The Everything’s-Going-to-Hell Phase in My Revision Process

June 3rd, 2010

Building-collapsesI’ve noticed lately that when I’m working on a piece of writing over the past couple of years, the process goes through distinct and recurring stages:

  1. The piece begins with a flash of inspiration. I think “I’m a writer with good ideas! I can do it!”
  2. I sit down to write. Words come tumbling out. I’m positive I’m onto something brilliant. This piece is gong to put me on the map.
  3. The work slows. I stop to use the thesaurus on MS Word.  I am trying to move forward and rework the paragraphs as I write them. I also realize I have to look something up on the internet. And I ought to check the email message that just came in. Could be important.
  4. I’m back to my piece and re-read what I’ve got. Sounds pretty good. Well, except the one part. And the beginning. It really should begin somewhere else.
  5. I add another paragraph here and there. I feel like with a little reworking, and continuing a little farther, I’ll have a complete draft that I can work with.
  6. I realize that I don’t know why I’m telling the story in the first place. I don’t like the tone. Why am I so preachy and humorless? I definitely should start in a different scene, and refocus the whole narrative.
  7. I do another Save As. This is my seventh version. I’ve already created a folder for all the versions of this piece. I have created a document of outtakes, and another where I sketch out an outline of the structure. This piece will definitely take longer than I planned.
  8. The piece is utter crap. What made me think this was a good idea? It is twice as long as it was two days ago. Also, twice as incoherent and pointless.
  9. I give up.
  10. What the hell. It can’t get any worse. Save As version 8.
  11. There are actually pretty interesting details. I might be  able to salvage this piece after all.
  12. Ready to be critiqued, and repeat steps  3-11 again.


May 31st, 2010


I like it when one thing ends before another begins, but I guess overlaps are inevitable. I am still creating lesson plans, grading papers, and posting grades and trying to get ready for my first residency at the same time. Spending two hours on a manuscript for workshop is a totally different mode from trying to get through a whole class set–or more–of papers in two hours.

I made my comments on the workshop pieces and now they’re in the guest room/staging area for packing. Eight more school days and I’m off! (And then back for more school…)

Thunderstorm Panic

May 27th, 2010

lighteningAt least Cleo can sleep it off. When she freaks out at a thunderstorm and keeps us up all night, the next morning, the birds are chirping and she’s passed out on the floor while I write. She can sleep all day, I think, jealously. I can barely keep my eyes open and I have to go to school. I can’t help but feel guilty, though, wondering if it is true that anxious dogs are the result of anxious owners. Not to mention the fact that I traumatized her in her puppyhood by bringing her to fireworks and she’s never been the same since.

Wayne stayed out on the couch with her last night, after I’d gone to bed early. I woke up and the bed was half empty and I was wondering why he kept turning on the lights out there to wake me up. A boom of thunder explained things. At one point it wasn’t just thunder reverberating through the house, but the sound of wind or rain or something like a freight train. My heart pounding, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep for a while. I went out to the landing where Cleo was panting and shaking and wandering around trying to slink herself into cracks between the furniture and Wayne was lying on the new couch. “What is going on out there?” I asked him, wanting him to tell me it’s not a hurricane or tornado or the apocalypse.

“It’s just a thunderstorm,” he said, probably wondering what the hell was wrong with me, now. I have to admit, I was a little worried I had contracted my dog’s phobia of thunderstorms. Wayne shone his headlamp onto Cleo who was trying to shove herself into the tv cabinet. “Get her out of there,” he said. I tried, but she had the strength of terror in her, and he had to get up and slide a table in her way. I wasn’t helping any, and a little more awake, I could hear it really was just an ordinary, if close, thunderstorm.

I got back into bed and felt the pounding of my heart, familiar from all those panic attacks. Suddenly I imagined the pure fear Cleo must feel, which, even with all my self-talk, is immune to rational thought. It seemed completely hopeless to try to get her to calm down. I wanted to give her one of my Xanax, but I remembered how she went berserk when we gave her a sedative the vet prescribed. Wayne would have already given her the natural stuff, “Quiet Moments” which has no discernable effect anyway.

