Friday, February 27, 2015

Being old in the classroom

Monday night I drove out to Forest Grove, a small farming community, to the university there to teach a workshop on editing to students in their publishing minor. I've done this twice before but this time there were only two students instead of the six I'd expected. But they were interested and there was lots to tell them.

I went through my outline with them about the kinds of editing that people do, the skills it takes, the work that's available. Then I got to the kinds of questions that my clients often have: what's the difference between a gerund and a participle, when do I use semicolons, how many kinds of sentence structures are there in English and am I using them correctly, why do you keep moving things around in my sentences? I include these questions in the presentation not only so they'll know the kinds of things they need to know but to find out what they know. Which is usually nothing much.

The real experience for me began when we spent the last half hour editing typical paragraphs from the work I do. These were all scholarly articles as the publishing program they're in is focused on the kinds of presses and journals that universities put out. As the two students worked through the paragraphs and shared their ideas, I could see the trap that they'd fallen into. "Make it sound like me." They skipped over the errors in the writing (nonstandard usages) and immediately began rewriting the sentences according to their own internal standards. They didn't know enough about the language to explain why they wanted to change things; they just had a feel for it. And they didn't want to hear that that's not good enough, that the client deserves an objective explanation, not an intuitive response.

I realized that I was 50 years older than these two girls but that at their age, I'd been just the same. Convinced to the point of defensiveness of my own point of view, always eager to be right. I talked about that a little with them but could quickly see they were too young yet to get it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Inching closer to commitment

A small band of us comrades in forks are contemplating what it would take to be the exception in food recovery. Not just in general but me/us specifically. This has gotten me thinking about how I have been that exception with alcohol but not with food. One of the things that has made sobriety relatively simple is that my life now and for the last 20 plus years has been way, way better than it was when I drank. I don't want to give this life up.

I'm having a hard time imagining that if I give up compulsive overeating, my life will be way, way better than it is now. I'm finding myself back in an old familiar place where faith and imagination are not strong enough to carry me forward. And of course, I never stay abstinent long enough to find out.

What I find quite interesting about this observation is that it is both confronting and encouraging. There just may be a way to open this door.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Poem #24

Scarlet awakening
Crisp dawn of winter
No sailors here to take warning
Just an old woman
with tea in a blue-and-white mug
Its rounded body warm in her hands
The evergreens toward the park
incise their triangles
against the red rise
A minute later
though probably more like five
the crimson has faded to pink
like the rosy-fingered dawn of Homer
that line of translation
welling up from some long-ago learning
The light begins to blue the sky
the pink fades too as the tea cools
to drinking heat
She leaves the kitchen door
with its view to the coming day
Sits at the table
with its bee-gold cloth
and writes.

Jill Kelly, January 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On being an exception

In the research I'm doing for the book on sugar and food addiction, I'm finding that all recovery programs have about the same statistics: 10% of people who enter a program stick with it for the long while, whether it's AA, NA, OA, Weight Watchers, smoking cessation, Jenny Craig, you name it.
That means that those people, the 10% who succeed in long-term recovery, are the exception, not the rule.

This week, I've been sitting with what would make me an exception around sugar and food recovery. While I have a fairly long list of ideas, one thing really stands out, the difference between my successful (so far) recovery from alcoholism and my not so successful recovery from food addiction: the AA idea of going to any lengths.Nearly every AA meetings starts with a reading from the Big Book and one of the sentences says this: "If you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps."

I've been willing all these years to go to any lengths not to drink again. But I haven't been willing to go to any lengths to stay free of food and sugar addiction. I've got some pondering to do.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Poem #35

I chose pale gray marble
Twenty years ago
It matched the counter top
Kept the look
All of a piece
From shelf to drawer to counter
Now I want something bold
A black-and-white floral
Elegant with the colored dishes
Striking with the utensils
and bottles of cooking sauce
It's a Wake Up! pattern
So right for this time in my life.

