, loaners, leavers
Simon, Jesse, Mickey, Willie Duncan

So there'll be a pride to greet me
when I cross over

It comforts me to think
they may have found each other already
swapping stories of how much I loved them
of how much I spoiled them
how many times they got me
to get up and let them in and out

It comforts me to think
they greeted Nellie when she
came through the tunnel and into the light

Children who've died
and come back
all say an animal accompanied
them through the tunnel
a hummingbird, a bumble bee, a hamster
It's a perfect job for Nellie
who greeted everyone
who came to my door
Maybe she's already guiding
the wee ones who leave early
into the next whatever
Or maybe she'll take up
with my others and tell
her side of our story
All I know is that if any cat
will be there at the end
of the tunnel to welcome
me home, it will be Nell

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My new juicer

My new juicer arrived about a week ago. Uncharacteristically, I didn't open the box at first. While I went on loving green juice and smoothies, I had become so disenchanted by the expensive juicer, that I didn't want to take a chance that this one would be even more of a hassle. Plus it was in such a huge box, I was afraid it was going to take over my kitchen. And I had some juice frozen so wasn't in immediate need.

Then last weekend, I opened the box and took out the juicer. I wa relieved to see that it was in a lot of packaging (although sadly huge chunks of unrecyclable molded styrofoam). It is some bigger than the old one but not excessively. I washed it and put it together (no more complicated than the last one) and then got out my washed organic produce. Three limes, three cucumbers, two bunches of kale, 1/2 pound of carrots, three heads of romaine, a bunch of flat leaf parsley, 3 apples. 15 minutes later 3 quarts of juice: ends off cukes and romaine, cores out of apples (2 minutes), juice took 8, clean-up took 5.

I love the new juicer!

PS Three limes may be too much. Tart!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome everything. Push nothing away.

Yesterday afternoon at 3:30 I said goodbye to my dear sweet girl Nellie.

In the spring of 2003, I did a soul retrieval, trying to reconnect with lost parts of myself. One part that came to the surface was my 3-month-old self and the shaman who took the journey with me suggested I get a doll and rock it and acknowledge it. I tried that but the doll just didn't do it for me. So I went to the Humane Society and found Nellie, who was 3 months away. We bonded in a deep and loving way from the beginning and I knew she knew me just as I knew her.

Nellie had many friends among my friends and in the two weeks since her diagnosis with intestinal lymphoma, a parade of people has come through to sit with her and say goodbye. She was a regular member of the Writing Friday women's circle and she charmed every cat sitter I had.

All day Wednesday I struggled with my decision. Keep her going on steroids as long as I could or release her while she felt good? I opted finally for the latter, for her and for me, as I could not tolerate more days of second-guessing, hoping for a different outcome when none was possible, anticipating the difficulty of her loss. We had a good day on Thursday. Our weather was heavenly: sunny, warm, a light breeze, the Fall at its most magical. Nellie spent time in the garden behind us with my good friend Melanie, and then she and I had two hours on the porch swing basking in the sun where I murmured sweet nothings and she licked my hand.

A lovely vet came to the house. She was friendly, kind, and respectful. Nellie took a while to settle, to slow, to let go, and I was in no hurry. And then she was gone. I felt her presence last night but not this morning. And now we close up our circle with one less.

Yesterday morning my very close friend Sue sent me a quote: Welcome everything. Push away nothing. I'm doing my best to welcome in the grief, the loss, the broken-hearted tears streaming down my face. I could not push away the cancer that had her in its grip, I will not push away the sorrow that I feel. After all it's the consequence of deep love. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gratitude well expressed

Arms Full

by Rebecca del Rio

Gratitude means showing up on life’s doorstep,
love’s threshold, dressed in a clown suit,
rubber-nosed, gunboat shoes flapping.
Gratitude shows up with arms full of wildflowers,
reciting McKuen or the worst of Neruda.

To talk of gratitude is to be
the fool in a cynic’s world.
Gratitude is pride’s nightmare,
the admission of humility before something
given without expectation or attachment.

Gratitude tears open the shirt
of self importance, scatters buttons
across the polished floors of feigned indifference,
ignores the obvious and laughs out loud.

Even more, gratitude bears her breasts, rips open
her ribs to show the naked heart, the holy heart.
What if that sacred heart is not, after all, about sacrifice?
Imagine it is about joy, barefoot and foolhardy,
something unasked for, something unearned.

What if the beat we hear, when we are finally quiet is simply this:
Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Waking up into the panic of a broken heart

Last night I woke about 2:45. I felt off, as if there was a huge weight on my chest. I'm a body sensitive with a dose of hypochondria so I did a body scan. No pain, no shortness of breath, no sweats. no nausea. I got up and got some cold sparkling water and took it into the living room. The four cats gathered around, two wanting petting, two just watching.

