Watching an Elegy: My Love of Gus Seinberg, Gay, Jewish Dog

First day home. 1998.

Perhaps the cutest puppy in the history of all puppies ever, I scooped Gus Seinberg and his ears into my life in the summer of 1998. He and his brothers and sisters were found in a box in Albany, California and brought to Berkeley where they became eligible for adoption on July 3rd. I was 27 at the time, my heart smashed along the streets of San Francisco, as 27 year old lesbian hearts lend themselves to a kind of reckless romantic smashability, iconic in scope. I had a few things going for me in the healing department, though. Two musical Elliotts accompanied my rise and fall, Mr. Smith for the wallowing, and then Ms. Missy for the phoenix from the flames kind of jam. And also a kind and gorgeous Sagittarian butch who liked to fix things found me to work on. Marina would run baths for me late at night and pour me good bourbon while I soaked. She read out loud to me from Raymond Chandler novels, left flirty personal ads for me in the Missed Connections print ads in the 90s SF Weekly, and picked me up to bomb around town in her matte black Plymouth Belvedere, green hotrod flames stretched over the side like a tattooed lady’s curvy hip.

But still, the kind of ache I nursed was nothing I’d ever encountered, endless and self-obssessed, irritating to all around me and no fun at all. Marina was a damn saint, her patience as legendary as her flawless style. So when I woke up one day wanting a puppy, she took me to get Gus.

Turns out, Gus has been the love of my life, really. No one else since my parents has been with me day in and day out for almost 17 years. And we were both such pains in the ass. He spent his teenage years shredding down comforters I couldn’t afford, getting me evicted from a few apartments with his howling separation anxiety the neighbors could not abide, and snarling at every baby who came within a block from him. And I toted him around from city to city, a HERDING dog with no one to herd but me, no land, no place to run. Gus has always had high anxiety, he hates change and still, I just did my thing, introducing him constantly to one of each of the 11 different tiny places we’ve lived. He’s had a whole host of women parade through his spot on the bed next to me (not to brag) and never once complained about moving over. By the time I got him here into the country and a stable family life, where he can run for acres and acres, well, he can barely run at all.

When he was small, Marina taught him all the useful things in life, how to sit and stay. How to get in the back seat. A little bit of recall. How to take a treat gently without fingertips involved. The only thing I ever taught Gus was how to spoon. I started the day we got home. I mushed his back into my chest over and over, sometimes against his will, forming him into a tiny fur comma against me, his puppy head right under my nose. Does anything smell as good as the crown of a puppy’s head? No. No it does not. As he got older, I could lie down on my side and pat the bed next to me and Gus would wag wag wag, then leap onto the bed and nestle himself perfectly into the crook on my body, his handsome head sharing the pillow. If I was sad, he’d come unfurl the fist of my sobbing body with his snout, put all his needs aside and lie down facing me, surely on the verge of saying the perfect thing to say, but never needing to.

Gus at the office. Portrait by Shay Alderman, little pink tongue hanging out by God. 2015.

I can hear him right now, as I type this, dragging the nails of his back paws over the old farmhouse planks. I’d call him in here to find me, but he can’t really hear anything anymore besides sirens and gunshots, so I just wait until he lumbers in and pulls himself onto the geriattric space foam bed he has over there in the corner. He circles around and around, considering the lying down option, sometimes thinking better of it before he does the slow laps through the house, clicking and dragging on the floorboards as I click and drag on the keyboard. I think it hurts him, the lying down, and once he’s down, it’s an investment. He’s not going to go anywhere for hours. I look over from time to time to see if his body is rising and falling, or if Forever Slumber has come for him, and I’ve been slowly, and then suddenly, sentenced to a new life without him. And also rescued, mercifully, from having to give the order myself, his best friend hanging the finish line of his wonderful life with my own trembling fingers. I can’t imagine it, really, but then I do. I imagine it over and over and over. Holding his face in my hands while he dies.

Gus Seinberg has done every impossibly horrible thing a dog is not supposed to do. He ate a whole raw chicken off the counter. Twice. He’s gorged himself on two pounds of stolen grapes, and ate an entire one pound block of bittersweet chocolate out of my brand new messenger bag. And, being thorough, he also tore the bag apart. He blew his knee out like a point guard in a bad pivot and then got attacked in the dog park right at his beautiful regal neck. He’s ODed on pain meds flavored like treats and gotten his stomach pumped on New Year’s Eve like an idiot at a frat party. Plus embarrassing things like when he peed on these nice shoes a crush of mine wore over to the house (although he was right about her) or when he pooped in his dog sitter’s purse just last year.

Still.
Here he is.
Alive.

After knee surgery, with his turtle. 2010.

I think Gussy is going to make it to his 17th birthday, and maybe he’ll make it to my 45th. But I don’t know. He is slowing down at a rate that I find both shocking and reasonable, heart shattering, and gorgeous. I think it makes sense for us to do this thing together. He has been by me every step of the way and through every nasty and beautiful transition life has tossed at me. It will be an honor to go through this transition with him.

He seems light as a feather now when I lift him up into the car to lug him around with me everywhere. I don’t leave him with anyone else anymore, so I only go where Gussy can go. I cook for him, chicken and white rice. It’s gift for both of us really, because when I am too busy or depressed, lit up with the grief attending some of the things life has been offering me lately, I can just add some spinach for myself and eat the damn dog food with him. Even as he declines, he finds ways to care for me. It’s incredible.

I’m saying all of this here because I’ve come to understand it’s important to say All Of It while the Beloved is still here. And Gussy, as much as I’ve imagined him talking, and often talk for him, he doesn’t really do it. But he listens to me endlessly. He doesn’t mind the horror that is my singing voice or the shortsightedness of my ego when it digs in. He likes all my outfits, thinks I’m  the most beautiful sight in the world besides steak and he is happy to see me no matter how much I snapped at him when he didn’t deserve it. Gus Seinberg taught me everything I know about loyalty. He shows me every day that most things I think are urgent, aren’t truly important, and the deeply imperative things in life are rarely urgent after all. He has been my greatest constant teacher and companion. I still sniff the crown of his head every day. It remains a perfect pleasure.

I don’t know how to say goodbye to him, but I imagine he will teach me that as well when it is time. He is the most perfect thing that has ever happened to me. Later I will take him out and we will walk a short way together,

Paws and feet,
Paws and feet.

When you are gone, I will never stop missing you.

 

*For Laura, who loved Gus and took care of him too.

 

Making Procrastination WERQ: Links for March

I’ve always been a hardcore procrastinator. No matter how much time I give myself, I will find a proportionate amount of things to fuck around doing in order to make any deadline right under the wire. No amount of planning, good intentions, or attitude changes have changed this core pattern. So finally, here in what seems to be my most accepting time of life so far, I have come to a place where I believe something about the adrenaline of a close call must be an ingredient in my mysterious Productivity Stew. I have surrendered any kind of attempt to change this quirk after years of honest and deep exploration. Instead I’ve decided that if I am going to procrastinate about a particular assignment: laundry, running, writing, billing, grieving, bathing suit shopping, cooking, email or any manner of perfectly acceptable details in life, EVEN THE ONES I LOVE, I’d at least make my avoidance materials dynamic and engaging. I didn’t want this to be mere throw away aging. That’s what the DMV is for. I thought I’d start keeping track and sharing some of my favorite scenic routes with you each month. Because avoidance need not be a vapid waste of life. It can rule.

LET’S NOT WASTE ANY MORE TIME!

I’ll always share 8 things because 8 is my lucky number. I tattooed it on my index finger. Numerological speaking, 8 it the moment of calm and clarity that settles before great upheaval. I like that part in a song, too. A beat of rest and then mayhem. Do not think I am functioning under the delusion that 8 things are enough to fill procrastination time, as of course there are many more. Nevertheless, here’s 8.

1. EmpireLook, I fucking hate Fox as much as the next feminist lesbian but it has a few things going for it. Kevin Bacon, one of my lifetime favorites (although I don’t watch his show because it’s too creepy) and it has EMPIRE. Cookie Lyon is one of the best ladies that has ever graced the television screen. Timbaland produces the music and right now the soundtrack anchors my running playlist. This is what you get when you one part take Ilene Chaiken’s dyke drama (the L-Word) add a side of Shakespeare, and watch Taraji KILL IT as Cookie dwarfing all other things that are already awesome about the show and finally cap it off with a shot of Courtney Love.