Jill Kelly, February 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thoughtful quote

"Every mindful moment in which generosity displaces greed, compassion takes the place of hatred, and insight dislodges delusion is a moment in which we are awake." 

- Andrew Olendzki

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Good thoughts from Eric Maisel on meaning in life

From Eric's weekly newsletter:

Our mental health depends on us having a good sense of what promotes the experience of meaning in us—that is, a good sense of what sorts of things give us the subjective psychological sense that life is meaningful.

This array—or menu of meaning opportunities—is naturally different person by person. What would you put on your menu of meaning opportunities? Consider the following nine possibilities:

1. One meaning opportunity is love
We are built to experience love as meaningful. Unless life has harmed us to such an extent that we have stopped daring to love or unless we’ve become so self-involved that all the love we need is self-love, love is a golden meaning opportunity. You could love today—all it takes is a softening of your heart and an object of affection. If you bestow some love today, your life will feel more meaningful. Think of any of the words in the family of love, words like affection, kindness, generosity, and intimacy. They paint a picture of what loving means. You can take today as an opportunity to invest meaning in loving someone or in loving something.

2. A second meaning opportunity is good works
Action makes us feel more alive. So does living our principles and our values. When we marry these two ideas we get the idea of “good works”: real work of our own choosing that reflects our principles and our values. Maybe your everyday work feels short on real value but you must continue with it because it pays the bills. So be it. Try to supplement that everyday work with some good works of your own choosing. Your life will feel more meaningful if you pick “good works” as one of your meaning opportunities.

3. Creativity
Creativity is a rich, large word that stands for the way we make use of our resources and talents. We can approach anything creatively—creativity is not reserved for certain pursuits like writing a novel or inventing software. Life feels richer when we turn on that inner tap and allow our natural creativity to flow. Creativity in this everyday sense is an excellent meaning opportunity. You can choose to approach some challenge at work with grudging energy and a feeling of boredom or you can decide to invest something of yourself in meeting the challenge, bring to bear your inner resources and talents, spend a little of your passion, and attack it creatively. Life feels more meaningful when you approach it this way.

4. Excellence
As children we start out with two energies, both of which appeal to us greatly: we love to experiment and we love to excel. Soon, though, because we’re pressured to get things right, we start to lose our taste for experimentation; and because much of what we do doesn’t rise to the level of excellence, we begin to fear that excellence isn’t in us. Out of this dynamic arises a middle-of-the-road approach to life. Still, excellence remains a golden meaning opportunity for you. You can decide to bite into something and do it really well. Maybe you’ll flounder at first; maybe you’ll make some heroic messes. But if you apply yourself and if you persevere, excellence is waiting. And how good it will feel! Give excellence a chance and add it to your list of meaning opportunities.

5. Relationships
Protecting our individuality requires that we remain separate: we can’t think our thoughts or dream our own dreams unless we stay in our own skins. But while separateness and solitude are precious, relationships remain golden meaning opportunities. They are the place to love and be loved; the place to befriend and be befriended; the place to make work, business, and career connections; the place to be human in the presence of other human beings. Some of these relationships are rather like traps; others are the very beauty of life. Consciously decide where you want to relate, choosing the riches and avoiding the traps, and put relating high on your list of meaning opportunities.

6. Stewardship
It is reasonable enough to focus on our own survival needs, appetites, and desires. Evolution has built that primacy right into us. But nature has also provided us with a sense of right and wrong and an understanding of ideas like responsibility, mutuality, and shared humanity. Therefore we feel better if we aim ourselves in the direction of stewardship: in the direction of care for and attention to the world in which we live, the creatures of this world, and the ideas and institutions that maintain civilization at its best. We can aim to steward our children, civil rights, democratic institutions, the environment, or anything small or large that we think is worth our concern. It could be the stream at the edge of town; it could be the freedom of one person to speak. Stewardship meets both our ethical and psychological needs. Pick something to steward—a person, an ideal, a resource—and life will feel more meaningful.

