Art, body, Creativity

Pleasure Bank

Muffin Bank

The hunger for sensation collapses into craving.  The call seems to rise up from somewhere inside my flesh.  It is deafening.  My mouth obsesses.  Sweets, yes, and the feel of pastry on the skin of my tongue.  Nothing satisfies but the hook is in and pulls me from my desk, my book, my deeper pleasures. Continue reading “Pleasure Bank”

Learning, Reading

Woman, Mine: Eat, Drink, Overthink

When women are faced with a difficult situation, they turn inward to control or change themselves rather than focusing outward on the environment and individuals that need to change. Whereas men tend to externalize stress — blaming other people for their negative feelings and difficult circumstances — women tend to internalize it, holding it in their bodies and minds. When something bad happens to women, they analyze everything about the problem — how they feel about it, why it came about, and all its meanings and ramifications for themselves and their loved ones.

– Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Eating, Drinking, Overthinking: The Toxic Triangle of Food, Alcohol, and Depression — And How Women Can Break Free

The self-help stacks are my first stop. Over in biography and history, the finds are nourishing but bland in comparison. Substance rarely wins. On any given week, some bestseller on living the full life accompanies me home. I gulp down the first chapter for a fix of the hottest therapy-couch trend. When I get up to run the dishwasher or my fidgety legs, I plop the earnest analysis on the coffee table as a reminder of all that needs to be explored. It’s three days overdue when I dig it out from under the board games and magazines. I’m still the same stumbling, unpolished creature I was five years ago and undoubtedly will be in another twenty.

Sometimes these finds are good, a few are great, and most hover somewhere below mediocre. I paw through them, hopeful and willing. The self, after all, is a mine. A precious vein cuts a find thread through acres of the most primitive matter. It’s hard to resist skimming to see if any can offer up a new kind of pickaxe.

Nolen-Hoeksema is a diamond drill bit.

First, the qualifiers: her writing falls short of art and her research is miles from the cutting edge. Much of what she’s exploring has already turned itself inside-out in every issue of Psychology Today. That said, she strikes oil in her depiction of this one woman’s experience: mine. I doubt the insight ends here —  this work must speak to others or it wouldn’t have made it to the shelf.

If you are out there experiencing what I experience. . . well, you have my deepest sympathy.

Also, go find this book.

Nolen-Hoeksema layers description of the emotional experience of depression with the behavioral coping strategies that are common among women. The dynamic interplay of thoughts, feelings, and actions is not a new concept, yet the insight here strikes a bright chord. I have tried to pick each of these predilections apart as its own unique concern. In my disordered world, here are the areas of most pressing need: Food issues, compulsive/addictive issues, depression issues. Also, motivation issues, anxiety issues, perfectionism issues. Daddy issues are as loyal and true as gum stuck to my shoe. Oh, then there are the communication issues along with trust issues which contribute to sleep issues… You get the idea.

Culture, biology, and family paint the backdrop upon which these actions and reactions play out. While my sleepless internal critic insists otherwise, it is not all just chaos in here, and none of us is a hopeless mess. Indeed, giving up is another form of indulgence. It’s no small gift that Nolen-Hoeksema writes for popular consumption. Those of us who are working on something-or-other all the time would wilt at the idea of another task, even while reaching for it. The analysis here requires little more than a shot of receptiveness and a few quiet hours.

The book begins at a point central to the ways women cope. At that place, a kind of behavioral and cognitive Bermuda triangle — depression, drinking, and compulsive eating — draws other aspects of the self into it. With the same insidious force, it infiltrates what seem to be unrelated spheres of our lives. Careers suffer, bodies weaken, marriages falter, children pay.

Rooting out sources, subsequent chapters explore the patterns of over-identifying with other folks’ feedback and perceptions, the role physiology plays in stress and emotional responses, and the tendency even among successful women to swallow anger but wallow in sadness. These lines of inquiry will be familiar from feminist theory, neurobiology, clinical psychology, and human development theory. Nolen-Hoeksema tugs loose the component parts and assembles them into a new mechanism for self reflection.

After digging up the thickets and landmines, it’s time to lay new ground. The final section dedicates several chapters to concrete strategies for designing an alternative to the triangle. Practical guidance complements theory, providing tips for replacing avoidance and remorse with “approach goals,” and walking through simple problem-solving skills. The book finally urges the reader to think forward and beyond herself. The closing chapter guides offers readers tools for supporting girls and teens — particularly daughters — in developing practices and vocabulary for a healthy adulthood.

As I write this, I notice a force that seems to want to pull me away from focusing and finishing. Giving in to it would lead me to the refrigerator, or bed, or wandering through an electric smog of doubts and plans and urgencies about the unfinished business of my life. The force, of course, is less than an “it” and exactly as strong as the breath I waste fighting it.

Mine, this mind. I’m grateful Nolen-Hoeksema pieced this tool together and handed me the map. With them, I might be able to reconfigure the landscape to invite the bold step and a lifted gaze.


Choices, Determination, Poetry

Dear Old One

You’ve been so near
for so long
your imprint
shaping the bed that
you are the bed
now where I plant my feet. Roots
snarl along spring and vein,
deeper still into shale pressed so
it has no room to flake
apart and reveal its face
upon face upon face.