And then my old friend panic strolled into the room. He came over and sat on me and for the next 25 minutes, I had rolling waves of panic attack, adrenalin surging through my body, rising up in my throat, hot sweats and then chills, and then blessed fatigue and I was able to go back to bed and sleep soundly for a few hours.

Panic hasn't visited in several years. He was a constant companion in the months after my mother died, so constant that I sought help from a therapist who specialized in panic attacks and phobias. I did some of his exercises but I think time was the biggest healer.

Now I'm preparing to part from my sweet girl Nellie and after the first days of diagnosis and overt grief, I had gone back to life pretty much as usual. On steroids she acts close to normal and it's been easy to pretend that she's getting better. But there is no getting better from what is consuming her and yesterday I realized that her departure is imminent. And that heartbreak came over me in the night, the aloneness of life, the finality of death, and the powerlessness to stop the train she's on. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A poem from life

The Skin I'm in

My client sits across from me
She's 19, Chinese, and her skin
Is flawless
Rose-tinted, clear,
The smooth of the young
She's moving into the prime
Of her beauty
And I am long past mine
I glance down at my arm
Freckles, the red dots of
A benign skin condition
Scaly patches inherited from my dad
Age spots from all that youthful
Decades of sun, of alcohol
All showing up now
My hands are old
My legs chronically dry
Despite the river of lotion
They dip into each day
For a few seconds
My admiration turns to envy
I want her skin, her youth,
All her possibilities
And then I lean back
Into the comfort of my own skin
That has served me so well
For so long
And gratitude trumps envy

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Firing my juicer

About a week ago, in a fit of anger and frustration, I fired my fancy juicer. I was so in love with green juice 18 months ago, that I didn't see the juicer's shortcomings. It was compact, it was supposed to be the most nutritious juicer (centrifuge and chopper), and it didn't seem all that difficult to clean.

As long as I made juice every day, it worked great. But then I realized I could freeze the fresh juice and do the work once a week, and my little fancy juicer was not very happy. It would stop, clog, run off its track, I had to clean it several times in each juicing. What a pain! Finally it whacked off two big pieces of plastic from one of the parts. I got so disgusted I threw the broken part in the trash and then the other pieces (minus the motor).

I emailed the company to find out that the juicer I had purchased required that all fruit be peeled and cut into small pieces. How did I not know that before I bought it? I buy organic and want to juice the whole fruit and vegetable. So I ordered the much sturdier, much cheaper model. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The deep fatigue of uncertainty

For the last two days I've been sitting in uncertainty. My lovely Nellie cat got puny, then stopped eating, and I went to the vet with her. She had a high white cell count, so I hoped for urinary infection but no such luck. She has intestinal lymphoma, the most common cancer for cats (along with respiratory lymphoma) and is incurable.

Although the ER specialist was pretty sure what it was from the first ultrasound, they waited a day and did a second and some cytology (fluid biopsy). The cytology report comes tomorrow but the second ultrasound confirmed the first: ugly lymph nodes all through her intestines in keeping with lymphoma. They were happy to do surgery, to do anesthetized biopsy, and chemo but I said no.

I brought her home last night with steroids and appetite stimulants and pain meds to give her in the hopes of both making her feel better and giving us some additional time together (perhaps days or weeks). She has perked up but is not eating much and eating is key for her. But I am letting her do it her way.

Last night by 7 pm I was exhausted. I had been on high alert, high anxiety, deep worry, and deep grief for about 36 hours. But once I knew what it was, what I was dealing with, and once I had a plan, I felt somehow relieved. The worst agony had been in not knowing and wondering if I would have to choose to let her go immediately, with what seemed like no preparation. Now I can prepare for this.

Nellie is 11 and I had counted on at least a half dozen more years with her as my cats tend to live a long time. But that isn't going to happen. I am immensely sad and grateful for what I have left. One day at a time, for sure.