7. Experimentation
Many of us curtail our natural desire to experiment as, during our formative years, we are instructed in school, at home, and among our peers to get things right and not make mistakes. Often we are literally punished for experimenting; and so we lose our taste for experimenting. However experimenting is a crucial core element of creativity, growth and learning. We can’t learn a new art medium unless we experiment with it. We can’t learn how to run our business except through trial-and-error experimentation. If you’ve lost your taste for experimentation, see if you can reacquire it by choosing experimentation as one of your meaning opportunities. Let go of needing a successful outcome, don’t worry whether you will get it right or wrong, and rejoice in the experimental process.

8. Pleasure
It goes without saying that people find pleasure pleasurable and a source of meaning. Yet because of familial, cultural, and religious injunctions against enjoying pleasure or because we think that pleasure is too low a thing to honor, many people reject pleasure as a significant meaning opportunity. In a well-rounded life where we are making meaning on many fronts, by creating, by being of service, by entering into relationships, and so on, pleasure ought to take its rightful place. If our life were only about garnering pleasure we might rightly feel that we had strayed too far from our principles. But if we’re living a value-based life we’re certainly entitled to include plenty of pleasure! Pleasure is not a suspect or second-rate meaning opportunity.

9. Self-Actualization
Self-actualization, like creativity, is a word that stands for our desire to make the most of our talents and inner resources. Instead of using only a small portion of your total being, you make the heroic decision to employ your full intelligence, your emotional capital, and your best personality qualities in the service of your meaning investments. This is hard to do. Your personality shadows may get in the way. The facts of existence may get in the way. We may want to use our full potential in the service of writing a novel, say, but that embroils us in the very real process of writing a novel, with all of its mysteries and difficulties. Despite these built-in problems, we know in our heart that we would love to “actualize our potential” and by doing so make ourselves proud.

There are many other meaning opportunities, too. Today, just do the following “simple” thing. Just think a little bit about the idea of “seizing meaning opportunities” and the related idea of creating your own personal “menu of meaning opportunities.” Just do a little dreaming and thinking on these important ideas.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Being remembered

My good friend Sue had a number of friends die in December and January, some ready to go, some not. On January 31, she had three memorial services to attend, all about the same time. It was a hard choice. I had lunch with her the day after, and she talked about the stories people told about her friend and then said, "I need to do some adventures so people will have something to talk about at my service."

We talked about how we want to be remembered and what stories people would tell about us. I know my siblings, especially my sister Kerry, would have a lot of funny stories to tell. Whether she would feel up to telling them is another matter. Sometimes our families aren't the most vocal folks at our memorials.

I guess some of it is how well known we are. Some of my friends know me well; many don't. I'm a private person, an introvert, and we don't create so many funny stories in our lives as extroverts. Even in my drinking years, I was pretty private about it all. Maybe it won't be stories about me. Maybe it will be impressions. I'm okay with that. I think what I want to do now are not adventures, but kindnesses and generosities. That would be a great impression to leave.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Poem #38

So hard to take it easy
18 days of work in a row
relief that it's over
anxiety that it's over
18 days and my nose
is comfortable on the grindstone
18 days and my shoulder
has worn a groove in the wheel
It's not exactly at loose ends
that I find myself
and idleness is never a threat
Rather it's like stepping off
a moving sidewalk
when you've been speeding along
The change is abrupt
and you're no longer on-kilter
So much easier to stay
in that groove
proceed as requested
than to have time open up
like a red tulip in a warm room

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead 2

Two years ago this month, I watched Joe Cross's Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead documentary about his recovery from an autoimmune disease by shifting to a heavily plant-based diet, mainly through juicing raw foods. Joe's inspiration got me juicing, something I've continued nearly daily for these two years. No matter what else I'm eating, be it healthy or not, I have a glass of green juice (kale, celery, cucumber, romaine, parsley, carrot) with fresh fruit, usually a banana, berries, and a handful of raw spinach. It's one of the best things I do for myself. 