I thought of taking a Xanax myself, so I could quiet my racing pulse and get back to sleep, even though I’d stopped taking it months ago, maybe a whole year, when I decided enough trying to combat anxiety with drugs. They helped, but not enough, and I became convinced I had to do it with my own brain—meditation, mostly. Not that I’d been practicing meditating. I lay in bed, and decided to try to work with the thoughts. Wayne was taking care of Cleo so I could let that go. It was just an ordinary thunderstorm, I reflected, and a wave of calm unexpectedly washed through my body. That almost never works. Grateful, I fell asleep.

Shopping for MFA needs

May 24th, 2010

tie dyeToday I walked into a head shop to browse for supplies for my MFA program. I’m pretty sure the clerks knew I didn’t belong because I was holding my breath to avoid coughing on all the incense. I had a purpose, though, and headed for the rack of hippie skirts. I thought since I was going to reinvent myself as a writer, I’d also reinvent my wardrobe. For the past several weeks, from upstairs at my yoga studio across the street I’d been admiring the flowy, colorful skirts, sparkling in the sun. I thought maybe they’d say, “I am eco-conscious, natural, sparkly and intriguingly bohemian.”  Up close they said, “trying too hard to reinvent myself as younger and cooler than I really am.” They also said “we’re not actually washable, and will always smell like incense and make you sneeze.”

Next I visited a hodge-podge store, filled with touristy junk like decorative shot glasses which either have horse designs or say Saratoga, or both. I was headed for their selection of art supplies and journals. Unfortunately all the blank books  said either, “I take myself too seriously” or “Look at me not taking myself too seriously!” Soon I found myself in front of the posters musing, a 10 day residency is too short to decorate my dorm room. Or is it?

Please Don’t Feed the Machine

March 14th, 2010

copierRead Before Touching the Machine (Copier):

  1. Do not top off the paper in the paper trays. By doing so you are putting new paper on top of old paper, which is like throwing good money after bad. Let the tray empty completely so that it will run out in the middle of the next copy job. Or put new paper under the old paper without getting your finger oils on the paper, allowing any part of the paper to bend, or any single sheet to come out of alignment with the rest of the stack, which will jam the machine (copier).
  2. The paper wrappers are plastic coated, shielding the paper from changes in humidity. This safety feature is designed to protect them from idiots like you who want to leave the paper out in the open, exposed to the elements, ruining any chance you had of successfully running them through the machine (copier) without breaking it. If you had any sense you’d place only full reams of paper in the paper tray, not paper that has been sitting out because some other nimrod broke the seal.
  3. Never reuse paper that has gone through the machine (copier). Once the machine (copier) has seen a particular sheet of paper, it is hyper-sensitized to that page and will recognize its re-introduction immediately, causing a total machine meltdown. If the machine (copier) goes into meltdown mode, step back at least forty paces from the machine (copier) and call your authorized dealer. A trained representative will come to your building within the next thirty days. In the meantime, keep sharp and flammable objects away from the machine (copier).
  4. Make sure all levers are latched before attempting to use the machine (copier). If they are not latched properly, the machine (copier) will jam. If a door does not close, a lever is not latched. Why were you opening the door anyway? You would not have needed to unlatch any of those levers, had you followed the directions above. Now that you caused the damage, you ought to do your best to minimize harm. Follow the forty step directions indicated on the warning panel in the precise order instructed. As you track the misfed paper through the innards of the machine (copier), remember that knobs 1a, 2c, 2d, 5b, 7a, 7c, and 11e all rotate clockwise only; 1b, 6a, 6f, and 11a rotate both directions depending on the location of the jam; the rest turn counter-clockwise, or towards you, and are clearly labeled with arrows so you really shouldn’t be so confused. Levers 3b, 4a, 4b, 4c, 10d, and 13b snap up, while levers 1b, 3c, 5a, and 5f need to be squeezed to disengage. Under no circumstances should you touch area 8 as super-heated ink will spray out and we cannot be responsible for any injuries caused by mishandling of the machine (copier).
  6. Have a nice day.