2. Amy Chaplin. I know I already told you about this book, but I’m still obsessed. Sometimes the great thing about upping your procrastination game is that even the sidelines become generative and inspiring. So while I’ve been toiling with this book proposal myself, I’ve used some of my fear to practice a self-forgiveness and also cook my ass off studying the wonderful food this woman shares. The thing I love about this book is it works from the pantry through the everyday, through process steps that can make healthy eating so much EASIER and tastier for all of us. Then it still has time to get fancy at the end. Its such a great book. My copy is sitting in the kitchen studded with those colored tape flags like a summer party favor. 

3. Watercolor. I started making photographs in 1997 because I had a combination of writer’s block and painter envy. I was 27. Now 18 years later I finally went to CVS one day, got some shitty paints with questionable “pigment” and bad paper and just started playing with them. Since then, nice pals have sent me some good paint and really beautiful paper. With the materials already so lovely, it’s easy to make something beautiful without being an expert. It’s fun.

This is me meeting Jon Miller. My heart is flopping all over and I am in full nerd mode. It felt so incredible. LOOK AT HIS FACE!

4. March Madness/Spring Training. You don’t have to be crazy like me and take time off to go to Arizona to watch your favorite team lose a few games and have the best time ever. You don’t have to sneak into seats behind the home dugout to get close enough to see the pores on your favorite pitcher, Tim Lincecum. You don’t have to wait in line at the press box to go meet your Hall of Fame announcer and oddly blurt out, “Jon Miller, you are cute as a bug!!” BUT march is a great time for sports procrastination. Even though the NCAA is basically an evil pimp getting rich off the sweat of it’s athletes, bringing in a billion dollars (A BILLION) in revenue on the high tops of it’s basketball players during March Madness  my god, it’s incredible to watch these men and women play. I am actually lucky enough to go see part of the women’s tournament live in 2 weeks with my Pop. He even got us matching UCONN hoodies.

5. Jigsaw Puzzles: I love the way it feels to find the right piece and slide the grooves together perfectly. I especially love 1000 piece puzzles so I can do that 999 times.

6. Claudia Rankine: I read Citizen and am still both recovering AND in a state of utter gratitude. Just a breathtaking journey of feelings came for me as I read. This book really had me take stock of the very notion of citizenship for me as an American. Specifically as a white American. There is no way to experience this lyric and exit the same person who began reading it. The prose is a transformative spell of honesty, a mirror, a knife, the fiercest act of pure love I’ve seen by pen.  INCREDIBLE.

7. gluttonforlife: I can’t even count the ways this website by writer Laura Silverman is inspiring. The photographs are gorgeous, I love the writing, the themes compel me and forget about it with the creativity around foraging and food. I’ve been following this site consistently for a few years now and it just gets better. It never fails that if I feel stuck or I need a break from my own writing or words, Ms. Silverman’s voice comes on like a daydream, a soothing and beautiful place to go where every cycle of perception works together. Then I often want one of her cocktails.

8. The ReadI love this podcast. Two friends, Kid Fury and Crissle, get on the mic and just shoot the shit. They talk about popular culture, clothes, music, stars and anything that annoys the shit out of them. These two really get into it and it feels a lot like hanging out on a couch with them. Maybe with snacks. When they disagree is my favorite.

So there are some nice things to do to pass the time instead of having time pass you. May all your toils be interesting and your mind at peace when it hits the pillow. ALSO: Please comment with your favorite links, sites, and procrastination WINS!

Bad At Running: A Quiet Paradise

I sat on the couch for years. Decades. Rotating shitty couches from sidewalks and thrift stores and Craig’s List. Then somewhere in my mid-thirties I looked around my world and decided that if I wanted to enjoy the great life I was lucky enough to have built, I’d have to start showing up to care for the body that allowed me to experience my path. I’d have to get off the ding dang couch and move.

It all started in San Francisco

I started running. This is a small miracle for many reasons. I wasn’t a former runner returning to a bliss of youthful endorphins armed with some kind of positive body memory. I didn’t have more than a smattering of friends who ran, nor did I have any evidence to support the idea that I might be actually be good at this activity that, for all its popularity, actually looked monotonous and punishing to me. I had finally made a practice of hauling my carcass out of the sack before sunrise to hit the elliptical at the super gay gym when a friend called me to ask if I’d move my bod off the machines and into the streets so I could do a Pride Run with her. Bernadine is a force of nature I never felt inclined to say no to, so that’s how it all started in 2009.

Since then my running has stuck with me. And my hunch turned out to be correct: I’m actually terrible at running. And I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve run on treadmills, beaches and avenues. I’ve run in Palm Springs, Portland, New York City, San Francisco, and Chattanooga, TN. I jogged through Rome, Boston, and outside my house on the quiet country roads of Leyden, MA. I ran through a civil war memorial park in Chickamauga GA, in the heavy hot morning air of Akumal, Mexico and down the hill to Greenfield, MA. I’ve done trots in Sudbury, Albany, Guilford, Pacifica, Gulf Shores, New Orleans, in the magical desert of Joshua Tree. And after six years, I can tell you I still really suck at it. I never get faster. My stride doesn’t really improve. I have not become graceful or efficient. Truth be told, it’s an inexplicable magical thing where somehow, I have not become competitive or decided to give a fuck. Doing something I’m shitty at has been one of the best things I’ve ever done at all.

 

A run in Portland with friends.

Abdicating a sense of “improvement” has let me arrive for all the things I get from this practice that have nothing to do with the yardstick of accomplishment. I do not run to get better at it. I mean, I know I could get better at it. I could get faster for sure. But I don’t want to. I just don’t give a shit. I like the pace the world goes by at an 11- 12 minute mile. I like to look around me, listen to birdsong and watch the clouds skate out toward a horizon line. I often count my footfalls in meditation or watch my thoughts dip and roll along the pavement. I nod to fellow runners, smile, wave, and soak in the camaraderie of people I will never see again, linked by a common undertaking and citizenship of our bodies, of an endeavor. I like to wring out my bandana after a run, the salt and elemental water of effort enough of a medal for me.

My city running happens with no phone. The music of the town and my solitude among the humanity is the medicine. Plus, in a life of being constantly hooked up and plugged in, no one can actually find me without the phone. There is no email, no texts arrive, there’s no step counting machine to tell me I accomplished something, either enough or not enough, and no pace setter to inform me of my speed. It is just me, in this body, with a task at hand. I sometimes repeat Confucius on hills over and over,

 

It does not matter how slowly you go,

Only that you do not stop.

 

Brooklyn in the house.

Knowing that it is the texture of the experience itself that is the mettle of this thing for me, this rejection of aspiring to do anything at all beyond the miles or the time.

This utter lack of end game is also the exact mechanism I need to notice the other gifts of my toil. I sleep better. My skin looks a billion times better. It makes me remember to drink more water. My moods are more stable and my self-esteem is higher. EVEN WHILE BEING A CRAPPY RUNNER! Goddess knows I love the irony that being a disaster in this venue raises my self-esteem. It changes the way I see my surroundings, infusing the world with more color, sound, symphony.

And running has given me the gift to appreciate the nature of ambition I have in other venues. It has helped me to make meaning for my world in a study of contrast. If I do this thing so often that I don’t need to get better at, what is that feeling of striving that rises up in me about writing or about love or about the presence of coaching? These things I do want to get better at forever? How is my undertaking of being a new watercolor painter so different, so much richer, than how I feel about the casual hobby of making ceramics? I notice the reaction in my body about all kinds of feelings because running has given me so much time to notice my body at all.

 

Joshua Tree. An incredible place to run.

And isn’t that the biggest buried treasure of all? This pirated victory of having a new relationship to a body I have been at odds with for my entire cognizant life. At first I’d be running and the feeling of my sides jiggling and my thighs rubbing and my curves squished into the sausage outfit of the jog would bring me home in despair. Not just because of the judgment I placed on myself and how I had all this dumb patriarchal and misogynist psychic violence underpinning the most private and demanding relationship of all, but because of what that meant. How I would never be able to get out from under the pressure of a system that was so much bigger than us, me and my roly-poly vessel.