Friday, October 3, 2014

More wise words from Leo Babauta

Posted: 26 Sep 2014 07:13 AM PDT

By Leo Babauta
Like a chump, I struggled for years trying to change my habits.
I started an exercise program or diet with unrestrained optimism, probably a dozen times. I threw away all my cigarettes and tried quitting smoking about seven times. I tried waking up early, reading more, writing daily, getting out of debt, watching less TV, and failed at all of those.
It feels horrible when you can’t stick to habits, and I constantly felt bad about myself. What I didn’t realize back then, until I started successfully changing my habits in late 2005, is that it wasn’t a matter of me not having enough discipline. It was a matter of doing habit change all wrong.
I was making some big mistakes when it came to habit change, and once I fixed those mistakes, I got immensely better at sticking to changes.
If you’re struggling with habit change, here are some of the mistakes I used to make, in hopes that it will help you too.
  1. Not changing your habit environment. We often rely completely on willpower to stick to habit change, but in practice that rarely works. Much better is changing the environment around you. Make it easy to do your habit, by putting your running shoes next to your bed and sleeping in your running clothes, for example, or having lots of healthy food around you, or writing out small steps you can take in your spare time to reduce debt. Make it hard to do the things you don’t want to do, by getting rid of all the junk food in your house or setting up accountability with friends with a big consequence for missing exercise or eating fast food, or put your TV in the closet or unplug your router and give it to someone to hold for a couple hours. Be smart and figure out how to change your environment so your habit succeeds, and if it fails, change your environment some more.
  2. You expect comfort. Habit change is by its nature uncomfortable, but most of us want to do the same things we’ve always done and never be uncomfortable. It’s why most people don’t exercise, because they dislike the discomfort. If you allow yourself to be open to discomfort, at least a little at a time, you’ll be less likely to quit. Don’t like running? Just do a little of it, and be willing to push through a little discomfort. What you learn is that there’s nothing wrong with being uncomfortable, and this becomes a superpower for changing any habit.
  3. You don’t start small. Most people are optimistic and try to make too big a change. There’s so many reasons to start small with a habit change that I can’t even list them all, but let’s take some of the most important. If you start small, the discomfort of change isn’t overwhelming. If you start small, you overcome the problem of inertia and not getting started. You also overcome the problem of burning through all your enthusiasm, or using up your willpower reserves. You make it impossible to say no, impossible to fail, if you start small. Some examples: meditate for 2 minutes, just get out the door and run for a minute, eat 1 vegetable a day, smoke 1 time less per day.
  4. You have unrealistic fantasies about the habit. When we start a habit change, it’s usually because we have some kind of picture in our heads about how great our lives will be once we make this change: we’ll be healthy and fit and sexy, our lives will be uncluttered and simple and beautiful, we’ll be happy. Unfortunately, changes in reality are pretty much never as we fantasized about, and so we become disappointed and discouraged. A better approach is to realize that these fantasies or ideals aren’t true, hold onto them loosely, and instead to an approach of curiosity: what is it like to change? What is discomfort like? How can I be happy in each step along the way, instead of only at my goal?
  5. You start right away. I don’t know how many times I threw away my cigarette’s at a moment’s whim, deciding that moment to quit smoking. What I realized is that starting immediately is a bad idea, because it meant I was taking the change too lightly. The habit change was as small a commitment as taking out the trash, and as easily put off. Except that if I kept putting it off it didn’t stink as much as the trash. So I learned a better way: set your start or quit date in the future. At least a few days, maybe even a week or two weeks. My quit date for smoking was Nov. 18, 2005, and I marked it on my calendar and it became important. I wrote out a plan, had replacement habits for triggers like stress and being around other smokers, set up accountability, read about it. The habit change then took on importance, and so I was much less likely to just drop it.
  6. You don’t have accountability. One of the best ways to change your habit environment is to set up accountability. Create a challenge and tell people about it. Set a consequence for failure — I’ve asked a friend to throw a pie in my face if I didn’t stick to a change, for example. Join an accountability group. Report daily. Ask them to not let you fail and slip away. The accountability will help keep you on track when all the other things fail.
If you can fix these habit mistakes — and they’re fairly simple to fix — you’ll be increasing your odds of success a dozenfold at least. These fixes changed my life, and I hope they change yours too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sobering reality of food addiction and emotions

Monday, September 29, 2014

Staying aligned with your intention

Blogger Quinn McDonald wrote recently of her practice of choosing a word to consider during the year. To keep herself engaged with that word and its ideas, she sits down and writes the word into her daily calendar on every few pages. When I read this, I had one of those "wow, why didn't I think of that" moments.

Each year I choose an intention to live by and I'm pretty good about staying aligned with it for a few months. First, because it's new and kind of exciting. Second, because I talk about it a lot with friends in those early months. But then time moves on and I'm not in that same excited space and other ideas and commitments intervene.

So I love the idea of writing this into my calendar every couple of weeks to check in with myself.

If you’re not really what you stand for, then the things that matter the most are always going to be at the mercy of the things that matter the least.

- Cheri Maples, "She's Got the Beat"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A great quote

  • Only in the oasis of silence can we drink deeply from the inner cup of wisdom.--Sue Patton Thoele
By the way, check out for a lot of great food for thought

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Embodying "It's not too late"

In my recent newsletter, I wrote about seeing Crosby, Stills, and Nash on stage and being thrilled by their continuing creativity into their 70s. When you go to a three-hour conference and hear new music by elderly guys, you know it's not too late to do those things you want to do. 

