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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 had 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!

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.

 

 

Who Has the Energy to Cook, Dammit?

IMG_0464

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled life! The holidays can be pretty draining. Even when they are the most fun and exciting and delightful. Plus there’s the possibility that the holiday season is extra awful for a person. So, a human can really grind the gears moving from extended holiday back to work. And what if on top of that, you had to do all the laundry and answer 11,846 emails and mop the floors and get groceries and follow the old dog around the yard in 19 degree weather because everything is covered in ice and he slips and falls and can’t get up. What if all that is happening and now it’s time for dinner and you just don’t have it in you to call up your inner domestic goddess.

IT’S COOL. You don’t have to resort to mac and cheese from a box. (But, of course if you want to, I get it, and I won’t stand in your way. I will say, however, that I find a little Cholula really helps it along.)

But it’s a brand new year! You want to keep your healthy intentions intact. You also want to eat pretty quick and you want something warm.

Here’s an easy dish that tastes delicious and is ready in about the same time as the dang mac and cheese. You need to have a few supplies on hand but I bet you do. This is the exact reason I always have a few cans of organic vittles around.

The Best Lazy Chickpea Stew

1 onion
1 clove mashed garlic
1/2 t sea salt
2T olive oil
1t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t cayenne
1/2 c vegetable broth
1 can organic diced tomatoes
1 can organic chickpeas

Throw that olive oil into a skillet and heat it up. Slice your onion into moons and cook it until it’s translucent. Then add your garlic and spices. When you see the oregano start to plump add the can of chickpeas and and cover with all the spices and oil. Stir for about 2 minutes. Then add in your veggie broth and bring to a boil. Once you’ve got your broth going add in your can of tomato goodness and stir. You can add salt to your liking.

BOO-YAH!!!

20 minutes later you have a healthy meal PLUS leftovers for lunch this week. So delish. When you’re not in a rush, you can make this from scratch in the summer with soaked chickpeas and fresh tomatoes from the garden. It’s just killer.

 

August Book Group Launch

Happy Birthday to me!
I mean soon.
Not yet.
But you’ll know because I’m a LEO
and that’s how we roll.

I’m turning 44 in August. I like to spend some time leading up to my birthday thinking about the past year and seeing where I’ve been. Because I don’t keep a daily journal (I just never have for longer than a couple months at a time) I take a look back at photographs, I look through emails and I talk to my friends and family about what they’ve seen as well. Bearing witness is an enormous part of my life and I am truly grateful that I have trusted and beloved people I can look to who also do the same for me. Maybe it was growing up Jewish. I’m not sure exactly, but something about seeing and being seen is a lynchpin of my spiritual practice and ritual. I have come to believe that consciously witnessing and also letting myself be seen deepens my practice of true solitude.

So this year a ton happened for me, not the least of which was an enormous relocation geographically and also in terms of pace. I moved from San Francisco to a tiny town of 711 people in western Massachusetts. The next town over, you know like when you say, “I’m going into town”, has a population of 18,168. I changed major things in my personal movement practice. Plus there’s a garden out in the yard now that spits up salad like a champ. Thanks, Ginger!

One of the things I have loved getting back in touch with is reading a book. On paper. And I’ve been re-reading some heavy hitters that have absolutely changed the fabric of my life. For my birthday year, I decided to start a book group. Each month I’ll facilitate a small group of people and we have a virtual meet-up to discuss the book.

The book for August will be Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. I love this book so much and return to it in pieces often. What I’m looking forward to is reading it again, cover to cover, in this hammock.

Because I really want to chew the fat on this thing, please be committed to spirited participation and discussion before claiming a spot. Also I am going to try and make each month’s group full of new people if there are a lot of people wanting to participate. These groups are my year long present to myself and they are free for all of us. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you, in advance, for making my year.

 

I’m Done with CLEANSING

Cleanse.
It has never sounded right for my practice.
From the very start it struck me sideways on a few different levels:

1. It smacks of moral superiority. One must get rid of impurities: bad foods, bad habits, bad weight, a kind of soul scrubbing through a culturally sanctioned and nutritionally hip process that celebrated doctors and gurus have repurposed from traditional eating ideas practiced for generations. It’s the boutiqueing and upscaling of something that is at its core absolutely regular and daily. It becomes not about relating to one’s own body, the food the earth offers, and the ways we change as the great world spins. The term’s undercurrent of guilt and shame is diametrically opposed to what the experience is about and it’s been scraping at my brain this whole time.