But I did and I do. It isn’t always and it requires consistency, but the more I move, the more it all falls away. The gratitude I have for this place comes right out of my pores some days with the sweat. Or just drinking strong black tea on a hammock on a Tuesday. Or watching my breath freeze at the gas pump because here I am, standing, driving a car, wearing a fabulous scarf and creating ice vapor clouds from my lungs, long since relieved of nicotine duties. Running makes me like it here more and more all the time.

 

Home. The little hill town of Leyden, MA.

And being a shitty runner relieves me of so many fears about failure. Or not really relieves me of them exactly, but I see that my ideas about failure are deeply flawed. Failure is so commonplace, such a guaranteed outcome in the course of life, that agreeing to be bad at something and finding it has so many fundamental positives associated with it allows me to open up my curiosity about living in bolder and more expansive ways. It allows me to be a beginner again as an adult, overturning the common delusion that I know what is going to happen. It returns me to a peak experience of just wondering about things, of being an explorer and get dirty on the mudpit of daily life. In turn, this particular perk has built up my resistance to shame exponentially. I EXPERIENCE LESS SHAME. I never would have imagined this possible.

So give me a crappy run any day. Give me the awkwardness and the struggle. Give me the pain and the mental doubt and the terrible outfits. And with it I’ll take the keeping myself company. I’ll take the companionship of asphalt and rain. I’ll take the solitude and the curiosity and I’ll take the sunrise.

I will happily give anyone else the ribbon at the finish line to just finish at all.

Sweating it out in Boston.

***This post originally appeared on Amber Karnes’s wonderful site, Body Positive Yoga

A Little Bit On Dating.

Living in New York was a rough stretch for me. Which is to say, that town chewed me right up and spit me out. I found myself underemployed as a sex educator in an optically unnerving dildo emporium, doing the work of the goddess for about $13/hr. I wore a path into the linoleum escorting nervous cis women to the bookshelf, plucking Betty Dodson’s genius Sex For One off of it over and over, turning to the double page spread featuring beautiful line drawings of like a hundred different vaginas.  I’d watch women blush, cry, and chew their nails as they looked at the pictures, labia twisting and rolling and even unfurling like manta rays right their under their fingertips. I’d point to the clitoris, that bundle of 8000 nerve endings crammed into the famous pink pearl, a hoodie stylishly draped over its head letting women of the world focus from time to time on life rather than intense sensation that lies beneath. I’d say, “That’s where you look, girl. Get yourself a compact and that Missy Elliot Supa Dupa Fly record and block out some time on a Tuesday evening. Just you. Because it’s always good to know where the pot of gold is buried.”

Those were my days. Clits and butt plugs and floggers and vibrators. Playing some part in women’s sexual empowerment felt amazing, but to be so broke and desperate from doing so in the most expensive town in the country was exhausting physically and disenchanting politically and spiritually. Add to that being turned down for a slew of editing jobs cited for being both over AND under-qualified plus not one, but two breakups BAM and then BAM, and I gotta tell you, I felt low like a bass drum. Imagine ushering sexually adventurous couples around all day in the wake of TWO break-ups possibly to never get laid again.

But look. Just because a lady loves a city, doesn’t mean the city is ready to love her back. Obviously, the same can be said of some of the women I’ve dated. And come to think of it, if I stretch way the hell back, the men as well.

The office was rife with break-ups, bad dating stories and shockingly bad dating behavior this week. Because my clients ARE THE GREATEST, it inspired me to make a tiny list of things we all talked about. Let’s make this short and sweet.

A little dating REAL TALK:

1. Don’t date people that don’t want to date you or they torture you endlessly with their ambivalence. I used to think it was such a challenge and a test to change someone’s mind and really show them how I was the best love they’d ever find and how I was laid back and so whipsmart and… ahem… WHATEVER, MAN. Let them work through their shit over there and when they know they are honored that you are willing to spend your precious time with them, either you’ll decide to or not. Because the time you spend with this person is keeping you from your friends, your art, your self, and the plethora of people who are completely stoked about you, just like you are.

2. The most loathsome song lyric in history: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. That lyric gets the mighty middle finger from me. It can really fuck right off. If you can’t be with the one you love, BE ALONE for Pete’s sake. Do not drag people who truly want to be with you through your pining away for someone else. It’s irritating, harmful, disrespectful and beneath you. And if this is happening to you, see #1.

3. Try and have enough communication to know that you are both on the same page. Are you pals who do it sometimes? Are you taking on a second lover but staying with your partner? Are you in it for a monogamous long haul? Whatever it is, let the date know. And if your page turns, don’t play it off like you’re not changing. Things change. It’s cool. Honesty is hot.

4. Rejection is protection. We live in an interesting world packed with so many kinds of experiences to be had. There are different kinds of people, there’s travel and painting and cooking and baseball season and car engines and science and vintage ceramics and SO MANY BOOKS TO READ and dogs and 5ks to run and swimming and salads and laundry and work and fresh flowers. So even though it hurts bad when someone you feel for chooses to break things off, they have given you freedom of time and inclination to follow paths that will bear fruit. Between going to work and sleeping, our free time is valuable and we get to treat it as such. Having someone take themselves off our agenda saves us from spending intimate time with a person who doesn’t ultimately want what we want. We can take all the great things we got from that time and roll that shit over into an account with BETTER INTEREST.

5. And finally I just want to say to you, if someone doesn’t respect you, leave them. Just leave. Break up with them. Make it quick and final. “Don’t call me. Don’t text me. Don’t email me. I don’t even want to hear rumors about you. It’s over.” You deserve someone who feels honored to have your company and shows you that.

These last few years for me have been peppered with some truly terrifying moments. People got sick. People died. Long relationships came apart and my dog is staggering around the house like a rickety drunk canine Burroughs. There is the 24 hour news cycle to contend with as well, showcasing an array of societal ills like festering pustules. The things we have here in the world that are TRULY our own are few. We have our stories, and we have a little bit of time here. It’s a beautiful life, even when brutal, and maybe especially so. But because the world’s job is to inherently rise and fall, we do not need to help it along in the heartbreak department.

Pick someone who picks you back.
Period.

This is Gramma Eva and Grampa Sasha in Kiev in 1917.

 

Willpower: The Big Bullshit Hoagie

This is Wally. He’s my dog nephew. The idea of walking on the beach with Wally can create more of a sense of friendliness in a habit than just logging steps.

I know we haven’t met, but I can tell you already,
There’s nothing wrong with you.

I mean it.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

How do I know that? Because you’re here. Not here at the blog, I mean here on the planet. And if you’re already here, you’ve got the right to be here, in exactly the body you have today. I know that’s pretty disappointing to people. They want the keys to someplace else. People wrote me a lot of letters last week confiding that they had clicked on the title of my weight loss article hoping that I had unlocked some kind of feminist, or not, solution to the problem of the body they were using to read the post. They’d been putting off exercising in public until they privately slimmed down just a little bit or they’d been waiting to get married until they could look better in the photographs, and they were even waiting to go to rehab until they lost 10 more pounds. Because we all know, it is a far more important thing to have the right photographs of life than it is to just live it.

If all of you incredible people are thinking you don’t have a right to be happy living the lives offered to you by the world in the bodies you have right now, the problem isn’t your body. The problem is the world.

It’s such a set-up, right? We’re supposed to police ourselves so hardcore that the policing becomes the fabric of life. Food gets shoved onto teams of good and bad like a high school gym class nightmare. But weirdly, and horrifically, the food talk fades and people begin to use phrases that are even more telling. They don’t say, “I ate some unhealthy things that made me feel sick to my stomach.” They simply say, “I was so bad.”

PEOPLE: You were not bad. You ate some fucking pasta. You didn’t mislead the country into a war where thousands of young people killed and died over an illusion. What happened was a decadent dessert. You didn’t lie to your best friend about siphoning off her kids’ college funds so you could go to Bora Bora with Ellen and Portia. Your nutritional escapades have nothing to do with your moral compass, your ability to accomplish meaningful things in this place, and they certainly have nothing to do with your deep and abiding worth here in this wide community of humans.

Still.
I hear it all the time.
I was so bad. I have no willpower.

