Monday, October 31, 2011

Yoga for Weight Loss? No thanks.

I receive all kinds of generic emails on a daily basis (i.e."Redeem your free Ipad now"; "You're invited to dinner with John McCain"; "I'd like to give you a million dollars from my overseas account.").  But when I glanced down the subject headings in my Inbox this morning and saw "Yoga for Weight Loss" listed among my spam-tastic collection of items just wating to be deleted, I couldn't help but double click and open it. 

And this is what I found:

Yoga for Weight Loss – Bring awareness to our eating habits and learn how to eat healthy and feel good from the inside out. Through work with body, mind and spirit; acknowledge the healthy, beautiful person you are meant to be. You will work with a yoga instructor and nutritionist in this four week workshop. Personal instruction and direction will be given to each participant. Please check class schedule (under workshops) for workshop date and time.

Lately, I've been struggling to accept that most things are neither "all bad" nor "all good" (And, in fact, I probably shouldn't use judgement words like "bad" or "good" at all,  but they work toward making my larger point here, so let's give my Zen a break on this one.) That being said, I am making a concerted effort to imagine that everything and everyone I encounter is a unique amalgamation of qualities I would like to invite into my life, and qualities that do nothing to serve me and are best avoided. 

Using this logic, there are a couple things about this Yoga for Weight Loss situation that I can actually appreciate.  Words like "awareness" and "healthy" and "body, mind, and spirit" appeal to me.  I also believe that working with a nutritionist is as key to developing healthy eating habits as is working with a yoga instructor to enhance mindfulness.  So, on its surface, this class not only makes sense, but is actually structured in a way that would seem to promote success and achievement as long as participants follow the "personal instruction and direction" provided.

And therein lies my problem with the whole thing: I am a yoga snob.  I actually have conditions under which I will and will not "practice"  - and goal setting, weight loss, and measures of success simply do not factor in to my yogic path.  I'm not thrilled with this part of myself, especially as I work toward a life of acceptance, detachment, and open-heartedness.  But there it is anyway.  I don't think yoga as a weight loss method is "real yoga," and I wish I could dedicate my life (or at least an afternoon) to coming up with another, more suitable name for this class.  Peaceful Dieting? Zenrobics?  Ohm Pump? 

It took me a long time to really feel the point of yoga - which is, really, that there is no "point" beyond the present experience.  For me, yoga is a goal-free space to honor the body and connect with the mind, wherever that may be at a given moment.  So how do you set this as a goal or measure it in terms of achievement?  In fact, the pressure of "haves" and "shoulds" and "need to's" is one of the things that led me to yoga in the first place - with my only goal being: To have no goals.  For at least an hour.  And with my mat as my anchor, I have finally, officially managed to declare my practice a goal-free zone. 

There's no arguing that a healthier body and a calmer mind will naturally lead to an optimum self.  There's also no arguing that most regularly practicing yogis and yoginis do have a "look" - that long, lean build.  That strong, balanced posture.  I guess it's possible that some of them set "the look" as their primary goal. But my guess (and my experience) has been that "the look" naturally emerges, over time, and is more an outward reflection of an internal presence. 

Don't get me wrong - in this world of nonstop moving and working and planning and worrying, I probably would take advantage of the ability to spot reduce my psyche by banishing my emotional love handles or firming up my psychological cellulite in 10 minutes or less.  If it were possible. Which is why I am grateful that such corner cutting isn't an option in yoga. Because sometimes the only thing that gets me to my mat and propels me through my practice is this single reality: The moment is not something I can truly appreciate unless I stay in it.  And if I leave it for even a second, it will be lost to me forever.

With all the stressors in my day, the bathroom scale has always been a particularly challenging, inconsistent, often sadistic opponent.   Throughout my life, I have existed at a relatively happy 155 pounds and a miserably sick and unhappy 85 pounds - and everything in between.  And I have learned that if you are seeking happiness in a number, you will probably be busy searching for something you cannot find when happiness actually passes you by. 

So sign up for that yoga class.  Enlist the help of that nutritionist.  Do what's right and healthy and enjoyable for your body, mind and spirit.  But do so with the awareness that living in the future will rob you of all you really need: the beauty of this unique, irreplacable, fleeting moment.

And I leave you with this - a picture of the most peaceful, most enlightened being I "know."  I wonder how he would feel about Yoga for Weight Loss. I suspect he might say lose the pain, lose the anger, lose the emotional and physical toxins, lose the self-imposed limitations and the negative self talk, lose the hatred, lose the numbness ... those are the things that truly weigh us down.

