Summer, Weight & Shame

Summer — my favorite time of the year!

And with it, the dreaded revealing of the BODY. All that winter weight crammed into jeans and hidden by sweaters is now bare, big, and fleshy. My body, a machine operating apart from my mind, is pale and loose, and there's too much of it.

Again. Still.

This is not new. This is my everyday routine — yours too? — in which I fight my body in an exhausting battle of wish and shame. It doesn't matter my size, the desire is the same:  slim, slender, thin, all the words that mean not me.

Those golden seasons, of the slimmer me, were short-lived and in retrospect I never felt as good as I now see I looked. That's the way, isn't it? We look back at photos and sigh, "Oh, I wasn't fat." 

But isn't this normal? Does every woman have an eating disorder? Not anorexia or bulimia, necessarily, but dis-order, dis-ease, unease, about food and body, value and worth?

Sure, there are days I feel active and strong, smart and creative, but isn't there some mind-body acceptance that lasts longer than the time it takes to get showered and dressed? An enduring sense of peace with this thing I carry day after day?

I've got no answers, but I like this poem:

Today I asked my body what she needed,

Which is a big deal

Considering my journey of

Not Really Asking That Much.


I thought she might need more water.

Or protein.

Or greens.

Or yoga.

Or supplements.

Or movement.


But as I stood in the shower

Reflecting on her stretch marks,

Her roundness where I would like flatness,

Her softness where I would like firmness,

All those conditioned wishes

That form a bundle of


She whispered very gently:


Could you just love me like this?

—  Hollie Holden


And I like these words:

We can only really be known, and we can only really know, when we show our scars . . .

And everything that happens to us, everything that happens to us in our life, happens to our bodies. Every act of love, every insult, every moment of pleasure, every interaction with other humans, every hateful thing we have said, or which has been said to us, happens to our bodies. Every kindness, every sorrow, every ounce of laughter. We carry all of this, with us, in some form or another. We are walking embodiments of our entire story and the scars from that aren’t optional, but the shame from that is."

— Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, House for All Saints and Sinners, from Scarred and Resurrected: A Sermon on Our Human Bodies 


And lastly, this may be my summer anthem: 


Your turn. Let's talk:  How are you? Tell me about your body, your mind, your heart.



At Last

Eileen McKenna photo


The long wait


In that long slow

stretch between


late winter and

true spring


the sky stands static

and gray until



the dogwood opens,


forming a choir

of blooms


every petal lifted

like hands in praise


and we are witness

to a miracle we


can finally



- Drew Myron



Friends Give Me Books

It doesn't take much to make me happy: sunshine, a good book, and people who give me books. (Is there a better gift than a book? I can only think of one: a letter, a letter tucked inside a good book). 

I'm happily immersed in books — books I would have never known had good people not shared their good books with me. The world really does turn on the exchange of words. 


by Robert Macfarlane

Published in 2016, this book is lush, dense, poetic. Robert Macfarlane is a British academic, nature writer, and word lover who is working to restore the “literacy of the land.”  Landmarks, says The New York Times, "is part outdoor adventure story, part literary criticism, part philosophical disquisition, part linguistic excavation project, part mash note — a celebration of nature, of reading, of writing, of language and of people who love those things. . . "  That's me! 

The Five Minute Journal

by Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas

I wasn't immediately thrilled with this gem. It's billed as "the simplest, most effective thing you can do every day to be happier." While given to me with love, I saw it as a unending homework assignment. Uggh. But I do like structure and lists, so I stepped up and gave it a try. And I'm "happy" to say this is a five-minute focus exercise that works! I don't do it everyday (there's only so many shoulds I can do and remain a pleasant person) but when I start my day with this journal I always feels better than when I don't. 


Princess Pamela's Soul Food Cookbook
by Pamela Strobel

I'm not a foodie or a fancy cook, still I love the spirit of this book. Long out-of-print, after 45 years this treasure has been re-introduced as history lesson, poetry, and cookbook in one. Written in 1969, this is a collection of recipes from Pamela Strobel’s tiny soul food restaurant that thrived in New York's East Village in the 1960s. Orphaned at 10 years old, Strobel was just a teenager when she traveled north from South Carolina to New York to make a life for herself with her one skill: cooking. She pairs nearly every recipe with a poem, serving up a wonderful mix of food, love, religion, and race. With a recipe for tripe, for example, she offers this: 

Practically every kind of people

eat somethin' that somebody

else make a godawful face

at. If that don’ tellya what

this race-hatin’ is

all about, nuthin’ will.

In this life, we gotta give

ourselves a chance to digest a

lotta things we don’

understand right off. 


The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward R. Tufte 

I am perplexed by this gift. It's more textbook dull than visual cool. Given to me by a designer friend, I know I'm holding an important work of another world but it's a world I don't fully understand. Still, I recognize a classic, so I plug along, puzzling over detailed graphs, elaborate tables, and engineer-ish illustrations. That's how it is with books that arrive as gifts, both giver and receiver are seen and revealed — and, really, that's a gift in itself.


Your turn. What are you reading? What books have you gifted, and what have you received? 