Well.
You know what?
FUCK WILLPOWER

Willpower is an abusive tyrant dressed up as a hero with great abs and no emotional capacity to sustain a meaningful relationship. Willpower looks great at the dinner but throws up all over the back seat of the limo on the way home and never tips the driver. Willpower gives at the office but never marches in the street and willpower always dies bitter and pandering to the sky about having just one more chance. Willpower pulls a muscle rolling it’s eyes at you when it sees your hand reach out for just your ninth tortilla chip, then tears its rotator cuff patting itself on the back as it verbally shreds its lover because it’s HANGRY.

What do you like about your friends? Move toward that.

I don’t believe in willpower anymore when it comes to eating,
and I don’t believe in white knuckles.

I believe in habit.

Now a habit you can build in a way that suits your strengths. A habit you can stack up each day, a whole universe of everything that works. And when it doesn’t work, no big deal, just start again from a new angle. Or what about a habit that used to work and then stopped because life changed. Because you had a kid or got a new job or lost your license or you got Lyme or your funding got pulled or some jerk was careless with your heart and the pain came for you so hard and fast you lost your ding dang breath. Well then. Time for a new habit. But there’s STILL not a damn thing wrong with you.

What is this habit building I’m talking about? People, coaches in particular,  have different ideas about how to do this. Now, obviously, I’m not the coach for everyone. I’m very focused supporting people to experience the life they are having WHILE they do the work toward making change. The idea that we should put off living until we get to celebrate that change cuts us all off at the emotional knees. And, it also prevents us from having support and joy while we get there. I’m not into that. We never know how long we get to have this life and so I say, now’s it.

Every client I have is different, each with remarkable personality, talents, and creative acumen. So each person I work with has a different path in building their particular habits moving toward their particular goals. But some things, I think, can be helpful to most people looking to replace the iron fist of willpower with the new model of a habit. So, here’s my jam:

1. Be Reasonable: Let’s say you want a seated meditation practice in your life in a lasting way. Presently, you are not sitting at all. So if the goal is to have meditation in your life for a long time, and ultimately from where you are now you envision a seated daily meditation for 30 minutes with various retreats over time and a regular sangha (or group), beginning with a task of 30 minutes just isn’t a reasonable path. There’s a ton of real estate for you to explore between the nothing of now and your eventual vision. For instance, have a list of tasks that build toward that goal and hook it onto a reliable habit you already have. Like, say, brushing your teeth. So your first task can be to make yourself a comfortable and inviting place to sit. Second you can hitch that sit to your tooth brushing. You know that no matter where you are, you always manage to brush your teeth every morning. That established habit can lend a reliable spine to this new one. Third, begin with 1 minute. Or with a recording of a teacher to lead you through 5 minutes. Build up. These suggestions can be applied to anything from trying to eat breakfast to yoga to writing to walking the dog.

2. Friendliness: What do you like about your friends? What qualities make you want to stay in a certain relationship or at a particular dinner party? Take those qualities and move them into your habit building. Like dressing up? Maybe your exercise can be tennis, which can often showcase a really killer outfit. Maybe you like to yell. How about deadlifting or kickboxing? Hate cooking but really want to gain some skills to have a little more say over how your nutrition at home is happening? Add friendliness to the task at hand. Find a pal you have who actually LOVES to cook. You have one. I swear. Tell them you’d like some help and do some cooking together. They can help demystify the kitchen as well as provide company while you learn. Or maybe you want a habit of cleaning your apartment weekly. Make a playlist that is SO GOOD, it feels like a friend, and you can cut a deal with yourself to clean for, say, 15 minutes of that playlist. I often find Back in Blackis a good song for this list. And by the time you get to 15 minutes one of two things will ave happened. You will either be 15 minutes further down the road to a clean apartment OR you will be enjoying your genius playlist so much you continue spiffing up the joint happily.

Willpower is fickle. A habit, you can grow.

3. Willingness: If you can feel it in the very core of your being that you don’t actually want to do the thing you’ve set yourself up to do, trust yourself. You know that feeling better than anyone. Change the shape of the task until you feel willing. Get support in finding a version of your task you are willing to do. Like for me: at some point I wanted to run a marathon. Looking back, it’s clear to me that the ONLY thing that made that possible was the fact that I wanted to do it. My body is in better shape now but I’d never be able to finish another marathon because I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO. I’m not willing to put in the time or the pain or even the entry fee. I do want to continue my running practice, though. And having a distance kind of task to support that goal really helps me with structure. So I need to find a task I am willing to do. Because 26.2, for this gal, not gonna’ happen.

There’s more, but just begin here.
Get Reasonable.
Be as Friendly with yourself as possible.
And just be Willing.
See how this goes and let me know.

You don’t have to white knuckle your way through life. The universe is going to hand us so many challenges, so much pain and struggle already, that it really doesn’t need us to help it along.

I am not saying we shouldn’t strive or toil, or that everything should be, or will be easy. And some days even the most established habits are a total drag to show up for. But as the habit is built and the result of that habit is that we feel better in our lives day in and day out, we begin to believe in it. In ourselves. In our humanity and also in our bodies, where that humanity exists. We begin to approach ourselves with a shot glass of kindness not just in these habits, but in our most brutal and punishing days, when we need it the most.

Don’t feel like running? Put on a gay bandana. WORKS EVERY TIME.

So. You Wanna Lose Weight.

I have avoided writing a post about weight loss since I started this job. Yet one of the most common things clients come to me wanting is, well, weight loss. They come with numbers or they come with a pair of pants they want to get back in. They come with diet plans, supplements, meal replacements and they come with Zumba dreams. People come with fat positive roots and a sense of feminist betrayal, they come with a desire to overthrow the patriarchy and a tug between the weight and the expectations of a misogynist culture. They come with diabetes and doctors orders and they come with menopause. People come from Europe, from Canada, from the Deep South. People arrive armed with fears and defense tools and shame and more shame. I say welcome to all of you as I am as much a member of this parade as I am a loving host to your desires.

I cannot speak to anyone’s experience but my own. I try not to talk about how I eat so much here because my work is not about me. I do find, sometimes, that a sharing of my experience has brought clients some ease and so after almost four years of this weight loss inquiry, and after dodging the direct questions from people all the time, I thought instead I’d just tell you a little bit of my story.

As you might know, I’m pudgy. Sometimes I’m more pudgy than others and over time, my weight has spent a bunch of time fluctuating. When I am at what I feel are my HEALTHIEST times: eating for my body’s needs, not obsessing, not logging or counting or berating myself over a donut. When I am happy, exercising regularly, relatively low in self-judgey bullshit and laughing easily. When I am cooking and my choices for food are in line with my body’s needs and not my emotional havoc or terror, I still look thick by conventional standards. And when I feel great and healthy, this shape looks great to me. I look at myself and feel powerful and competent and sexy and solid. The truth is, I go through 99% of my life not looking at myself. Maybe more. I BARELY KNOW WHAT I LOOK LIKE. So to place a value on the 1% of the time I look at myself over the 99% of the time when I discover how I feel in the world just doesn’t make good sense. Obviously, as we’ve learned through Republican fund raising dinners, the 1% is often given all the power in our country. But I say our bodies deserve a coup. Let the 99% win.

Move no matter what

Because people ask me the most effective ways to lose weight all the time, I am going to tell you about the 3 times I have lost a SIGNIFICANT (20+ lbs) amount of weight  in my life.

FAR AND AWAY, I have to say, the most effective way I have found to lose weight so far in my life was doing a ton of crystal meth. The pounds just fell right off me. I snorted it mostly but free based it as well. I can still remember the exact smell of the blue smoke that swirled in the bulb of the pipe. Sometimes during hot summers when people have their air conditioners cranked up so high you can smell the freon, the scent is so powerful, I get flashbacks to being tweeked out on meth. I kind of lucked out because when I first moved to San Francisco, there was a dealer that got a crush on me so I never paid for it either. I didn’t start doing it to lose weight. I did it because it felt incredible. I felt invincible and gorgeous and sexy and brilliant and charming and hilarious and productive and genius. Until I didn’t. Until my feet started going numb and my skin looked like I had mold inside me just under the surface snaking through my body and my brain fell into chaos and despair. That year I was consistently svelte and people loved to tell me how great I looked. WOW, they’d exclaim, YOU LOOK AMAZING! At first I’d smile and feel lit up like a pinball machine. The weight loss was some kind of side bonus I hadn’t even considered. I didn’t even think about food. I was too busy thinking about solving the crisis of the prison industrial complex and unhinging the oppression of queers dying from, essentially, hatred. Self or otherwise. I didn’t have time to fucking eat, and the thought of it freaked me out anyhow. Being free of food obsession for the first time ever was incredible. Better than being thin. BETTER THAN BEING THIN. As time went on and I found myself with hollowed out yellowish dead eyes and wearing blotches on my skin like embarrassing hickeys from ill advised dates, getting a size 4 pair of pants didn’t bring the thrill of victory I’d always imagined it might. One more person told me how “Great” I looked and I just said, “Well, I’m pretty strung out on speed so I’m glad I have that going for me.”