Welcome to Your Winter Vacation Cabin

February 28th, 2010


  1. Please make yourself right at home. You are free to dump your belongings on top of the furniture or on the floor. You may notice that there are four closets located throughout the house. The two inch deep closet without shelves is purely for decoration. There is a mostly empty closet in one of the bedrooms. We hope you remembered to bring your own hangers. If not, we have thoughtfully provided you with the free hangers from our recent purchases at Walmart (sizes S and XXL). The two closets in the master bedroom are filled with our personal belongings and locked. If you would like closet space in the master bedroom, buy your own cabin.
  2. You can save money by cooking your own food. We found the stove and toaster oven by the side of the road and they both still seem to work. Please do not try to reset the clocks on the microwave or stove, however. They are only 45 minutes ahead and you can do the math. Note that the microwave is not actually broken. If you set it to popcorn it will turn on for 4.5 seconds at a time. If your food needs more time, please use the stove.
  3. Chipped plates and bowls we found at tag sales as well as mugs that are still perfectly useable are conveniently provided for you. You will probably want to wash them before use if you are particularly fussy about clean dishes. The dishwasher will work if you push all the buttons in proper succession. The cycle takes approximately four hours. Please keep in mind that the condition of the kitchen appliances and cookware help make your stay so affordable.
  4. Three kitchen cabinets are filled with dog bowls, dog vitamins, and outdoor tablecloths from last summer. We were going to clean them out but didn’t get to it yet.
  5. A water cooler is available for your use. Please arrange for payment and delivery of your own water if you do not like the smell of sulfer. Note that the brown stains and smell of rotten eggs in the bathrooms are also a result of the well water, which really shouldn’t be a big deal because it’s not like you’re here permanently or anything.
  6. The shower door in the master bedroom will be fixed next week after you leave. Kindly line the bathroom floor with towels to prevent flooding.
  7. You are free to use our internet access. If you brought your own magnifying glass you may be able to make out the 70-character code stamped onto the modem. This is the password. Yes, it is case sensitive.
  8. As you know from our website, the cabin has four bedrooms and sleeps 12 people, including your frat buddies on the floors of the common rooms. We provide you with one key, which you may divide up as you see fit.
  9. Linens are provided for you. Please use them gently because if we have to keep washing them they will surely fall apart faster.
  10. Towels are not provided. All our really junky towels are for our guests when we use the cabin in the summer.
  11. If you have any complaints or problems, we’d prefer if you kept them to yourself. With any luck, we’ll have paid off our mortgage by next summer and not have to rent to ungrateful wretches like you.

The Scrooge of Halloween

October 31st, 2009

Halloween gummiesI recently realized that my stance on no candy in the classroom is in the minority, the vast minority. I want to be a nice teacher, but I can’t stand having kids eat candy during class. If they’re hungry and need a snack, I feel like they should have actual food. I used to allow it but found candy can be a big distraction. If it’s a small quantity, the other kids are jealous; if it’s a big pack, suddenly there’s a big candy distribution scenario. The worst part is the big high, followed by the even swifter low. Sure they’re awake for the first 5 minutes of class, and then they’re asleep, drooling on the desks for the rest of the 75 minutes.

I don’t feel like I need to allow it, even though it seems like everyone else does. I tell them, food in the classroom is privilege enough. They don’t buy it. Our school, for all its “Healthy Vend” machines, helps not at all. Unlike the elementary schools and middle school, there are no rules against candy or cupcakes in high school classroom, just selling it in the cafeteria.  There are also no rules against selling or distributing them in the hallways or common spaces outside the cafeteria.

Result–Halloween week: Guess the Candies in the Jar, (sponsored by Student Council) and win a huge quantity of candy; Dunkin’ Donuts decorated in orange and black on sale for some fundraiser (usually a sport or club); kids toting candy in boxes, on sale for other school sponsored fundraisers. Here’s a story my colleague Bobby told: last year, after some kid started beating up on another and was brought to the office, other kids raided his candy box. They left the $40 in cash, and stole the candy. (Candy=crack.)

That doesn’t begin to cover the kids bringing in their own candy, cookies and cupcakes, and my colleagues supplying candy to their classes. I think the theory is sharing candy is sharing goodwill. I admit, the kids do love it, and in fact, may very well feel loved as a result.  In our culture food, especially sugary food, equals love.

I see that my position on candy had made me the Scrooge of Halloween.  Maybe the kids would understand my position more if I brought something in for them that was a healthy alternative. Instead, I completely opted out of Halloween. We don’t even get trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood, so no bagged candy, no costumes, no decorations. It’s like we’re a different religion.

