Looking back and thinking forward

Month: January, 2017

Writing exercise

Describe my home study – ten minutes – go:

The cats settle in, Mimi climbs into the basket near my feet, curls into a ball and falls asleep. It is a large African basket, which I had planned to use for waste paper right next to my desk. I have never been able to use it for that because Mimi has chosen it as her favorite spot to hide away and sleep. Oscar raises his head from the cushion that Tom brought for me from Brussels many years ago. Oscar’s favorite place to sleep is on that cushion that lays upon my rocking chair. The chair that the university child care center staff gave me when I left for Philadelphia. As I look around my study I notice all sorts of treasures that I have received over the years. They may not be worth much in terms of monies. But each one has some special meaning for me. On the window sill the violets are blooming. One of them was half dead when a colleague gave it to me last May. She told me that if anyone could bring it back to life I could. Now it has grown new leaves and its fuchsia colored flowers bloom tall and strong in the sunlight as it streams through the windows. When one of the leaves fell off as I brought the plant up from my car, I planted it in a separate clay pot and attended to it daily with water and softly spoken words. It too has grown baby, fuchsia flowers that bloom through the new, fresh, fleshy leaves. On the wall behind and above my computer are photographs and sayings – some postcards that friends have sent me over the years – others are sayings like the one my therapist in Buffalo gave to me when we parted asI left for Philadelphia. I sigh because I realize how many times I have parted from people I thought I could never live without. Too many times to count perhaps. For each time it hurt – always a little more than the last time, although now I know that I will survive each parting. Just as others will survive without me. I wonder what will happen to all my nick knacks when I die. They will not have the same meaning for those cleaning up my room. They won’t know how each picture, plant, figurine, Buddha, or basket propped me up and supported me through long hours as I sat at my desk typing a blog post or writing by hand in my journal. I close my eyes realizing my ten minutes are up.

Cats are fast asleep – calm and warm. Their presence has warmed me too in the writing of this piece.

Writing routine

Time to create a writing routine. Am thinking this will mean lessening my use of social media and cutting down on Internet Scrabble games. Or, perhaps I can use all those as rewards for writing each day as many words as needed to complete the first draft of my book by June. What a bind! Starting phased retirement with deadlines! And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It excites me – the prospect of this book. I put off the writing because I don’t want it to be done at the other end … and then what? I like the feeling of knowing what is coming during the writing and reading up for it. A subject so near to my heart that it breaks. Some people catch a thrill from mountain climbing or bungee jumping. I get it from delving deep into the heart and soul of the psyche – uncovering awareness – of what makes us tick.

So plans are afoot for my writing routine. Probably early in the morning – the time between the edge of night and break of day … when, for me, thoughts and memories are the freshest. Or directly after my shower, after a long walk, or taking myself out to my favorite breakfast restaurant, because often my finest thoughts pop into my brain during those times I am alone with me. Who knows? All I know for right now is I sense a fire in my belly, and when that happens – the writing is sure to follow.

With each writing project I develop a different flow. At the time I wrote my other books early morning was necessary before I started the work day. Now that I have all the time in the world I suspect the routine will be created along the way.

This morning, I give thanks to my new blog, for it has already gotten me into a writing mood, and a routine is evolving as we speak.

Dieting as deprivation

For years I have understood that there is an emotional connection between me and my hunger. I am sometimes just physically hungry, but often my hunger is connected to emotions – like anger, boredom, or loneliness. Lately I have realized that dieting feels like deprivation, and, in fact, I become quite anxious – even panicked – when I diet.


I notice that I don’t seem to feel that way when I deprive myself of clothes, going to the theater, museums, books, or any material possessions really. My greatest source of delight comes with going out for breakfast or dinner. It feels as if I am being rewarded for something. Food, therefore, equals love. I remember when my son started making his own sandwiches for school. I felt lonely and deprived for days until I understood that I was not needed for providing his sustenance – I equated food for love then too. I remember the warmth and happiness I felt when I ate with my nanny and the other servants on our back porch when I was a child in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). We sat on the floor and ate sadza out of a large pot, dipping balls of it we had rolled in our hands into the thick, warm gravy accompanied by tough, tasty chunks of beef. We washed our hands in bowls of water that were passed between us keeping our hands clean for each new sadza ball we created. I would listen as they talked back and forth – at times understanding their language and at others it did not matter. The atmosphere was kind and welcoming. I felt safe out there, and wanted. No one watched or commented on how much or what I ate, how dry or curly my hair was, or how much I talked.