Get a friend to move with you!

ANYHOW: I definitely lost a lot of weight and so I can attest to that method. However. I don’t recommend it. Side effects include loss of money, teeth, friends, lovers, jobs, housing, and life. I was lucky, but my dead friends were not, and every last one of them would rather be here than skinny.

A little less dire for effective weight loss is some really down home Emotional Devastation.  Now for me, a general malaise, a protracted sadness, or a vague depression won’t work. Those have traditionally driven me to comfort eating and obsessively thinking about what to eat instead of feeling whatever feelings I may be avoiding. But true annihilation has brought me so low at times that I just don’t feel like eating at all or I can’t. Again, here, the pounds melted away as the Magical Misery Fairy tapped on my throat to make it feel like it was choking almost constantly. Anxiety, pain, and near constant crying jags banished those pesky pounds away like a dream. Again people, even ones knowing how much pain I was suffering, took great pleasure in telling me how wonderful I looked. What a compliment! Unlike my Game Show Hostess on Meth alter ego, this version of me wanted to kill people. In this state, I truly wanted to feel good and how I looked meant nothing, Just like Ranier Maria Rilke says. It really made me think a lot about beauty and what it could mean to be a beautiful person, like in a Prince song.

Then a few years ago during a pretty happy time of life, I decided to try Weight Watchers. I did it for 10 months and I lost a bunch of weight and felt pretty goddamned happy about it. I felt proud and so excited to go to a wedding and look a certain way. This method did not involve me filling my body with toxic drugs that would make my teeth rot out of my head, nor did I feel, at any time, devastated or bereft. I kept track of what I ate daily and meticulously and frankly, this process offered me some things I found helpful. I liked the structure of it and I liked having an understanding that if I changed the portions of some things, I still felt satisfied. (Note: The DubDubs has rules that lets a person be well within their program and still survive on Skittles, a bagel, and 2 light beers every day. You can get in with your points and still lose weight and have a victory on your hands. Hell, on weekends you can even add in a Skinny Fudgesicle and tequila shots. Again, weight loss over health.)

Over time, however, the constant tracking and monitoring felt increasingly creepy and horrible.  I became my own vicious food prison warden, and this is on the kindest diet I have ever undertaken. Diets are inherently broken. They are the work of the devil, or misogyny. I know this because when I wanted a little freedom from any of it, when I decided to abandon the plan and stop babysitting my own food intake and carrying around weird scraps of paper to enter into the computer later, I went insane. Or sane. I mean first, insane, then sane.

The microculture of restriction and denial serve to starve our inner ideas of thriving. They sent me from feeling like I was a little bit in the weeds directly into the damn wilderness. My newly found self-esteem turned out to be a thin reflective mirror easily shattered by the truth of my real depth of self-loathing. Underneath all the desire to be thin or perfect or pretty or NORMAL was the monstrous truth that I was just not enough. Not successful enough or desirable enough or talented enough or … I’m sorry. Am I boring you to DEATH?! On top of that, to discover my utter edgeless lack of original despair, the desperately boring female trope lodged in me like a vestige of postmodernist Snoresville, the wholly disappointing discovery that at my core I was a delicate fucking flower that wanted to be a wisp…. Jesus. It was a true terror. Even my most private failures turned flaccid.

I not only had the original pain but the judgments of that pain as well. My inner 3rd wave feminist critic spit on my thrifted Doc Martens and my Body Positive crusader packed up the vintage slips and Sharpie body tattoos and deserted me. I had no politics to bring me comfort with a truth like this. That at my true core, I was, well, alone.

And turns out, that was the perfect place for me to start rebuilding. Because I live here in this body: ALONE. This is the place I think, dance, run, eat, snore, read, kiss, swim and ski. I experience everything in here. And finally having that agency to shut out the pressures of outside expectation let me slowly build some kind of new relationship to my own home here. I own this body and it’s my responsibility not to be a shitty landlord. Because no matter what I choose, that choice lives here.

This is when things really started to make a shift for from getting thin to getting comfortable. I don’t even want to say “healthy” exactly. Because to me, part of being healthy is being free and having agency for the first time in my life to say yes or no to things. To be able to have food and know when it’s a dessert and when it’s a coping mechanism disguised as a flourless chocolate tart.

So instead of weight loss, I found that developing a relationship to my body and to food that works to support my happiness and my actual physical needs will let my body exist in a space that’s comfortable for it. And now that this particular body is officially in menopause, and pretty early I might add, NOT TO BRAG, it’s got some new things it’d like to tell me. I need to really be a grown ass woman and decide what the cross section is of what do I want to do, what am I willing to do, and how do I want to feel when I do it. Eating and moving are the general crux to all of my experience here in this body, and therefor, the way I practice the sacred in this life. It is a work in progress and with any luck at all, it will last the rest of my days.

Just like The World Champion Giants: it’s a State of Mind as well as body. Mostly I just wanted to rep myself as a Giants Fan.

1. How I Eat is Just as Important as What I Eat: I don’t eat standing up anymore as a general rule. I don’t eat while driving. I try to take a few breaths before I begin to eat. Say a quiet thank you to the workers, the planet, the resources, the privilege and the sheer luck that brought me to this food. These breaths and that thanks usually lead me to a place where I am reminded to chew, promoting good digestion and more help for my digestive organs and gut health, and more sheer pleasure to enjoy the sensory fiesta of eating. Eating compulsively is always a sign that something emotional is up and it also robs me of the experience of enjoying the food. Which then often leads to eating AGAIN and therefor overeating when a body doesn’t need any more fuel.

2. Staying Hydrated is Key: I am so shitty at drinking water. TERRIBLE. Here’s the thing. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things we can do for our sense of well-being. It’s detoxifying, it helps with systemic inflammation and it keeps our conversations with our bodies honest. When we are dehydrated, our body will do anything it can to get water, including telling us we are hungry because obviously we are not giving it water. It’ll be like, “Okay then, girl. Get get yourself some food I can syphon the water out of it because if you keep trying to turn me into a damn raisin, I will die, and I’m not having any of that.” When we are hydrated (drinking someplace between 75-100 oz of water or herbal tea a day) our brains are much more clear in contact with what the body wants. The more water you drink, the more you want to drink it. Now there are tons of easy little apps on your phone that can remind you to have water that don’t require tons of obsessy logging and stuff.

3. DIGESTION!!! The Ayurvedic tradition suggests eating our largest meal closer to the middle of the day and letting dinner be lighter so that our bodies don’t have to work so hard as they are sleeping is the kindest to our digestive tracts. Ideally, the body has deeper cleaning to do while we sleep and if we let it do that work, our bodies are more efficient with our fuel. I try to keep 12 hours between when I finish dinner and start breakfast. I don’t always accomplish this, but I notice that when I do, my body feels, like, more ready to rumble. The lethargy quotient is so much lower.

4. Move. Start where you are. If you move a lot, bring in some variation and mix it up. If you don’t move at all, just start. Walk more. Take the stairs. Do a squat. Pick something you like. If you hate the gym, don’t go to the fucking gym. There is no such thing as a Gym Person. People tell me, “I’m not a Gym Person.” No one is a gym person. Going to the gym is a behavior. You go or you don’t. Who were people before gyms? Certainly still people. So. Maybe you find a gym you like. Maybe you start to hike. Or you dance at home between work breaks. Or maybe you go for walks or try running. Maybe you play tennis or you do the 7 minute workout a few times on your lunch break. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Don’t worry about what Bethany does because Bethany doesn’t have to live your life in your body. Do what you do. Bring a pal. Or if you’re very social, use movement to be alone. Leave your phone at home. Climb rocks and sightsee. Snowshoe. Ski. Swim. Lift weights. Shovel. Garden. Ice Skate. ANYTHING. Get a gang together. Or join mine! But Keep on Moving.