I’m also a hypocrite who loves candy. Make that a recovering addict. Does anyone seriously expect the dried out drunk to buy the next round? Really, that’s me. Do I really want to purchase and surround myself with candy when I finally admitted to myself that it makes me feel awful? It’s also an ideological stance: whole foods. Candies, which are composed primarily of highly processed white sugar, chemical flavors and colors, are a far cry from food.

Yesterday I fell off the wagon. I found myself first eating a Twix because a chocolate craving took over from nowhere. Or rather, the craving came from everywhere; all day wherever I looked, there was candy. I bought a full size package of processed sugary tastiness from the vending machine in the faculty room (because it’s okay for teachers to be tempted by unhealthy vending machines, but not kids). Then, zonked after school, I raided Hannah’s stash.

My colleague Hannah keeps candy in the classroom we share, because she is frequently giving it out to her students. Then my kids come in and I tell them “NO CANDY ALLOWED” and feel mean and defensive about it. I figure, they’re in high school; if they want to rot their teeth and poison their bodies, they can do it on their own time. I don’t need to aid and abet.

Left alone after school ended yesterday, except for teachers running down the hallway for Friday after school “Boot Camp” workout, their footsteps mocking my own sloth, I graded and graded and graded. Feeling utterly lethargic, I started eating Hannah’s Sweet Tarts, which really weren’t very good, but as soon as I began, I couldn’t stop. From there I moved to Laffy Taffy, which is dangerous for my dislocating jaw and furthermore there were only banana flavored ones left after the kids had picked over the huge variety pack, which made sense because really, does anyone like artificial banana?

Fresh Food

September 28th, 2009

DoritosI saw a commercial last night for a Healthy Choice meal that represents just about everything that is wrong with American culture. The ad begins with Julia Louis-Dreyfus telling her agent with a note of surprise that the Fresh Mixers, Rotini & Zesty Marinara Sauce “tastes fresh.” Her amazement is the only part of the ad that makes sense. It is hard to imagine that microwaved pasta might be described as fresh.

I guess it might depend on what we mean by fresh. On Princeton’s Wordnet, the two definitions of “fresh” that are related to food require recent preparation or not having been canned or otherwise preserved. The connection is not immediately obvious for a “shelf stable” product. IDEO, the consultancy firm that designed Fresh Mixers, brags on their website that their “concept has evolved into a new product offering for ConAgra, allowing the company to expand its portfolio further into the competitive shelf-stable meal category.” Doesn’t that sound fresh? Yes, if by fresh we mean, “improperly bold or forward.” To be fair, what they perhaps mean to say is that the food seems fresh. The contents certainly appear more like food than, say, the classic Handi-Snacks, which contain a tub of bright orange processed cheese-food product and a red plastic stick used to spread it.

Or perhaps they do mean recently prepared, though the idea of preparation has also gone virtual. IDEO touts “packaging that allows consumers to add water, boil uncooked rice or pasta in the microwave and then strain before eating – a process reminiscent of stovetop cooking.” It is too bad that we cannot somehow recapture that magic of true stovetop cooking. Apparently we need a new product whose packaging confers the benefits of “customization of flavor, transparency of ingredients, and an experience that builds off existing cooking behaviors.” I wonder which cooking behaviors they are referring to, the lost art of boiling water or the use of the microwave?

Louis-Dreyfus anticipates our skepticism that microwaved and fresh could describe the same product. She does not, however, express any wonder that this highly processed meal could be healthy. Why should she? We all seem to believe that health is something that can be created in a food lab and controlled by processing plants.

When I left for college, I translated my parents’ lowfat diet to a slightly oversimplified formula: fat = bad, fat free = good. I practically had a heart attack if someone tried to add butter to my food, but fat free soft frozen yogurt and bagels with fat free cream cheese were staples of my diet. I wondered why I didn’t lose any weight. In the grocery store I read every label for grams of fat, ignoring the actual food contents. Many years later, I finally let go of the idea that all fat was evil, a conclusion that science had long since disavowed but lots of Americans continued to cling to, especially processed food companies, who implied that Gummi Bears are health food because they are fat free.

After I decided that maybe lowfat is not synonymous with good food, I still relied on nutrition labels to tell me if what I was eating was healthy or not. I just looked for different information. Saturated fats, sugars, and later, trans fats played the role of public healthy enemy number one. Whole grains, even if they were just whole grain colored food, were heroes, though I was never sure whether I wanted soluble or insoluble dietary fiber. Healthy Choice meals are an outgrowth of this philosophy. On their website you cannot find the ingredients of their Fresh Mixers, but you can find complete “nutrition information” instead. Message: to evaluate our product, you don’t need to know what we put in it, but rather the laboratory analysis of its nutrients and how many calories are in a serving.