Joe has a sequel out. He follows up on his own status six years later (still off all meds and healthy, although he has gained back about 30 of the 110 pounds he lost). He was candid about the weight gain and how easy it is to go back to eating less healthy foods. He also follows up on Phil, the trucker who lost 200 pounds and then gained it all back through loneliness and sadness.

What's great about Joe is there's no blaming, no shaming, just a good look at the kind of support we need to stay on track and get back on track. He spends more time in this second film with medical ideas (Dean Ornish gets interviewed) and the health benefits of plant-based eating. I found the film equally inspiring and entertaining this time.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Comrades in forks

I'm looking for comrades in forks, in spoons, in finger foods. I know that I can't do recovery from food and sugar addiction on my own. I've tried and I've been somewhat successful (longer and longer stretches of more appropriate eating behaviors). But I want support for the long haul. I've learned, the hard way, and over and over, that weight loss is not recovery from food addiction (it's a side effect). A diet or food plan is not recovery from food addiction, although it can help.

I'm looking for others who are as tired as I am of being run by food and succumbing to cravings and coming to with guilt and self-loathing. I am hoping to find 5-6 people interested in sharing our experience, strength, and hope with each other in a monthly meeting and experimenting with designing our own recovery programs.

If this interests you, contact me at

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Poem #37

Suicide at the lunch table
not the usual conversation
of food health politics planet

There was a voice
she said
a helpful voice
seductive, suggestive
It seemed so appealing
the way out

A quiet nap
that's what I saw
said the second woman
It was a good option
the only option
as I would never be any other way

And I thought of my own nights
of drunken despair
the relentlesness of addiction
I put the pills and the bourgon
on the table one night
yet was held back by uncertainty
not of the need to let go
but a question of completion
Would this be enough to do the job
to get me out?

A tenuous thread holds us to life sometimes
but it can be enough

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stepping into ritual

In these five days of hosting the angels, I have stepped more fully into ritual than I have in a while. I created a special altar with white carnations, a lovely two-wick white candle, the requisite apple (organic Fuji--my favorite), and my wishes sealed in a gold envelope. I have lit the candles each morning on arising, in the later afternoon when I take a quiet break, and then in the evening for a kind of vespers.

I got reintroduced to sacred ritual about 15 years ago and I hadn't realized how much I'd missed it. It was the one part of going to church that I liked as a child. And I've taken these five days to step up into ritual more fully. I've taken on this time with the angels as a sort of non-retreat retreat. I've done all my usual things: gym, editing work, cat care, errands, even Netflix, but I've shifted the content of some of these routines to honor this time.

In the evenings I've been watching documentaries on Buddhism that I've been meaning to watch for a long time. I set aside the thriller I was reading for entertainment in favor of Gawande's amazing book Being Mortal. And in the afternoons, I've gone into the living room and conversed with the angels about what I love and what I fear.

I have felt blessed in this week. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Month 2 of my recovery from sugar and food addiction project

Since the first of the year, I've been experimenting with my own program for recovery from sugar and food addiction. In writing my book about this, which will come out later this year, I've seen just how complex a condition it is and how no simple answer exists. So in surrendering to that complexity, I started looking at all the various things that might make up a program of support for my recovery. 

In January, I made a commitment to meditate every morning. I've been a recreational meditator for decades, taking it seriously only sporadically. But if consciousness, awareness, and paying attention can support my recovery, then I'm willing to give meditation a more serious try. I also made a commitment to get off recreational sugar, sugar that was not part of a natural food or sugar that was a treat. With one exception, I did that last month.

Now it's February and I'm thinking about adding a couple of additonal supports to my plan. First I'm going to add 5 minutes to my morning meditation and see how that feels. And I'm going to begin my exploration of support from other people for my recovery. As a fiercely independent person with a history of untrustworthy choices with others, this is rather daunting to me. But I know it's an essential piece.