5. Eat when You’re Hungry. Period.

6. Enjoy Eating. Really. It can be difficult, or impossible, to truly enjoy eating if you are also working or watching The Vampire Diaries or having an argument. So put pleasure first. How about that?

These are some things that have NOT helped me to lose weight. They have helped me to feel good about my life in this body, and over time, my weight has shifted. I cannot tell you that doing these things will help you to lose weight but I can tell you that if you do them, your relationship to your body will be so much happier. You might lose weight or change shape. You will learn what foods your body likes and which ones make it feel not so hot. You will sleep better. You’ll have more energy and zest for life. You will cook more and get better at it and you’ll be more attracted to vegetables. They’re pretty. And here’s a weird one: you’ll save money. First because you will get better at food shopping and you’ll cook more and second because you won’t spend so much money looking for happiness in ways that have nothing to do with happiness. All because of food and exercise, you ask?

Yes.

And because you give a shit about where you live.

Cook More!

Meditation Station: You Never Have to “Get Good At It”

Collect things from a walk

You’ve heard like a million different people talk about meditation. They call it a practice or getting on the cushion. Some people do moving meditations, some do it while jogging. People do it in groups and they do it outside, on beaches and overlooking cliffs. People do it on the subway, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the gym after yoga. Some have serious practices, others just do a focus on a candle, or their breath. Eyes are closed or soft focus and down. Some have hands in lap, some on knees. There are tons of formal traditions, and you can find one that works for you.

OH.
But maybe that’s the thing.

Maybe you’ve been looking, and none of them are for you so far. You’ve read about the benefits in stress reduction, you’ve seen friends morph into calmer people, lose their road rage and even eat with more peace. But when you’ve tried, it’s been too WHOAed out or massively uncomfortable, in fact, serving to HIGHLIGHT your own discomfort in your own body and just here, on Earth. Or when you’ve gone to groups to get instruction, you feel a “joining” pressure or a keen awareness of how bad you are at it. Or you think you don’t even have the right goddamn outfit for it. Yet again and again, something tells you there’s an important benefit to be had. Perhaps a thousand benefits.

But one thing is that you just never have to be good at it. It’s an entirely private situation. Even in a room on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when I went to a group and cried the entire time because I was such a wreck, no one gave a shit. People are busy with their own practice, finding their own present moment and your experience is all yours. Some days the time will fly by and others it will feel like fucking torture and your back will ache and your brain won’t settle and all will be desperate and sorrowful. That’s just how shit goes. The thing is, you’re only in this life once, and meditation is your practice at showing up for it. So the next time life hands you utter joy or benevolence or beauty, you can sit still for it, take it in. You can be here with people before you get that call that they aren’t here anymore. You can be here, in your skin for all the things the body does. You can have more of your life and less of your fantasy doom. That’s what worry is. It’s living through all the fictional devastations that aren’t really happening and often don’t. But we worry, we focus on them, and live through in a way anyhow, and miss the actual moments we could be living. You’ve heard all of this. And here’s the thing. No one meditates to be become a good meditator. There are no ribbons. No grand prize. There’s just you.

So without claiming to be an expert or a meditation teacher, without claiming a tradition or a particular school, I thought I’d share some of the different things that have helped me to start when I lose my way, which is often, and the reasons vary from convincing myself I have no time to convincing myself I have no outfit either. But I do. I have the time. Any outfit will do. I can do it anyplace and it’s free so I can afford it.

ROCKS

I try to begin the day by sitting quietly for ten minutes alone or with someone else. If I’ve been off my game, I start with one minute. Just One. Little. Collection. Of. 60. Seconds. I do it before I do anything else. Before I brush my teeth or look at my work email or eat breakfast. I just go sit. I made a place in my house for this. I sit facing a little box I covered with fabric and on that box sits a collection of things that remind me I am connected to a larger world. I have turkey feathers from walks, gemstones from deep in the ground, old letters from friends and family, photographs, and a box full of little slips of papers I wrote my nagging troubles on. I sit and I think about my continues blessings and I thank something somewhere for them, and then I think of nagging troubles and I write them on paper and put them in the box. I have been writing some things on those papers for years. Because there is no timeline for healing from things or getting past pain or irritation. Do not let people outside yourself set a timeline for your emotions. Do not listen to the voice that tells you “I should be over this by now.” You’re not over it. It takes how long it takes. Just write it down. Put it in the box.

I set the timer on your my phone for 1-10 minutes. I sit quietly and  on a cushion, but you can sit in a chair or even lie down. Most people don’t recommend the lying down because you can fall asleep, but shit, I’ve nodded off sitting up, to so I say whatever gets you there, do that. When I sit, I imagine a red string from my sit bones up through the tip of my hairline holding me steady. I think of the dignity on my body that I am grateful still functions mostly without pain. I let rigidity go. I Relax. I just breathe. I think about the things that happened to me the previous day, collect those images and wrap them up. I mean I literally imagine collecting them and wrapping them in a parcel. I put them down and name them “the past”. Now I think about the million things I have to do today and my worries about tomorrow and next week and when I get old and when the dog dies and I wrap those up. I put them down in their parcel and label them “the future”. Then I am in the present. I try to focus on my breath, (you can also use a candle, a photograph, a drawing, a divination or medicine card, or any point of your choosing). When my mind begins to wander, which is almost immediate and very often, I notice its path, and gently return it to my point of focus. I very slowly breathe into all the parts of my body starting at the top of my head. I move down to my neck and bring breath and attention to it. My shoulders. Ribs. My arms and elbows and fingers. I breathe into my back and my liver, my kidneys, my gut and my butt. I breathe into my thighs and knees and shins and ankles. Finally, I get to my feet and my toes. If at some point I have an itch, which I always do, I try to just notice it and let it pass. It always does. The same with aches: I breathe into them and watch them pass. By the time I finish this process I will have spent at least one and maybe ten minutes or more with myself quietly. Sometimes I use this time to set an intention for the day. Maybe for my work or my relationship. I also might send out love or wishes for people suffering, sick or with loved ones passing.

Sometimes if I feel particularly edgy, I pick a word guide either from a tarot card or this list I keep. Having a solid starting place can help me to find the calm and focus for my breath. You can use these words as anchoring focus for any day you choose.

Imagination                                        Exhilaration                                         Faith

Healing                                               Power                                                 Grace

Passion                                               Joy                                                     Security

Intention                                             Thrill                                                  Acceptance

Vibrancy                                              Authenticity                                        Sympathy

Creativity                                             Fascination                                         Humility

Affection                                              Celebration                                         Confidence

Remorse                                              Gratitude                                            Relaxation

Wisdom                                               Wonder                                               Empathy

Risk                                                     Happiness                                          Inspiration

Clarity                                                  Kindness                                            Delight

Loneliness                                            Confusion                                            Humor

Abundance                                           Curiosity                                              Exploration

Grief                                                    Worry                                                  Rapture

Adventure                                            Forgiveness                                         Openness

Success                                               Panic                                                   Honesty

Fear                                                    Sensuality                                            Integrity

Trust                                                   Intimacy                                              Doubt

Release                                               Dread                                                  Appreciation

Anger                                                  Warmth                                               Renewal

 

I also really like to listen to recorded guided sits with teachers who have done this a long time. Having someone else keep time and help me to focus is a real gift. You can find all kinds of teachers on the interwebs. I have my favorites and you will find yours. I am not going to suggest any here because I bet your own inquiries will lead you to your own place better than I could.

Anyhow.
I hope you try it.
Again.
And again.
And then again.

Winter Blizzard Chili for Everyone

There is really nothing better in a crazy winter storm than a bowl of phenomenal chili. I concocted this version based on a venison recipe by Hank Shaw. If you are not a vegetarian, his version is really scrumptious and I think you might like it. I mean, it has slab bacon in it so there’s that. But for me a truly lovely thing about a bowl of chili is sitting around with a ton of friends and digging in. Because I know so many vegetarians, vegans and gluten free eaters, I like to make big batches of things that everyone can partake in. This spicy treat does the trick. And you know what Hank offered in his that sold me?

It’s the coffee.