I think I knew there was something wrong with this theory, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I needed Michael Pollan to explain it to me. In his book, In Defense of Food Pollan argues against the whole idea that food can be understood as collections of nutrients to add or subtract outside the context of the whole food, a dietary paradigm which he calls Nutritionism. Reading his book I realized that my whole life in food had been predicated on that idea. Every day there are new studies about which foods are now superfoods, and which were once healthy but turn out to be bad for us, and I tried to follow it all. I was getting Prevention Magazine for a while, and looked for their nutritional advice from the experts. Each month it seemed that I was supposed to substitute one food for another—a low fat dessert for a high fat one, a reduced sugar snack for a sugary treat, an exotic fruit for a familiar one, a whole grain version of a processed snack, baked instead of fried, omega threes instead of omega sixes. Each new one-month diet seemed only partly compatible with the previous, as it was based on different experts and different studies. Eating healthy had never been so complicated.

As a society, Pollan says, we think we need experts to tell us what to eat, when it really is not so complex. Humans have been able to find healthy diets across many continents for most of our history. It’s only now that we created a processed food diet that we find ourselves confused as well as overweight and unhealthy. He says we’ve always known that a healthful diet includes eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. His simple advice is to eat foods that our ancestors would recognize as foods, instead of the packaged processed food products we have come to confuse with real food.

Here’s a clue that Healthy Choice doesn’t fit his criteria: at the end of the commercial, the announcer tells us to look for Fresh Mixers in the soup or pasta aisle. In other words, the meal is so far removed from real food, that we don’t know how it might be categorized. We don’t even know how to find it in the supermarket.

I guess I’ve entered a new paradigm, which once again is causing me to feel smug about my dietary choices. “I don’t eat that; I only eat whole foods,” I try not to say aloud, especially since it’s so hard to find the time to follow through. I think even more than that, I’m still angry that I fell for all those health claims. I really believed eating crappy tasting margarine my parents served me was going to make me healthier, when it turns out that the hydrogenated fat was worse than the butter it replaced. I still am in the habit of avoiding egg yolks because of the cholesterol, even though I know now that studies have shown that people who regularly eat whole eggs actually have lower cholesterol than people who don’t. And what of all those low fat and then low sugar foods I ate, with promises that I would be thinner and healthier? Each one had fat or sugar substitute, and what has been the cost of consuming them all?

It’s not just the elegant labels and TV stars who have convinced us that there is something good for us inside those not-quite-identifiable-food packages. It’s our steadfast belief that we can outdo nature. We think scientists can create food that is better than what a home cook could prepare with whole ingredients; the Healthy Choice processing plant can make the same dish that grandma used to slave over with lower fat, lower sugar, higher protein, more flavor, and, best of all, it’s ready in five minutes. Michael Pollan points out that in fact, eating this way has made us significantly less healthy.

I suspect that most of us know that Healthy Choice isn’t, strictly speaking, the healthiest way to eat. Probably more important than our hope that the health claims on the package mean that we will actually become healthier after eating the product, is the time factor. The Healthy Choice meal is all about the fact that we don’t want to take time out to eat, much less prepare food. On, where I guess I should not have been surprised to find the Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers, numerous customer reviewers said they were a good choice to eat at your desk at work. It’s a given in our culture that we don’t even stop working to eat lunch. Our frantic paced lifestyle makes us think that while there may be merit in making our own healthy meals, only people from centuries past had time for it. Sometimes I feel guilty when I take out time for lunch at work. When I do sit down to the lunch table with colleagues, most of them are popping microwave meals into the oven, which only a couple months ago I used to do, too.

Knowing all this about our food culture, I was still horrified by the ad, to think about the belief that in order to have meals taste fresh, we should process the foods more and package them more cleverly, as opposed to cooking a meal (and then eating leftovers for lunch). We want to be able to order six-packs of such meals through Amazon, and have them taste fresh.