Sure, you may not have enough time to become a concert pianist or a black belt in karate, but who knows? Maybe you do. You can at least get started and see where it takes you. I started painting well into my 50s and seriously writing even later than that. And I'm nowhere near stopping.

I'm a part of the first year of the Baby Boomers (born in 1946) and I know we are doing old differently than our parents did and way differently than our grandparents did. We're retiring later, we're retiring slowly, and some of us aren't retiring at all. 

And many of us are starting new projects, developing new skills, getting revved up for this next part of life. How can you embody "it's not too late" for those around you?  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Poem from the Japanese Garden workshop

Last Tuesday I taught a workshop at the Japanese Garden called "In Praise of Small Things." One of the activities was to explore the garden for a while and notice 10 small things and make 3 notes about each one. Then, when the participants returned to the pavilion, I asked them to pick one of those things and write a recipe for it.

Here's one I wrote:

Koi Kuchen

1 cup each copper, gold, and white  
A large pond, not too cold
6 1/2 rays of sunshine, fairly thick
1 or more deep shadows
Assorted scales and muscles

Mix the scales and muscles well. Add the colors. Be careful not to overmix them. Patches are best. Shape into slim bodies, blunted snouts, and flexible tales. Drop one at time into the pond. Intermingle the sun rays and deep shadow. Allow to thrive.

Serving portion: 20 minutes of meditation each morning

Sunday, September 21, 2014

168 is all we get

There are 168 hours in any week. 

If I...

Deduct sleep: 105 hours left
Deduct maintenance and meals: 77 hours left
Deduct paid work: 47 hours left
Deduct reading and TV: 37 hours left
Deduct writing: 30 hours left
Deduct time with friends: 23 hours left
Deduct futzing and miscellaneous: 10 hours left
Deduct painting: 5 hours left
Deduct spiritual practice: 0 hours left

An interesting way to look at where time goes. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Recognizing sufficiency

In the money program I've been participating in since February, we talk a lot about living from sufficiency rather than scarcity. Money has a whole different effect on us when we believe there's enough, however much that is, instead of always thinking we need more. And of course, this has great importance for those of us who are addicts because we always think we don't have enough of whatever it is and that we should stockpile more.

So I've been looking for ways to register sufficiency and satisfaction, working to become conscious of moments when I feel content, happy with the way things are in that moment. And I've developed a mantra that is really helpful for me. When I find one of those moments, I say to myself (or out loud sometimes), This is enough. Right here. Right now. 

Recent sufficiency moments: Holding Evie, listening to her purr, and rocking in the rocking chair. Talking with friends over dinner last night. Lying in bed listening to the crickets of Marin County out the window and feeling the cool breeze wash over me after a very hot day. Eating an extraordinarily delicious black plum. Hearing a woman I don't know well say how glad she is to be getting to know me. Feeling love for my best friend. Walking on the beach with my sister.

What for you is enough, right here, right now?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Office support


Saturday, September 13, 2014

A good thought

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” ― Karen Lamb

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Poem from life

My Faithful Fans

Yesterday morning
I turned off the fans
the ginormous standing soldier
at the front door
the white box that
tries to keep the kitchen cool
the little hefty Vornado in the office
that follows me around the room
like a puppy
My bedroom has two
so I have breeze from two directions
on those nights it's too hot outside
to open the windows
I appreciate my fans
and their faithful service
but I've grown weary
of their clamoring attention
the constant chatter
the noise so white as to blind my ears
I don't hear the phone ring
or the lovely purring of Nellie
from across the room
They've saved me, they have
they've made my apartment bearable
but like too many guests
they've outstayed their welcome
They've made my home
an unfriendly place
I'm ready to have the quiet again
the quiet that comes with the cool of fall

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Considering our legacy

In our money group webinar last week, we talked about our legacy. Of course, there's the money you leave behind if you have it (or property or stock or whatever wealth you have accumulated that you don't need for yourself). But we spent more of the time talking about the other legacies we leave behind.

Some of that may be good works. Perhaps we volunteer for an organization or work for a good cause with donations of time and money.

Our children, if we have them, and their children are also a legacy, and if you have been a compassionate and conscientious parent, either when they were young or when you yourself came into maturity, that is a wonderful gift to the world.

And we spent time talking about the legacy of ourselves. Who we are in the world and how we are in the world. On average, we interact with about a thousand people a year in mostly casual ways. How will they remember you? Kind soul? Drama queen? Needy and pushy? Giving and compassionate? I hadn't really thought before about how my daily mood could impact my legacy.