(A rich decaf works just as well as full tilt if your crowd is caffeine free as well) The rich and earthy taste of this chili grounds the heat of the peppers and it’s just a damn joy. This recipe has some time notes so read it through first before attempting.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1c kidney beans, soaked overnight
1c cannellini beans, soaked overnight
4 dried chipotle peppers
1 dried ancho chile
1 medium sweet potato
2 large onions, diced
1 diced shallot
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, fresh, chopped
1 tablespoon caraway, ground
5 all spice pods, ground
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons cumin, ground
1 tablespoon coriander, ground
2 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 small can tomato paste
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or one small can
1 cup of delicious coffee
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2c vegetable broth
2 tablespoons salt (you can use smoked salt here or chocolate salt if you have either. otherwise use seas salt or pink Himalayan. The pink is saltier so maybe start with 1 T and add to taste)
Cilantro to garnish
Get your beans and soak them in filtered water overnight. Alternately, use organic from a can in a pinch. I myself am in an Eden Foods boycott, but Westbrae carries great food. Pour 1c boiling water over the dried chiles and let them puff up (about an hour). Seed the chiles toss in the blender with their soaking water and the coffee.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

In a heavy lidded pot or Dutch oven, heat your olive oil. Add onion and shallots to the pot and cook until soft, stirring often. Now add your vampiric repellant garlic, and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Cut your sweet potato in half, then long quarters and slice thin. Add the quarter moons to the mix. Cook another 2 minutes and add your apple cider vinegar. Now add the beans, paprika, cumin, caraway, allspice, coriander and salt all together and stir to bring it all together like a show tune. You probably want to let all of this hang out for a few minutes to become family.

Add your blended chile mix and tomato paste, then the chopped tomatoes, maple syrup and cover everything with your vegetable broth. Bring it all home and then put the heavy lid on.
Pop it in the oven for 2 hours. Hank says you want to check to see if you need more salt and broth (I haven’t yet, but you never know), and to see how the beans are doing. If you have the jalapeño, this is its time to shine. Dice it and add it in. THEN WASH YOUR HANDS REALLY GOOD. And don’t rub your eyes or any other delicate areas on yourself or anyone you like a lot.

Pop it back in the oven for 30 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes. Serve with your grain of choice, or bread, or chips and top with cilantro. Or if you are stuck in a storm and only have arugula like in this photo, use that.

ENJOY my little blizzard Amazons!

Also yummy with wild rice chips

The Doctor Says No Wheat, No Dairy, No Booze: Restrictive Health Protocols and Despair

You finally found a health care professional who has an idea that may help you feel better after months and sometimes years of feeling like absolute dogshit. You’re blotchy, bloated, your joints ache. You feel depressed and fatigued. Maybe your skin condition is out of control or if things are really really awful, maybe all of this and MORE.

Then comes the suggestion of an Elimination Diet. Or the GAPS Diet. Or an Anti-inflammatory Diet. Whether these suggestions are for the benefit of detective work to suss out what the culprit might be (eliminating all the usual suspects and then slowly bringing them back in to test reactions to substances) or perhaps the food suggestions/prescriptions are in response to allergy tests that pointedly spike in the face of certain foods, you’re not psyched. Regardless of which protocol is suggested or the root of why it is suggested, the news of cutting out EVERYTHING FUN IN THE WORLD can feel pretty crushing. For some, our health has deteriorated to such an extent that trying anything feels like a relief. Some people have been so ill for so long that a steady diet of goat milk, buffalo and steamed carrots might be just the ticket to heaven, that sweet relief someone has been waiting for. Food allergies and sensitivities can really wreck a functional life to an astonishing extent. It is my sincere hope that true misery and illness are not the only reasons a person might be brought to the place of willingness and compliance with various protocols.

So what can you do with this when the news comes in? When you think. “Holy shit. My friends won’t want to hang out with me. I’m going to be the irritating special food needs person at the table asking a billion questions of the waitress. Or I won’t be able to go out to eat at all. I don’t know how to cook. I don’t have time for this shit. I don’t have energy for this shit. I don’t have energy at all. Also, this isn’t sexy. Plus I have spent years recovering from diets and the negative effects of them on my body and my true soul. Why me?”

Well. I mean.
WHY NOT YOU?

The first thing I want you to know is you can do this. Because doing it might actually work. And not doing it has landed you exactly where you are, and following that path isn’t your desired life. So fuck that path. You deserve to feel good, heal your body, and enjoy your food along the way. What will it take?

1. Time to mourn: Being sick sucks. It sucks. Especially in a culture that wants clear answers for illness and then a nice pill to clear everything up. So I bet even if you are one of the lucky people who has suffered through mysterious symptoms that no one can figure out and you’ve actually LET yourself complain, I want to say that wallowing and mourning are not the same. Mourning requires a true kind of compassion for the suffering you’ve been doing. Really look at how hard this has been. If you need to look at a photograph of yourself to externalize your own image in order to have feelings for the human you are looking at, do that. Write about it. Ask someone who has been supportive and kind to reflect their experience of watching you weather the storm so you can adopt those kind feelings for yourself as well. Once you are to a place where you have some room free of blaming yourself, get willing to try something new.

2. Gather your people: Before you worry about the kitchen, the shopping, the cooking, the time suck, the impossibility of it all, look around you and see if you can find some people who are willing to help. And by help I mean everything from listening to cooking to a meal companion. Find a trusted group from 1-4 people to rely on for the first couple of weeks of your trial here. Let everyone know the specifics of your protocol, how long it might take, what you are afraid of, what you are actually great at,  and how they can help. At the center of this reliable core is, well, you. Be reliable. Be supportive. Be nice. Try your best to be your own ally.

3. Toot your own horn: This process means you have to ask yourself these questions as well. What are your strengths? Are you a great cook? Do you like to shop? Are you fucking hilarious? Are you good with recipe research? How can your skills be the things you commit to in this process and where can you use support? This will not only inform you about how to ask your people for help, but it’ll help you rediscover how you do have skills and you are competent and every little piece of you matters. Because when we feel sick, we forget.

4. Look for what you get: When you begin to find yourself wandering toward the Land of Wallow, remember this: even if you can’t have these things: beer, cheese, weed, soy, wheat, tomatoes, citrus, nuts, bacon, corn, peppers, potatoes, a burger, milk, eggs, half and half, bourbon, sugar, honey, cigarettes, pizza ,and COFFEE, for fuck’s sake, there are still over 4 billion combinations of food you CAN have, many of which are incredibly delicious. March your brain to a different tune. What are the things you do get to have. Who are the bloggers that work with those things?  Are there cookbooks to support you in the library?

5. Avoid minefields: Sometimes, in an effort to not feel left out socially or to diminish our feelings of freakishness too early on in our efforts to recover from food related illness, we may find ourselves saying “Fuck it” and go to a bar with friends to watch the Super Bowl. We are then surrounded by beer, tipsiness, the entire nation of everything fried (which smells so good), bowls of pretzels and salted nuts, and popcorn. Our football journey may serve to alienate us even further or tip us over the edge into a chicken wing bonanza with jalapeno poppers. Doesn’t help with healing the gut. Instead, throw a small party yourself, invite your crew over, make snacks and request friendly ones to your protocol.

6. Find rewards outside the realm of food: Bring your salad and steamed sesame broccoli with shiitakes and rice to a baseball game. (In April-October) Treat yourself to a long walk you keep meaning to take. Take a sick day and go see a matinee. Let yourself turn the phone off. Get a new cookbook that supports your challenges. Go on retreat. Get a foot massage. Knit. Listen to music on headphones while you lie on the floor in the dark. Pick anything. I usually pick Yo Yo Ma when I’m in this place, but just as easily pick Tribe Called Quest. Go look at art. Pet the dog. Get a dog. GET A DOG!

7. There’s no wagon to fall off of. I know a lot of practitioners get all, “Well just one slip up and you have to start all over.” It sounds very infantilizing and scolding. In my humble opinion, it’s a very damaging way to talk to a patient who is struggling. The last thing you need is a fear driven voice in your mind. Even if this direction is based in science or whatever, you can only be where you are. If you veer off your protocol, so be it. Don’t blow it all up. Just begin again. It’s what life is, after all. We all just start over all the time. Everything you are doing in service to your health is bigger than not doing it. Just do your best. Imagine if you gave yourself as much of a pat on the back for things you’re doing well as the bullshit flogging your give yourself for all the things that don’t go as planned. No, really. Imagine it.