Try This: Where I'm From


Get out your pen and paper. Let's write!

Have you written a "Where I'm From" poem? For many young writers, this form is their first taste of writing poetry. The teacher passes out a template and the kids fill in the blanks to create their poem. 

Sounds like amateur hour, right? Yes, but stick with me. These poems are fun for all ages.

I recently attended a long and tedious professional conference (nothing to do with writing) and toward the end of the session the instructor handed out the tired old templates. I groaned but played along — and it turned out this short writing session was the best part of the day. 

So, yes, give it a try.  


Here's the template. Fill in the blanks: 


I am from _________________________
(specific ordinary item)

From _____________________________
(product name) 

and ______________________________ 
(product name)

I am from the _____________________
(home description)

I am from _________________________ 
(plant, flower, natural item)

I'm from __________________________
(family tradition) 

and ______________________________  
(family trait)

From _____________________________
(name of family member) 

and _______________________________ 
(another family name)

I'm from the ________________________ 
(description of family tendency)

and ________________________________ 
 (another one)

From _______________________________ 
(something you were told as a child)

and ________________________  (another)

I'm from _____________________________ 
(place of birth and family ancestry)

(a food item that represents your family)

(another one)


Feel free to condense, expand and rearrange your responses. Let this be the door that opens you to a poem. And then, let it take you even further. 

Poetry lore says this form was created in the 1990s by George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate 2015-2016.

"The process was too rich and too much fun to give up after only one poem," she explains on her website. "I decided to try it as an exercise with other writers, and it immediately took off. The list form is simple and familiar, and the question of where you are from reaches deep."

She offers this stellar advice:

"While you can revise (edit, extend, rearrange) your Where I'm From list into a poem, you can also see it as a corridor of doors opening onto further knowledge and other kinds of writing. The key is to let yourself explore these rooms. Don't rush to decide what kind of writing you're going to do or to revise or finish a piece. Let your goal be the writing itself. Learn to let it lead you."


Now, let's share. Here's my poem: 


Something will come


I'm from Capn’ Crunch and Brady Bunch

from Love Boat and Little House

from Sun-In summers and waffle-stomp winters.


I’m from peace signs and dusty ferns

from cigarettes and scotch, apples and wheat

from sickness and grit


I’m from apartments rattled by railroad noise

from long walks to school and swimming

at the neighborhood pool.


I’m from big eaters and hard workers

from Bart and Lucy, Margaret and Andre

and Cindra, best sister and friend.


From Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado,

from inner-west, left coast, city, suburb, and farm

from quiet talkers and white-knuckled independence


from something will come

and more is not always better.


- Drew Myron



Your turn. Where are you from? Please share your poem in the comments section. 



In Unexpected Places

I'm finding inspiration in unexpected places.

Starting with the headline above. I read it as: May is Wildflower Awareness Month. 

Well, yes, of course. After a wet winter, it's been a season of lupine, foxglove, and sweetpea, and with each spotting my heart lifts. But no . . it's wildfires, not widlflowers, that need our attention.

Is this metaphor? These days it seem we're racing to put out fire after fire (immigration, health care, walls, and wars). There's so much to resist my naps have grown in duration, so exhausted from the worry and weight of thinking.  

And so I unexpectedly found solace — and mirth — in the sports pages. No, really.

Do you read Jason Gay? I don't even like sports (at all, none of them) but I eagerly read Jason Gay's column in the Wall Street Journal.*  He's chatty and smart with loads of pop culture references. For example, in This Sports Column is Too Long, he writes:

Let’s be honest: You’re never going to make it to the end of this stupid column. You’re too rushed, too busy, too compressed for time. You have a million things to do, and a million more things competing for your attention. Who has time to read 800 or so words in a newspaper? Or eight words, for that matter? I’ve lost you already. I’m certain of it. At least my mom is still reading. Thanks, Mom!

Just when I think I can't get further afield, I stumble upon car reviews. Yes, you read that right. I couldn't care less about cars. When I drive, I have only three questions: Does it start? Does it run? Do I have to pump my own gas?  But when I read Dan Neil, who writes about cars with such a sharp fun tongue, I can't wait to turn the ignition. For example:

I worried that calling the Toyota Land Cruiser a “behemoth” might sound catty, so I looked it up. The word comes to us from the Hebrew for “hippopotamus,” and—in the actual presence of Toyota’s cultic, revered luxury SUV—I have to say, that’s pretty spot on. Both appear equally aerodynamic, for example. The proportions are similar, too, with massive bodies poised over itty-bitty feet. If anything, it’s the hippos that should take umbrage.


You may be asking, what do Jason, Dan and wildfires have to do with writing?


To be a writer you must first read. Far and wide. You must stretch yourself beyond the injustice of sports glory, beyond the dullness of automotive details. You must wander into fields unknown. And on your sidetrip, if you're lucky, you may find the real prize: wildflowers.


* Yes, I read The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian and The Washington Post and Reuters (though the website is akin to a utilitarian version of Google: all data, no decor). Because I'm a skimmer and frequently forget details, this much reading doesn't make me smart, just tired.