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?