I’ve stayed here where you hold me
down claiming tether
against weightlessness. A shaft
of sun warmed this place
once. Branches long since thickened
close arthritic around that narrow frame
sealing shut the last dust-streaked pane
and I’ve lived so here
for so long
shading the bed that
I am the shade
trying to nurse
up from you the sustenance required
to lift
but the feeding
goes one way
only. Down
you churn salt and pulse
through my marrow your vital
mix. I am conductor
of a symphony
you fold
and chew
to silence.

What you eat:
and the wrapping. Steps
and doorjambs, jawbones, tissue paper
hearts. Arcs, eggs,
ink, god,
tips, wings,
You eat smoke right out of the flame.
You eat the eye
of the hurricane. You eat tides
flat. You swallow
the sky.

When I twist my ankle and begin to shiver
loose, I know you
will send plagues. I know you
will chew off
both my feet. I know you
don’t know
how many crumbs of light
I’ve tucked into the nest
under my tongue
or how many miles
I can crawl
on splinters
and scars until I learn to



Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
-Marianne Williamson

When he was eighteen, Giovanni’s father offered him $1000 to quit smoking. The kid refused. “I didn’t want to quit,” he says with a shrug.
My own parents never ponied up cash to entice me to kick the habit. Maybe if I had grown some cojones and smoked in the open, they might have given bribery a whirl. I have no doubt I would have rejected their offer. It was not until I was in my twenties and weary from the merry-go-round of quitting and starting that I finally found whatever storehouse of desire I needed to be ready to stop.
A pregnancy scare accelerated my readiness. The moment I had even a crumb of suspicion I might be carrying a child, I quit. This was before any confirmation the crumb was an it or even if I would keep said it should it come to fruition. The details were irrelevant. My sense of responsibility for giving that little being its best chance trumped all my self-deluded chatter about dependence and ill-gotten pleasure. I stubbed out the smokes, flat and hard, and tossed the pack.
A week or so later, my body sent a clear signal that the phantom child was never more than a slip of the clockworks. I could have launched an America’s Cup contender with the force of my exhalation. As I made haste to the corner store and stood outside lighting up that next cigarette, I considered the object in my yellowed grip. Sure, I was no longer – in fact, never had been – carrying a child. Did that change anything? If not that life, what of this one? What was I to do with the pesky problem of the beloved being in my care, still me?
The sudden arrival of a sense of duty for the small, mighty force living in my skin was most inconvenient. Also, I had been able to forego the smokes without a moment’s hesitation. That pesky fact was a hungry dog that kept following me home.
I puffed away feebly and with an increasing sense of dissonance for a few weeks until I realized I could not stomach the dithering. Was I a smoker or not? A choice had to be made. I could either return to the fiction that nicotine is both more valuable and more powerful than I am, or I could give it up.
The terrible truth was that I loved life more than that cigarette. The mind games came to an end. For too long, I had been singing that stale refrain, “Oh, I would love to reach a point where I could just enjoy a cigarette at a party from time to time.” Forget it. One becomes ten, and I am back at a pack a day. Even if I could just light up here or there, the gratification would not be worth the price. I knew as plain as day that I did not want anything to hold that kind of sway over my mind and body. Lasting pleasure is never so easy. Vices are gingerbread houses. They get you every time.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
– Alice Walker

So, that was it. When I crushed out that last American Sprit fourteen years ago, I said, “I will never smoke another cigarette again as long as I live.” It was a commitment between me and my very own juicy, living self. I have never once faltered. Why would I? It has been so much simpler than I ever imagined it would be. This, I have come to understand, is how such things work. When the path ahead becomes clear, confusion falls away. The only hard part is in willing oneself to lurch up out of paralysis and begin walking.
What do we grasp? Since dispensing with cigarettes and television, what I notice is that the conceptions I lug around are a greater drain than any single behavior. I see myself as only just so brave, only just so capable, only just so energetic. Or worse, that I deserve special treatment and that the normal rules do not apply to me. I fool myself into thinking these ways have laid claim to me, even imprisoned me, when I am the one with my arms threaded through the bars. The reward is $1000. The reward is $100,000. The reward is a treasure chest inlaid with golden beetles and inhabited by a family of genies. I refuse to open my grip. The reward is my own full and electrified power, and still I hesitate. What can possibly be the compulsion? What hold does this thing I keep pressed between my stained fingers have over me, even after the satisfaction has burnt away, even when the Everything is right there for the taking?
I picture Aron Ralston again, sawing away when it became clear his attachment to his own arm was killing him. He cut off a part of his own body. He did this unimaginable thing, just for piddly ol’ life. No one offered him a dime.
Of course, kicking a habit only gets you so far. Sustained practice writes the epic story. Letting go is just a clearing of the clutter and an opening of the blank page. The joyous discipline that follows makes it possible to ink into being the scholar, painter, athlete, nurse.

Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.
– Audre Lorde

We all know it, though. Deep down, I know it, and you do, too. Nothing is more precious than the next glorious incarnation waiting on the other side of the abyss.
No one among us is innocent. No one has more than a brief, long-forgotten visit to the garden before crashing into the first of many nauseating, bottom-dropping-out transitions. Every time through, you learn your power. You become fuller, and your vision sharpens. Like a stone cut and cut again into impossible brilliance, the in-between chisels you into an ever more distinctively patterned version of yourself.
It beckons. That other self over there, it calls. Drop that banged up old satchel. There is nothing in there you need. Set it down, and leap!
Giovanni was onto something at eighteen. Rewards mean nothing if you do not want what comes next. Once you arrive at the lip of the cliff, rewards still mean nothing. Only the wanting matters. Only the courage to want will lift your foot and send you over that edge.