The reason the food is fresh tasting, the ad suggests, is because the product has a device for cooking the pasta inside the plastic container, and then adding the sauce afterward. It should be noted that this choice is a substitute for making a meal consisting of pasta and sauce. We’ve completely lost touch with the idea of preparing healthy food from wholesome ingredients like flour and eggs, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. No, forget about making our own pasta and sauce. Now we need special packaging to spare us from all the work entailed by boiling water to reconstitute dried pasta and reheating pre-made sauce. Instead of taking those 15 minutes to prepare dinner, we want a tv dinner, which has been made over to “taste fresh” and be a “healthy choice.”

There are clear dangers in eating this way. We know that the indigestion from eating while working is a signal that we should stop and enjoy our food, but we’re in too much of a rush to do it. We know that ingesting high fructose corn syrup used to add fresh flavor back and chemical additives or processes used to make the food stable in containers cannot ultimately be good for us. Still, we believe if a package says it’s healthy, we don’t have to worry. For me, I used to believe that most anything I found in the health food section was relatively good for me, and relatively healthy seemed good enough, especially if I was in a rush.

I would argue that in making food easier to prepare than opening a jar of sauce and boiling pasta we’ve introduced yet another problem. An unnecessary possible health risk comes from the required cooking inside a plastic container. I used to think that my colleague who claimed that the chemicals from the plastics could end up in our food and harm us was an alarmist. Then multiple studies found that BPA, which has been in our food containers for decades, has been leaching into our food and has been showing up in our urine. According to an article in Scientific American, studies in animals showed that this estrogen-like compound could cause cancer, infertility, and other health problems. BPA from plastic containers enters the food or liquid, and 55 times faster when the food or liquid is heated. It’s still on the market, which doesn’t mean that it’s in the Healthy Choice containers, but given that chemicals from the plastic have been proven to enter the food and then our bodies, doesn’t it seem prudent not to use plastic for cooking food? Is it really so difficult for us to prepare food in such a way that doesn’t require new-fangled way to cook it in the microwave at work?

I agree with Michael Pollan that it’s time to rethink our attitude towards food. I asked my students in my Media Literacy and Pop Culture class the other day what the single serving package of Baked Doritos, which one student had in her purse, says about our culture. If some aliens came to visit our planet and looked at the fact that we tend to chose Baked Doritos over a whole food like corn on the cob, what would they learn about us?

It’s simple: Doritos taste good, the class agreed. I challenged them to think about what we like about Doritos. For instance, what exactly is Nacho Cheese? It’s not actually a food, but a flavor developed by chemists in secretive labs. Doritos taste good not because they resemble any kind of actual cheese. Rather, the artificial flavorings create an idealized taste which hits the right flavor notes to produce a pleasurable sensation, not of cheese, but something we like even more. Eating Doritos is another way our culture puts stock in the idea that we can do nature one better. Further, the chips use against us our natural desire for salty, sweet, and fatty tastes, to create a flavor that we instantly crave after the first chip. I feel betrayed by the fact that my mouth waters just thinking about it; I try not to eat Doritos, and never buy a bag, but the taste memory lies dormant in my subconscious. If I’m hungry and a bag of Doritos is lying around at work, sometimes I can’t just walk away, nor can I have just one chip.

We know Doritos are bad for us. That’s why there are baked Doritos. The Baked Doritos and Healthy Choice meal have this in common: They both play on the now-discredited belief that lowering the fat content makes food healthy. The baked Dorito is a particularly egregious example. Maybe they are slightly less bad for us because of the reduced fat, and slightly fewer calories, but are these fluorescent orange squares that never spoil actually food?  The little bag of Doritos is part of the same food culture that normalizes eating lunch at one’s desk.

We pick Doritos, my students said, because in today’s world, we have to eat on the go. You can’t very well eat corn on the cob while you’re driving. They are precisely right, of course. I ask them, why is it a good idea to eat while driving? They look at me like I’m the alien from another planet. I wonder how I am going to get them to question why our culture values convenience above most everything else. They’re by no means alone in taking for granted that spending less time on everyday activities, including eating and preparing food, is an important goal. Exhibit A: Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers, “delivering a fresher, better-tasting meal solution.”


September 5th, 2009

kripaluview“Are you going to start talking like that all the time now?”  my husband, Wayne, asked me. He had just picked me up from Kripalu Yoga Center, and was driving me the two hours home. For the first half hour I had talked non-stop about the yoga, the workshops, and the people I met over the five days I stayed there for a retreat. Now I was describing a woman I decided to refer to as Negative Energy Lady.