Later in the afternoon I went to the bank and there was a guy with Street Roots to sell (a Portland newspaper put out by the homeless) and I didn't want one and usually I just nod in my shy way and get back in my car. But today I said no thanks and then asked how he was. And he said his brother had had a heart attack and he was worried. And I gave him my sympathy and said I'd say a prayer for his brother Jerry. And when I got in the car, I did. It significantly changed my day.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The value of doing 100

Last weekend, I finished two of my creativity goals for the year: draft 100 poems and write 100 prompts (10 minutes of fictional writing on a give word or phrase). I've done this once before although not in the same year. I find it a very good practice.

The prompts are good for my fiction writing. I practice description, dialog, scene openings. Not consciously of course, they just sort of occur. I'll get into a piece and it's a conversation or I'm describing why an object--a mug, a book, a sofa--is in a room. And because coming up with an idea is part of the 10 minutes, I just go with whatever idea occurs to me. And the more often I do this, the easier it is for me to imagine stories and characters and settings.

The poems are a bit of a different experience. I keep a list of ideas in my creativity journal or I'll sit and think about some possibilities and write down a bunch and then I'll pick one. I spend more time on the poems, sometimes as much as a half hour, but I don't make it into a big deal.

I don't do any editing on the poems or the prompts. These are drafts. I'm committed to drafting them only. They don't have to be good. In fact, many of them aren't. But if as Malcolm Gladwell says, it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something, I'm putting in some of my time on my craft.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Poem from life

Tired Days of Summer

The light is changing
thickening in the mornings now
The breeze carries a touch of fall
Just a hint
Maybe it's the tired exhalation
of the trees
the sap slowing
the greening finished for the year
Like them
I am waiting for summer to be over
The string of sunny days
Has grown monotonous
to this winter baby
who likes it cool and cloudy
who loves coziness
Nothing's fresh now
the petunias leggy
one last bloom on each long stalk
the lushness of my neighbor's garden
now a tangle of the moribund
It is not a bad time, this ending,
this ritual
And if I see it as rest, as quiet
before the turning of autumn
I can still my impatience and
do my own exhalations

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Report on the 31-day challenge

I am a bit past half-way on the 31-day challenge I created for myself. I decided not to wait until September but just to get started and I'm liking it a lot. Checking things off the list satisfies the productive person in me and doing one a day is helping me with my larger goal of not working so hard and pacing myself.

While it is a to-do list, it is not in the least overwhelming because it's just 15-20 minutes a day and I feel no need to take on more than that. Only one project took more than 20 minutes (25) and I let that be okay because the next day I could do one I knew would take no more than 10 minutes and I did just that.

I mostly do these in the later afternoon, often as a break from the computer, and I like that there are so many different kinds of things to choose from. I also find myself thinking about things that aren't yet on the list, so I've started a second list. Basically, I'm just going through my house drawer by shelf by drawer, many of them places I put off sorting through. Feels great!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Something to consider

"The way to find your own North Star is not to think or feel your way forward but to dissolve the thoughts and feeling that make you miserable.  You don't have to learn your destiny--you already know it; you just have to unlearn the thoughts that blind you to what you know."    –Martha Beck