And you know what?
Write to me.
Especially with specific hurdles. I love to get an email. I read tons of blogs on cooking and health, know about a slew of resources for various diagnoses, and I coach people on these things all the time.
Look,
you can do this.

It’s not forever and it’s in service to a future version of yourself who experiences less pain, more joy, and more fun. If you can’t tolerate being sick, you can certainly learn to roast vegetables. It’s the same skill set as a friggin’ Pop Tart.

YOU GOT THIS.

GET A DOG!!!

Resentment: A Malignancy. Some ideas about how to work with it.

A postcard project by the artist Xylor Jane

I hear about resentment ALL THE TIME. Whether it’s from clients working through a 12 step program in recovery, people digging through the rubble of a break-up or friends struggling in a horrible job situation, resentment isn’t simply having bad feelings or being caught in a rough spot. Resentment is a SITUATION, friends. It’s a situation in which we re-injure ourselves again and again, a cycle of self-suffocation under the weight of an original pain. It’s picking a scab over and over, a festering infection we then blame on someone else. We ignore our opportunity to heal and instead, we tread in the pond of fetid despair and rage. It’s downright Shakespearean.

When you break the word down, it means “to feel again”. To re-feel, re-sent. So we have an original thing, for example, a close friend betrays us, deserts us in our hour of need. Or maybe someone lies to us. Performs underhanded business practices or acts with divisive and sleazy intentions at work. Regardless of the wrong done to us, harboring the injury, a fugitive lugged around town in our gut like a sweaty culprit with a knife, there is a point at which we have to make a change.

Because the wrong has been done, and now here we are with our life. As Mary Oliver would say, “Our one wild and precious life” and we are now spending it in our minds plotting revenge or looking for pity or triangulating with other people and basically functioning in a fictional land of seeking a justice that will never come. It is a mythic justice we imagine again and again, hours on a hot pillow in a cold dark that digs acidic paths in our collective soul. Like somehow, if we raise the stakes, we can win something. Some kind of prize like redemption or vindication.

On a larger level, we call this war. Here: Take a second and put your Resentment goggles on and read the front page of any newspaper other than the New York Post or National Enquirer. All of the death and war and destruction you see there is rooted in massive cultural and historic resentment. It is the worst case scenario of YOU ARE WRONG AND I DESERVE TO BE RIGHT AND I SHALL BE VICTORIOUS AND YOU WILL PAY. Sure, sometimes resentment starts as “I just want my side to be heard”, but when we replay the hurt over and over, water the garden of pain with the fertilizer of being wronged, the only possible fruit is larger, deeper pain. More constant, more robust, and frankly, boring as fuck. That entire swath of real estate could be swapped out for something fun. Or kind. Or loving. Or hell, even neutral. That poison whose effects serve to reduce your humanity can be served an eviction notice. Often the oldest residents take the longest to pack up their shit and leave, but why not clear the deck of our lives? And the more we practice, the better we can do with all the opportunities for resentment that are sure to arrive any second. Because we will continue to be hurt and feel wronged. But we do not have to be driven by those experiences entirely.

Write it down. Get it out.

So.
What do we do?

Well, I’ve studied a ton of different views on this feeling. The common opinion is that resentment is one of the greatest toxins we have in this life. Even if our bodies are ripe and fit, our bank accounts wild with Benjamins, and we are surrounded by people who want our attention and love, the bitter obsession can grow to trump all of it, placing its blinders on our eyes and obstructing our way to seeing everything we have that’s phenomenal.

The world of addiction recovery has a formal process for members to work with resentments. Those in recovery believe that resentment is a path to relapse which is ultimately a path to death. The suggested work in recovery is this.

1. Make a chart with four columns. In the first column list all of the people, institutions, places ideas or principles you feel angry at or injured by.

2.In the second column, write out why you feel hurt. What happened? Be specific and exhaustive.

3.The third column is where you identify which part of you was injured. Was it your heart? Your fiscal health? You emotional security?

4. HERE’S THE DIAMOND: The 4th column is where you say what YOUR part is in the situation. What is you RESPONSIBILITY in this resentment? What might you have done differently?

Now, within a program of recovery, it is suggested that people work on this with a trusted guide, a sponsor. If you are not in a program of recovery, you might want to do this with a trusted friend, a spiritual teacher or peer, or whomever you feel emotional safe with. The writing of these lists, which are called inventories in recovery, can bring a kind of clarity to where we get to take some responsibility for our own part in this hell. And when we get honest, vulnerable, and clear, we are able to soften some and regain our humanity, relinquish some shame, and walk toward healing.

For some people, this kind of formal work might be too structured. Maybe writing a journal could be helpful. Something more in line with someone’s style, but rather than a catalog of the wrongs, it’s IMPERATIVE that we engage with this externalization process in a way that we participate with agency. At its core, resentment is something we are DOING. So the lynchpin of moving past it is regaining our vision of self as an agent of choice. We can admit, if only to ourselves, that place where shame hides in hurt. We can let ourselves take responsibility for our part in something, which seems so terrifying, so of course it’s exactly the thing that sets us free.

Another path is one in the tradition of lovingkindness. In this tradition, we use our thoughts and our hearts to practice sending our good thoughts to those we are wronged by. I know that sounds awful. Who wants to send chocolate to a demon? But part of the process undoes the idea that the person is, in fact, a demon. We begin by sending these thoughts of peace and freedom to those we love the most. That’s easy. And as our hearts open, we then send these feelings out to kind acquaintances, people we like, have warm feelings about. Then we make offerings to strangers we have never met, the billions of people we have no baggage with yet no particular love for either. And once we get here, our hearts are a bit softer, more willing. We send thoughts freedom and peace to irritating people, harmless folk who bug the shit out of us. And then to jerks, but not our special jerks. Maybe famous jerks or our friends’ jerks.

And then,
Here we are.
Our hearts are open and we attempt to send these kind thoughts to those who have harmed us.
It may be awkward and we may feel full of shit, but we try.

And then,
my friends,
we do this for ourselves.
We wish ourselves peace.
We wish ourselves freedom.

As time goes on, we begin practicing living in ways that short circuit resentment before it begins. We try to cultivate behavior that invites honesty and integrity in the moment so that these situations do not arise so much later.

1. We try to give without expectation. When we throw a party for a friend’s kid because that friend has connections we think we need or because we want to feel important to that person and we then don’t get the reaction we desire after we’ve worked so hard, there is a recipe for a resentment to begin. But if we are honest, and we throw a part for a friend’s child because we love to throw a party and because that friend is overwhelmed and we actually have time, then the results are in line with are true intentions. And then, we have a killer party.

2. We practice gratitude. When we take time out from our daydreams of resentment and revenge, and we consciously make choices to notice all that is going well in the world, in our bodies, with our loved ones, something happens in our bodies, with our very chemicals, that heals old wounds and prevents some new ones. Like the world might be going to hell in a hand basket and our boss is a slimy creep and our lover is sick but goddamn if the view from here isn’t gorgeous anyhow. We make a conscious choice to look at what’s good, most especially in the face of the worst.

3. We go outside. We are citizens of the planet. Whether our place is among the incredible streets of a city teeming with a billion stories of a billion people or we are living in a shack on a beach watching the massive tide of saltwater wash animals we never see onto the shore, being in touch with the sense of being both in the enormity of our life experience and simultaneously the experience of being so small, such a piece of elemental minutiae in the universe and in history, that sense of life matters.

Look, I’m not coming from a place of total idealism. I am not out here in the woods swimming in a secret cove with lavender waterfalls among miniature dolphin friends and sunning myself in the light of patchouli rainbows. I’m not delusionally having mai tais with Sapphic ponies blessed by shamanic eagles.

I am all for every feeling you got.

I understand the transformative power of rage and despair.
I know what it’s like to wander through the city streets,
devastated. I know what it is to be in fear and loss and betrayal and often,
All at once.

I have been petty and vindictive and small and mean and stupid.
I’ve been wasteful, entitled, brooding, unkind and wallowy.
I’ve been feverish with revenge, with disgust and with blame.

Which is to say,
Like you,

I’ve been human.

But this last week, In looking with so many people at the last year and forward to this one, the theme of resentment has come up over and over and over again. Some with the scales larger than others. So I wanted to offer some things to work with. See what you are willing to do.

Oh, and even though I haven’t actually been being blessed by Shamanic eagles, I did meet this guy yesterday. And I put him at the top of my gratitude list.