It is hard to pin point immediately the feelings of emotional deprivation. It creeps up on me when I least expect it. And so, I am starting to take note of how it feels – holding still in the moment just experiencing the sensations: a little anxiety; my body and especially the pit of my stomach feels cold and empty; lonely; afraid and a little panicked; and, yes, it feels like a gaping hole in my soul. The fact is, food calms those sensations for a short while, and I even feel comforted momentarily, but, in fact, the hole never, ever really fills up from eating a juicy chicken leg or just one more soft, sweet stroopwafel.

I love psychological revelations. While they never actually fix the problems, awareness does give me another option – an opportunity to choose reactions or behaviors, when I am feeling less vulnerable. It is not easy staying in touch with our earliest emotional memories, because we have repressed them for good reason at the time when they might have represented real danger.

I can’t help but turn back to my most favorite book: Appetites: Why Women Want, and remember just how complex is the subject of food, love, desire, culture and how I fit in – or fit it all in before I cut back on portions, and eat healthy again:

Being known. This, of course, is the goal, the agenda so carefully hidden it may be unknown to the self … the extremes announce, This is who I am, this is what I feel, this is what happens when I don’t get what I need … In quadrophonic sound they give voice to the most central human hunger, which is the desire to be recognized, to be known and loved because of, and in spite of, who you are; they give voice to the sorrow that takes root when that hunger is unsatisfied. (Page 175)



Back in 2010, I wrote a piece as an application for attending a writer’s workshop with Natalie Goldberg. I decided to share and edit parts of it here, because, as an author, it describes what I feel or think about writing in general.

Last night (October 4, 2010), driving home from work I heard Jon Stewart interviewed by Terri Gross on the radio. Terri Gross asked him what his morning meetings were like as his team plan for their evening shows. Stewart told her that contrary to what some people might assume, their meetings were well organized and structured. He went on to say, “… I’m a real believer in that creativity comes from limits, not freedom. Freedom, I think you don’t know what to do with yourself, but when you have structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to that.” I marveled at the coincidence for earlier that day I had started writing this piece for my application to the intensive workshop series with Natalie Goldberg, and had been thinking about my own relationship with boundaries and limitations. Indeed, Jon Stewart summed up some of my thoughts.

I need a framework or some type of formal structure from which I can develop my creativity in the area of writing. With regards to writing and meditation, I am self taught. By reading books, attending a few classes, and then going it alone. I experiment, do a lot of observing of others and learn the jargon – adapt to the culture, and then develop my own way of doing things. On the other hand, I have had years of formal education, including acquiring a Ph.D. In that sense I was taught to write and research in a certain type of structure that is common in academia. However, it is not helpful in writing about memories or telling my story. An intensive workshop with Natalie Goldberg could provide a different type of guidance and structure for the things I have learned to do on my own – things I am already doing day to day: mediation, walking, writing.

I have written articles for magazines and journals, columns for newsletters, and a number of books or chapters for teachers about self-reflection, attitudes and emotions affecting interactions with children and families. Indeed, most of my writing includes telling my story. At times I do that to model for others how they might tell theirs. In the case of teachers, I want to help them become more authentic in their relationships with children. At others times I share my story as an act of self-expression.

Twelve years ago, when we relocated to Philadelphia after many years in Buffalo, New York, I left behind a therapist who I had been seeing for several years. I began writing a blog. As a blogger I have been able to use writing as self-discovery and reflection. When I began it often took the place of therapy for me. Blogging is an interesting forum for writing because as personal as it is, it is also as public as can be. Over the years I received much feedback about my blogging posts in all sorts of forms – from the quality of my writing to the appropriateness of the content. I learned to write for a public audience, even as I shared my inner life, at times in a most intimate manner, and my writing has certainly improved as a result of all the feedback and practice.

Blog writing is a writing exercise for me. Writing a journal for no one else to read is a different kind of practice. Either way, writing practice is a form of structure from which I can develop creativity in thinking, style and expression.