That’s me in the pink bandana. See? Still not skinny.

2. The word brings up a reaction of deprivation in people. The vision of a “cleanse” often strikes readers as a lonely and painful three weeks of sucking cider vinegar and cayenne out of a cocktail napkin and peeing fire out one’s butthole as a kind of rite of passage to purity. The Cleanse experience is about doing without, enduring, will power and perseverance through punishment. That’s like cramming every bad feeling from high school into three weeks and snorting all the cocaine you can get your hands on just to fit into a prom dress.  I mean, can I get a “Fuck That” from the choir here?

3. “Cleansing” is a secret diet. Let me clear my throat. CLEANSING IS A SECRET DIET. And I don’t believe in diets. They don’t work in an inside job kind of way, which is what matters to me as a health coach. Diets are cruel, shaming, restricting reactions to a culture that would have people of all genders living under the confinement of a body that’s Just. Not. Good. Enough. Sure you can lose weight on a diet, but so what. The big thing that happens with diets, as we know, is that not only are you tasked with gaining the weight back, your are also tasked with carrying the true weight of shame, exhaustion, disappointment, and self-loathing as well. While carrying physical weight can have consequences, I have come to understand through this work that the physical weight is only a manifestation of ways in which we cannot show ourselves true care born of, well, true love. You can be anyone you want and still practice loving oneself. A punk, a goth queen, an anarchist or a pudgy middle aged lesbian Jewess Holistic Health Coach with a cute dog. The word “cleanse” has come to be about losing 21 pounds in 21 days. Whatever.

I know many people find toes creepy, and to you, I offer my apologies here.

For two years now I’ve been leading these seasonal journeys with groups so people can take stock of where they’re at nutritionally, creatively, physically, and hopefully have some transcendental insight after a group journey. Because the practices contained in this facilitated experience are culled from so many different places: from various traditional, science-based food studies, fitness expert’s advice, client feedback, creative practice and habit forming coaching experience, it’s been a challenge for me to settle on what to name these journeys. For the duration of the series, I’ve been calling them “Cleanses” while sustaining this pronounced but hard to grasp unease with the title. As time has marched on, the unease grew to a point where I had to find the words to do it differently.

The work has moved from being named for the seasons to incorporating a notion that feels central to both an experience and goal I have as a health coach and in life. It’s been big enough that the words were tattooed on my toes in 1997 in Olympia, Washington when I set out on an adventure called Sister Spit that fundamentally changed the course of my life as a creative person. The enormity of the gratitude I experienced, and have continued to experience around this path can, in many ways, be traced back to this lineage of writers that continues to evolve each year. That gratitude and creative writer impulse is at the root of how I came to be a Holistic Health Coach and it continues to guide my work with group experiences and individual clients.

Hence, Lucky Devil.

And here’s the new word I finally came to for these seasonal expeditions:
RESTORATION.

These experiences are designed to help people restore the conversations they have with their bodies, to bring back honesty, gratitude, FUN, and forgiveness.  They are designed to restore people’s confidence that they can get in the kitchen, that busy lives can also be lives that provide space for what truly feeds the bottom line of each individual life experience and they are designed to be about taste and pleasure. These experiences bring people together for support, laughs, creative practice and exercise. Together we gather to restore our senses that we are capable of caring for ourselves, we can enjoy it, and we are not sentenced to a life of tasteless lentil loaf and soul starving notions that a steady stream of diarrhea is a sign of success. These experiences are not about exorcizing demons, but rather rubbing elbows with them as we bring in new friendly companions of walking, of writing, of meandering through the halls of art museums and leaving our desks for lunch so we can remember to chew.

The next round is scheduled for July 11, The Lucky Devil Summer Restoration.

Fuck Cleansing.
You’re not impure and never have been,
You Lucky Devil, you.

 

Thrift Score Feelings: Sesame Creminis with Field Garlic

Ginger’s New Ride

I always want the expensive one. Especially if it’s a mushroom. I want the morel. I want the chanterelle. I want the porcini and the black trumpet. But sometimes, it’s really not in the budget to be blowing my wad on fungus. Let’s face it, sometimes there’s not even a wad to blow. And now is one of those times. And thankfully, instead of going into an infantile state of counting out all the scarcity smokescreens on my block, I find myself looking instead to the ways in which life isn’t about what I’m doing without, or the fungus I am daydreaming about, but rather what I have to work with. Now, as I wrap my head around a new set of living demands (for instance I’ve never had to budget for, say, a riding mower before), I’m also presented with a pile of new lenses through which to observe how my kitchen continues to be a perfect place to work it all out.