“Like what?” I asked, but I knew what he was talking about. People speak differently at Kripalu. Lots of us nodded when a workshop leader said, “Does anyone in here resonate with that idea?” In real life, ideas are allowed to resonate, people are not.

“About people’s energy,” Wayne said.

“I  don’t know,” I said. “It seemed like a more Kripalu way of describing it. I suppose one could call her a bitch.” In truth, I liked thinking about her in terms of energy. It made me feel more in touch, spiritually. I noticed that every time I saw her in a workshop or yoga class or the dining hall, she’d manage to say something horribly negative in a nasty tone, despite the fact that we were all supposed to be here to pursue the spiritual practice of yoga. She exuded a whole different energy than everyone else at Kripalu. I mean, I can feel it in my gut when she uses that tone of voice.  To step back and look at her as a ball of negative energy helped me not to react to it, though it didn’t stop me from talking about it. My new Kripalu friends and I were comparing notes about the woman at lunch, hours earlier. It felt distinctly unenlightened to talk negatively about a person, which is probably why we kept saying that clearly she was hurting inside.

Earlier that morning, when a number of us went for a meditation walk, the leader was describing the idea behind the practice. Negative Energy Lady (NEL) barked, “You didn’t say we need to be silent.”

The leader responded gently, as if the comment was meant as a polite reminder rather than an irritated criticism, “Thank you. I did forget to mention that the walk was silent.”

“Yes, you did forget and it’s necessary!” Returned NEL.

Earlier in the day NEL had moved my friends to leave a workshop called “Creating a Home Practice” about figuring out how to fit yoga into your home life. We were in the midst of sharing with partners when the leader, a different yoga instructor, asked if we needed more time.

“You need to show us some yoga moves you do at home. We’re running out of time. You led us to believe at the beginning you’d do that,” barked NEL.

“Thank you for sharing that,” the leader said with genuine calm, again as if NEL had spoken in a respectful tone.

“Those instructors sure are more enlightened and compassionate than I am,” I said to Wayne. “I would have known that I was supposed to be nice, but I don’t think I’d take it so well. Unless I lived at Kripalu for a while, I guess.”

I think the first thing that changes in new arrivals at Kripalu is the way we speak. After listening to workshops and yoga instructors, we start using softer voices and peppering our speech with spiritual terms. Then we all begin to resonate with a different kind of energy from hanging around yogis, eating breakfast in meditative silence, and taking yoga classes. Well, not everyone, I saw. When I first saw NEL she was barking about something in a yoga class. I thought, phew, she must have just gotten here and hasn’t turned that off yet.

In truth, NEL was just a piece of the real world inside the mostly isolated Kripalu. My roommate, who had been there for two weeks so far for an Integrate Yoga Therapy certification hadn’t heard about Senator Kennedy’s death until a week later because Kripalu has no tvs, and while there is now internet access in the cafe, I guess not many people were checking the news that way, either. Kripalu is housed in a former Jesuit seminary, a huge building at the top of a grass hill, overlooking a lake, nestled in the Berkshire mountains. It is a retreat from the real world, but the real world seeps in with us. The habit of complaining about people’s bad behavior was our own real world baggage we brought to Kripalu. And there I was, just having left the place, taking the winding beautiful back roads towards home, telling this story, because compared to her, I guess I’m a lot closer to enlightenment. Only if I were further down that path, maybe I’d be quietly enjoying the ride home.

Token Solution

August 23rd, 2009

used tokens

Wayne says the TV tokens don’t count when we’re away from home. If that’s true, I have half an hour of tv time left this week (ending tonight)–and therefore succeeded in week one of moderation through tokens. If tv at the hotel counts, I’m in two and a half hours debt. This sounds really bad, like Wayne and I go away and we just watch tv. It’s not true. We paddled and it was raining and none of our friends showed up, so we were off the river early, we went out to dinner, I read for a while, and then we watched tv. First it was Law and Order CI because we used to love that show when we had tv at home. Then regular Law and Order–ditto. Then an old episode of House came on that I hadn’t seen…It doesn’t sound any better when I explain it.

Maybe four hours for the week is unreasonable. Maybe it is unreasonable for an addict to try to watch tv in moderation.