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thoughtful stuff from Leo

zen habits: The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 01:29 PM PDT
By Leo Babauta
The mind is a wonderful thing. It’s also a complete liar that constantly tries to convince us not to take actions we know are good for us, and stops many great changes in our lives.
Scumbag mind.
I’ve had to learn to watch these rationalizations and excuses very carefully, in order to make the changes I’ve made in my life: a healthier diet, regular exercise, meditation, minimalism, writing daily, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and so on.
If I hadn’t learned these excuses, and how to counter them, I would never have stuck to these changes. In fact, I failed many times before 2005 (when I started changing my life), because these excuses had complete power over me.
Let’s expose the cowardly mind’s excuses and rationalizations once and for all.
First, the main principle: the mind wants comfort, and is afraid of discomfort and change. The mind is used to its comfort cocoon, and anytime we try to push beyond that comfort zone very far or for very long, the mind tries desperately to get back into the cocoon. At any cost, including our long-term health and happiness.
OK, with that in mind, let’s go into the excuses:
  1. I can’t do it. It seems too hard, so we think we can’t stick to the change. We don’t believe in ourselves. This can be countered from the fact that many other people no more capable than us have done it. For example, Oprah ran a marathon a little before I started training for my first marathon, and so I told myself, “If Oprah can do it, so can I!” I was right.
  2. He/she can do it, but that doesn’t apply to me. Just because someone else can do it, doesn’t mean we can, right? We look for reasons they can do it but we can’t — maybe he can be a minimalist because he has no kids, or is a freelancer rather than someone with a real job. Maybe she’s way, way fitter than I am, so she can run a marathon. Maybe she doesn’t have all the obligations I have, or has a supportive spouse, or doesn’t have a crippling health condition. OK, fine, it’s easy to find excuses: but look at all the other people who have worse obstacles than you who’ve done it. I have 6 kids and still managed to change a lot of things in my life. Stories abound of people with disabilities or illnesses who overcame their obstacles to achieve amazing things. Your obstacles can be overcome.
  3. I need my ___. Fill in the blank: I need my coffee, my cheese, my soda, my TV shows, my car, my shoe collection … these are things we convince ourselves we can’t live without, so we can’t make a change like becoming vegan or eating healthier or unschooling our kids or simplifying our lives or going car-free. And I’ve made these excuses myself, but they all turned out to be lies. I didn’t need any of that. The only things you really need are basic food, water, clothing, shelter, and other people for social needs. Everything else is not a real need.
  4. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Sure, I agree with this statement (as many of us would) but the problem is this is used to justify all kinds of crappy behavior. Might as well scarf down those Doritos and Twinkies, because hey, life is meant to be enjoyed, right? No. You can do without junk food and still enjoy life. You can exercise and enjoy it. You can give up pretty much anything and still enjoy life, if you learn to see almost any activity as enjoyable.
  5. I need comfort. This might also be true, but we can push ourselves into more discomfort than we let ourselves believe. We can be a bit cold, instead of needing to be at the perfect comfortable temperature. We can do hard exercise, instead of needing to lay around on the couch. We can write that thing we’ve been procrastinating on — it might be hard, but we can push through that. When our minds seek comfort, don’t let them run — push a little bit outside the comfort zone, and begin to be OK with a bit of discomfort.
  6. I don’t know how. This is also true, but you can learn. Start with a little at a time, and learn how to deal with this new change. Do some research online. Watch some videos. Ask people online how they dealt with it. This is easily overcome with a little effort and practice. In fact, if you do it now, and learn a little at a time, then you’ll be able to do away with this pesky excuse.
  7. I can do it later. Sure, you can always do it later … but your later self will also feel the same way. Why should the later self be more disciplined than your current self? In fact, because you’re allowing yourself to slide now, you’re building a habit of procrastination and actually making is less likely that your future self will be more disciplined. Instead, do it now, unless there’s something more important that you need to do … don’t let yourself slide just because you don’t feel like it.
  8. One time won’t hurt. This is so tempting, because it’s kind of true — one time won’t hurt. Assuming, that is, that it’s only one time. One bite of chocolate cake, one missed workout, one time procrastinating instead of writing. Unfortunately, it’s never actually just one time. One time means your brain now knows it can get away with this excuse, and the next “one time” leads to another, until you’re not actually sticking to something. Make a rule: never ever believe the “one time” excuse. I did this with smoking (“Not One Puff Ever”) and it worked. If you’re going to allow yourself a bite or two of chocolate cake, decide beforehand and build it into your plan (“I will allow myself a fist-sized serving of sweets once every weekend”) and stick to that plan, rather than deciding on the fly, when your resistance is weak.
  9. I don’t feel like it. Well, true. You don’t feel like working hard. Who does? Letting the rule of “I’ll do it when feel like it” dictate your life means you’ll never write that book, never build that business, never create anything great, never have healthy habits. Create a plan that’s doable, and execute it. When the rationalizations like this come up, don’t believe them. Everyone is capable of doing a hard workout even when they’re not in the mood. Everyone can overcome their internal resistance.
  10. I’m tired. Yep, me too. I still did my heavy squat workout today. There is truth to needing rest, and resting when you need it (listen to your body) but this is usually the mind trying to weasel out of something uncomfortable. There’s a difference between being exhausted and needing some rest, and being the little tired we all feel every afternoon. Push through the latter.
  11. I deserve a reward/break. We all deserve that tasty treat, or a day off. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give yourself a reward or break. But if you make this rationalization your rule, you’ll always be on a break. You’ll always be giving yourself rewards, and never sticking to the original plan. Here’s what I do instead: I see sticking to my plan as the reward itself. Going on a run isn’t the thing I have to get through to get a reward — the run is the reward.
  12. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop? This again is our mind wanting to run from discomfort, and of course it’s true — it would be nice to stop if you’re pushing into a discomfort zone for too long. The thing is, the implication is that it would be better to stop, because it would be nice … but that’s a lie. It would be easier to stop, but often it’s better to continue pushing. This excuse almost beat me when I tried to run my 50-mile ultramarathon last December, because honestly it would have been much nicer to stop and not finish the race, especially in the last 10 miles or so. I pushed through, and found out I was tougher than I thought.
  13. The result you’re going for isn’t important. If you’re trying to run a marathon, this is phrased like, “It’s not that important that I finish this”. I’ve used this excuse for learning languages (it doesn’t matter if I learn this) or programming or any number of things I wanted to learn. I’ve used it for writing and exercise and eating healthy food. And while the result might not be that important, the truth is that the process is very important. If you stick with a process that will be better for you in the long run, then you will be better off. But if you let yourself go just because you are uncomfortable and at this moment care more for your comfort than the goal you set out for, you’ll have lots of problems. The goal isn’t important, but learning to stick to things when you’re uncomfortable is extremely important.
  14. I’m afraid. Now, this is the most honest excuse there is — most of us don’t want to admit we’re afraid to pursue something difficult. But it’s also a weaselly way out of discomfort — just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean you can’t do something. You can. I’ve done tons of things I’m afraid of — mostly creating things that I was worried I’d fail at. And while the fear sometimes came true — I didn’t do too well sometimes — the act of pushing through the fear was incredibly important and I learned a lot each time.
I’ve used all of these excuses hundreds of times each, so don’t think I’ve overcome them all. And you can use them in the future too. There’s nothing wrong with giving in sometimes.
The key is to learn whether they’re true, and see your pattern. Here’s what I’ve done:
  1. Notice the excuse. It has way more power if it works on you in the background.
  2. Try to have an answer for the excuse beforehand — anticipate it.
  3. If you give in, that’s OK, but recognize that you’re giving in to a lame excuse. Be aware of what you’re doing.
  4. After giving in, see what the results are. Are you happier? Is your life better? Was it worth it giving in to discomfort?
  5. Learn from those results. If you pushed through and are happy about it, remember that. If you gave in to excuses, and didn’t like the result, remember that.
If you consciously practice this process, you’ll get better at recognizing and not believing these lies. And then, bam, you’ve got your mind working for you instead of against you.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A blow to my listening for men