Enter the humble cremini mushroom (Agaricus bosporus), otherwise known as the Baby Bella. As a tender sweet young thing, this mushroom looks like a brown button mushroom. If left to its own devices, it will grow up to be a portobello mushroom, the vegetarian steak of fungus. Spring has been a slow time coming in these parts, teasing us in a calendar dotted with a couple seventy degree days and then a string of clouds and rain, with one staggering, and kind of bananas, Passover snowstorm. As such, my cravings for different foods has been a bit strange as the weather has changed and I’ve been easing off the Lucky Devil Spring reboot. While I am tending toward wanting lighter foods and smaller portions, my flavor cravings are still steadfastly earthy and umami.

Free from the wildNow, speaking of the mower, as the snow melted and life began popping up all over the yard, one thing I noticed was clumps of skinny green wispy things in gangs dotting the perimeter of the lawn. Holding court on the outskirts around the woods, I couldn’t help but investigate a hunch from working in a co-op for years. Sure enough, when I went and rolled one of those greens around in my fingers the scent pummeled me with joy: field garlic. My love of garlic pre-dates my love of vampires, although I do tend to like both in steady rotation. But this new life of finding it growing wild in my yard is really something special. After making sure there was plenty to harvest so I didn’t kill off the possibilities for years to come, I set out to incorporate the Little Darlings into my lunch with my modest mushrooms. I imagine that between the affordable mushrooms, the free garlic and the rice, this lunch would cost less than a dollar for anyone partaking, even including the exciting oils, seeds, and vinegar. Plus, it’s just divine tasting.

Sesame Crimini Mushrooms with Field Garlic

Handful of Field garlic
*If you don’t have that handy, substitute with Spring Garlic and greens OR 3 cloves diced garlic
3 crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
1t coconut aminos OR tamari
1t ume plum vinegar
2t olive oil
1t toasted sesame oil
black and white sesame seeds
1/2c cooked rice seasoned with rice vinegar

Make sure you have prepped rice ready to serve this one. I season a 1/2 cup with a drizzle of rice vinegar and sometimes and tiny bit of toasted sesame oil. Have it waiting in a bowl you really like.

Dice your garlic, whichever kind you are using for this. Then slice up your mushroom real skinny. You don’t need a ton of mushrooms because the little suckers pack a lot of flavor. Heat your olive oil in a skillet on medium/low and cook your mushrooms until they are floppy. Add your coconut aminos or tamari in here with the garlic. Continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes on low. Now turn off your heat and add the ume plum vinegar. Toss everything and serve over the rice with a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top.

When I sat myself down in front of the window and put this in my very favorite bowl, I got that same feeling I get when I get a perfect score at an estate sale or in a thrift store. I mean except it tastes better and is more nutritious. I really hope your enjoy it as much as I did.

On Creative Worth, Self-Respect, Scarcity and Deep Fear

I got a pretty nice letter this morning from a founder of a wellness website. She said she’d found my writing, liked my work and would love to have me guest post on their site. It’s pretty much like the other website I used to write for where wellness writers are crowd-sourced or they submit work with promises of having traffic driven to their personal business sites and getting more exposure. And, well, it’s true.

In that case, I wrote for a site that had close to a million likes at the time and on the days my articles appeared, lots of people throughout the globe clicked on them. I’d get a thrill, obsessively checking as the numbers grew and grew that day. But they were clicking on work that had been edited within an inch of its life, all of my personality, my love of the profane and my penchant for run on sentences: POOF, vanished. So when people came to find me, I wasn’t what they had looked for. Here was a woman less polished, less traditionally professional, and certainly without the coiffed headshot or yoga pose that goes with many wellness practitioners. WHICH IS GREAT if that’s how you actually are. But I’m just not. I’m pudgy, I still can’t do my hair right at 43 and my expression of femininity is decidedly tomboy for mainstream readers.

After maybe a little less than a year of sporadically sending articles to this site, I read this article in the New York Times about how many writers are being solicited to GIVE their work away in exchange for, well, Nothing.

Traffic. Likes. Exposure.