I sometimes struggle to have a positive listening for men. My own relationships with partners have all been difficult and disappointing. My unhealthiness attracted weak and unfaithful men. The men in the public eye, politicians, celebrities, are for the most part no better. In addition, my women friends seldom disappoint me the way men do. But I have worked hard over the last couple of decades to have a better sense of men and believing there are some good ones out there.

That faith has been shaken the last several months. Two of my friends have learned that their husbands of many years have been cheating on them for months and not just casually but in serious relationships. The first husband I don't know. I only know the wife and her heartbreak. The second man I do know and I have always believed him to be of high integrity. I'm saddened not only for his wife, my good friend, who is shattered by this, but for men in general. I'm disappointed.

I have been the unfaithful partner. I know how that happens. I also know the hurt it caused my partner and the damage it did to me as well. I am very sad.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The tired days of summer

Summer is my least favorite season. I love the sunshine but only if the temperatures are cool. 75 is about as hot as I want it. When it's cool like that, I love to have my house open, windows and doors, and let in the light and the breezes. But when it's hot (80+), I don't feel very good physically and I don't have much energy. And in the afternoons, I have to close the house up and so it's dark and noisy with fans. I get tired of that very quickly.

This last part of summer, the end of August, Nature seems tired too. The fresh greens of May and the bright greens of early summer are gone. The leaves are big and old and resting, I think, for the change to come. The energy radiating off the cherry tree has slowed way down, maybe due to heat, maybe light, maybe just time.

A part of me is eager for the fall, for the cool, for the energy of the new, as my mind and body still resonate with the beginning of the school year as a time of freshness and clean starts. So this is a good time for me to rest as well.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A difficult writing project

For the last six weeks, I've been drafting sections of my new book on sugar addiction. As many of you know, I write most mornings on whatever my current project is. Those writing sessions give me a very meaningful start to the day, as writing is a very meaningful activity for me, and when I'm writing fiction, it's a lot of fun.

Writing about my relationship with sugar is very meaningful and not so much fun. In July when I was on retreat, I wrote about 65 questions that I could answer as material for this book. I'm slowly working my way through those questions, but there aren't any glib or clever answers. If this book is going to do for me what I want it to--strengthen my resolve to get sugar-free again and stay that way--I have to look at all the hard stuff that I've been eating over and around rather than sitting with. I have to be rigorously honest and that's hard work.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Accepting an amend

In the 12-step program, Step 9 is about making amends or restitution to people and organizations we have hurt in some way. Last week an old friend sent me an amend. She and I had had a falling out a couple of years ago, a painful misunderstanding in which she needed me to be wrong. I cleaned up my side of it at the time but she couldn't let it go and I chose to break off with her. It was hard to do. We've known each other nearly 50 years, and she was tremendously supportive when I first got sober as she was a year ahead of me in finding AA.

Her path had led her into the law; my path had led me into the arts. Her path had led her into reason and logic; my path, into the emotions and the spiritual. And those differences made our friendship difficult.

A week ago, I dreamed I went to a yoga class and on the next mat was this friend. I was so glad to see her. The next day I thought about sending a note about the dream, my first contact in all this time, but I didn't. And then the amend email came. I thought about my response for several days, then just thanked her for her thoughtfulness and told her about the dream.

I don't know that any more will come of it but something in me eased. I hope something in her eased too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Courage and Robin Williams

I wasn't a big fan of Robin Williams and I think Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the worst movies ever made. (Nobody could top Dustin Hoffman's transvestite Tootsie.) But I was struck by the huge difficulty many of us face with depression and anxiety and fear. I suffer from the latter two and they have wreaked considerable havoc in my life and led to a lot of addictive behaviors because they make me miserable and I'll do anything to make the misery stop.

When I was coming to the end of my active alcoholism, I didn't know it was the end. I had no hope and, what's more important, no ability to imagine a different future. I think addiction and mental illness are characterized by this lack of imagination. We can only foresee an endless stream of misery. I thought often about suicide in those days, about overdosing on some drug or other. And I could feel myself coming to an edge, a cliff of choice: stay or go. I can't explain why I chose to stay. I had no hope for I knew nothing about AA or treatment but for some reason I chose to stay.

It takes courage to stay but it also takes courage to go. I believe both are admirable.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Creating my own 31-day challenge

I'm a lover of lists and  organizational structures, and I read a blog post recently that offered a bunch of 30-day challenges for fitness or weight loss or decluttering. And I thought what if I create my own 31-day challenge (or maybe a series of them)? So here's my first one.

When fall comes, I usually get a hankering for tidiness on the inside so this should be perfect for September: my only criteria was no more than 20 minutes for each item:

1. Put photos from box into albums
2. Wash the glass in the screen doors.
3. Clean out my work basket.
4. Clean the cobwebs off the terrace.
5. Organize my tea and spice shelves.
6. Organize my canned goods so I can find stuff.
7. Do 20 minutes in my basement storage.
8.  Do 20 minutes in my basement storage.
9. Do 20 minutes in my basement storage.
10. Go through the top drawer of the file cabinet.
11. Do bottom drawer of file cabinet.
12. Tidy up my computer cords around my desk. (long-standing drainer)
13. Do three shelves of the craft closet.
14. Do other three shelves of the craft closet.
!5. Sort through and organize the contents of the freezer.
16. Go through the gift wrap.
17. Do two shelves of the office closet.
18. Do the other two shelves of the office closet.
19. Go through the greeting cards.
20. Do four kitchen drawers.
21. Under the kitchen sink.
22. Go through my scarves (be ruthless).
23. Under the bathroom sink.
24. Medicine cabinet and first aid kit.
25. Front hall closet
26. Trunk of the car and the glove compartment.
27. Do the two desk drawers.
28. Shelves over the fridge.
29. Rip out the waist of the dress I want to make into a pillow
30. Go through shoes and shoe tubs and clean closet floor.
31. Go through my jewelry and plan a give-away.

I'm very excited about doing one of these each day (in any order I feel like). What 31-day challenge would you create? Send it to me and I'll post it on the blog. Cheers!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fabulous smoothie

Last time I juiced, I did a final juice of heirloom tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumber, and apple and froze it. Today I mixed the juice with banana, mango, pineapple, and ginger. A beautiful orange smoothie that was so good! Give it a try!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Struggling with enforced leisure

One of my goals in the money program is to work less. Should be a no-brainer, right? Not so for this workaholic. I'm often most comfortable working. I do enjoy my work but I also am uneasy trying to relax. And I'm committed to changing that.

So I've promised my coach and my support group that I will not work more than 100 hours (billable) per month. Usually I just do whatever work comes my way no matter how much it is and I'm fortunate financially that that's often quite a lot. But it can get me into serious momentum around working where that's all I'm really doing (remember my confession of effort, effort, effort, effort, effort, exhaustion, rest from a recent post?).

Due to some assignments and their timing, this month started on July 29 and I reached 90 hours completed on August 13. Yes, I've been working a whole lot. So now half of the month stretches ahead and I can only work 10 more hours for pay. That's an odd and interesting quandary for me. And I have to admit I'm a little freaked out with all this leisure coming up.

Friday I spent part of the day reading and part of it working leisurely on an inventory of my art work, an ongoing project. Today I did collage with a good friend, had lunch with her, took a nap, read a while, and then started putting together my art newsletter. I had a lot of fun. Hmmmm.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An astonishing poem from Jack Gilbert

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

From REFUSING HEAVEN (Knopf, 2005)