The writer, Tim Kreider, talks about how most of the people who ask him to write for free, besides The Huffington Post, aren’t the man but still, these people, these strangers, have the balls to just ask you for shit for free. A THOUSAND WORDS, and in this case, they want it copy-edited and with IMAGES to boot PLUS, they wanna OWN the shit. They won’t even let you post your own work on your own site once they have it. FOR FREE. So after I read his article I made a promise that I just wasn’t going to do it anymore except in ways that made true meaning for me either in my work, in my community/ies, or in my gut.

I wrote to the editor of the enormous site, rife with cash-generating ads and links, built on the backs of unpaid writers and expressed my concerns. The editor, once so chatty and friendly, never wrote me back. No thank-you. No conversation. Nothing. Over the next week, I felt overcome by fear, like his silence was a sentence. Like: How Am I Going to Get My Name Out There? I tossed the “free advertising” argument around in my head over and over, panicked and sweaty, but every time I felt ready to cave, or particularly mired in economic fears around my plans to move, or just awash in your garden variety self-doubt or loathing, I’d write an article and as I edited it to send in to the big fancy site and have my name up in lights next to famous featured practitioners, my heart would sink. I’d try to imagine someone calling up my contractor friend and just ask them to replace a window real quick for free. Or I’d think about the oncology nurse I’ve known since she was 19 and picture her leaving her family, getting child care and going to the hospital for a few hours with no compensation but the good feeling in her heart. Would she do it? You know, she might. But would anyone have the audacity to ask her to? No. This is why I pay for music. This is why work in trades with people that have meaning. This is why I sit in front of painters’ works and let my heart beat loud and fancy at witnessing those things I love and cannot accomplish.

Since then, I’ve gotten no less than 10 letters from web editors asking me for free content. All come with the promise of exposure and all come with the stranglehold that says once I do this work, FOR FREE, I give it to them and forfeit my rights to my own words. I feel thrilled to say I really have developed enough self-respect over the years to stick to this. And I bet you have to. 

Your creative work, no matter what medium, is sacred. You get to set the terms that work for you. And so when you get to that place as a sculptor or a tattooer or a dancer or a pianist that feels like you gotta get on your knees and be at the mercy of a big organism using your work in a way that feels shitty, just know that people believe in you. People out here believe that your skills are worth better than crappy editorial headlines pulled out of someone’s ass with an algorithm and a “success” formula. Be yourself, make deals that feel fair to you and don’t leave your chest tight when your head hits the pillow. Your creative voice is truly one of the only things you will ever own in a world that is past privacy and awash a viral culture. A culture that values a virus as something to strive for, when we all know that naturally occurring viruses are built to take their hosts down.

So here’s a template in case you feel like crafting a nice letter to the next editor who wants you to surrender your creative magic to their administrative skills.

“Hi Person…

Thanks so much for getting in contact. I appreciate your reaching out. I went to your site and read the guidelines you have posted for submissions. After doing many guest blogs for sites that feature unique content from wellness writers, I came to a place where I’ve decided not to do this kind of work anymore. One of the things I really have going for my work is that I’ve been a writer for years and I have a very distinct voice. I’ve found that when I send my work to people, it gets edited to fit the voice of that place and that doesn’t serve me in the long run.
In addition, the idea that a site would own my work and reserve it so I couldn’t even republish it on my own site with no fiscal compensation feels unfair to me. I support people making a living for their work and I generally pick and choose doing unpaid guest posts on sites that foster a sense of community or collaboration with other practitioners, artists, writers, or communities I have longstanding relationships with. The promise of “hopefully getting some traffic and more exposure” to my site is not enough for me to give away rights to my creative work.
I’m hoping that as holistic workers we can find ways to really participate in each others worlds more, rather than pointing and clicking, and that creative work that takes such care and time will be valued in a way that has true meaning and participation. So for me, if I am not being paid for being a long time professional writer, I look for a connection of exchange and true support that is about more than traffic and likes.
Again, I thank you so much for getting in touch and wish you well in your endeavor.
Warmly,
Sara”

 

**** UPDATE: After I sent this response yesterday and wrote this post about it, I actually got my very first letter back from an editor. It surprised me in the best possible way and left a door open for productive conversation.

Here’s a piece of it: “…after your feedback I completely agree with you a few of the guidelines are unfair. I have removed the line about re-publishing from the guidelines, authors need the right to re-publish their own work. As for editing, we never edit any of our pieces – in fact seeing as we don’t I have removed this stance from our guidelines also…. Thanks for the feedback, you have definitely opened my eyes ”

Here’s to speaking up. And I’m looking forward to sending her an article in which I own the work and we work together in the spirit of collaboration.