Or, he might just say "Namaste, my friend. And welcome to this moment."
10" Sitting Hotei Happy Buddha Statue

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top Ten Reasons I Long For the Rotary Phone of My Childhood (Or, Why the Cell Phone Sucks)

1.)  You know how you always call me when you're doing the dishes, so we can chat while you have a free moment?  Yeah, well, that dainty stream of water trickling out of your faucet sounds like Old Faithful on my end.  Call me back when you can talk to me without your kitchen sink geyser erupting into the phone and slamming against my eardrum.

2.) The Bluetooth.  It has been around forever. If you want to pretend to think I'm talking to myself when I have mine in, go right ahead.  But the next time you stick your hand in my face to "shh" me because you are talking into yours, we're gonna rumble.

3.) The dropped call.  I am putting you and the world of potential callers on notice: I'm barely interested in my stories the first time I tell them.  Should we lose the call, I refuse to re-tell said story. Also, I refuse to spend the 20 minutes after we reconnect debating whose phone actually lost the call. (Incidentally, it was probably your phone.  Just sayin)

4.) Choose your ringback tones wisely.  If we are friends, chances are you're over 35.  If Rihanna's *S&M* starts playing into my ear while I wait for you to answer, chances are we're not friends anymore.  Because what starts with Rihanna ends with a belly shirt -- and I refuse to stand by and watch as you become a midlife crisis casulty.

5.) The dead battery.  I don't understand how that happens on a regular basis.  How does a cell battery constantly die without your knowledge?  I'm guessing you're also one of the Christmas "victims" stuck at the mall on December 24 at 8:50pm complaining about how the holidays always sneak up on you.

6.) Apps.  But this one is more about my irritation with people who refuse to use complete words.  Is "Applications" so time consuming?  Or exhausting?  And also, I don't want to be part of your secret abbreviation society anyway, so the joke's on  you.

7.)  Text messaging.  What's to like about this feature? Initially designed to serve as a quick, succinct "call me when you can," it has replaced talking and has made illiteracy trendy:  FYI, LOL if I m rite.

8.)  Walking and talking.  Let's face it  - mobility is utility.  And the ability to take a call while moving through the world is the whole point of the cell phone. But not unlike the gentle stream of water on your end, your simple right-together/left-together/right-together/left-together sounds like an angry Clydesdale  mauling a herd of mad cattle on my end.  Lose the heels.  Or better yet, call me only when you're seated.

9.) If you are on your cell phone and I am standing in front of you, I don't plan to stick around while you finish your call.  Not unless you can produce satisfactory documentation proving that your call was a life-and-death situation.  And I take this stand on behalf of all salespeople, wait staff, and public servants in general:   Finish your oh-so-important call, then get in line and use my time wisely.

10.) The "new and shocking data" that hits the news circuits at least once a month, threatening us all with various forms of radiation-induced illness.  After 38 years of xrays, CAT scans, MRIs, and excessive sun exposure, I'm looking for something a little more solution-oriented than a "You are so screwed, America!" from the Mayo Clinic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ten Common "Fixes" That Don't Really Fix Anything (Or: Even if it IS broke, sometimes you just shouldn't try to fix it.)

1.) "Patches" for quitting everything from smoking to eating to ovulating.  All I see happening here is a Patch addiction.  And where's the patch for that?!

2.)  Fad diets. Although, if you buy into enough of them, they will certainly kill you.  And I have never seen a fat corpse.  So maybe there is a loophole to my theory on this one. Still, if you find yourself eating a slab of meat topped with cheese and butter even as you eschew the whole grain in the name of a smaller dress size, question your approach to life.

3.) Everything you see on HGTV, for two reasons: First, they have unlimited money and time. Second, they get a different family every single week.  So of course Home = happy.

4.) Magazine quizzes.  Who among us hasn't wanted to know which celebrity we most resemble in the fashion department, or which of the four love languages we speak?  All I'm saying is, don't throw away your wardrobe or your marriage based on advice sandwiched between a perfume sample and a Kardashian family update.

5.) "Sugar Free" candies and baked goods.  And don't try to sell me on the diabetes angle, either.  Not unless you can cure my asthma with oxygen-free air.

6.) Web MD.  Originally intended to provide information and resources, this has become the hypochondriac's downfall.  My recent attempts to avoid a doctor's appointment by Googling dehydration symptoms led me to Urgicare in a self-diagnosed malaria panic.

7.) The "add a little more flour" concept. You're baking a cake. The batter is too moist. You add a little more flour. Oops, too thick.  You add a little more water. Oops, too moist again.  A little more flour. Oops.  A little more water.  Oops.  A little more flour. Pasteball Cake, anyone?

8.) Clear nail polish to remedy a pantyhose rip.  Great idea in the middle of a work day. Not so great when you're peeling and stripping said pantyhose (and your epidermis) off your leg ten hours later.

9.) The common problem: bad hair day. The common fix: the Scrunchie.  I don't think I need to elaborate.

10.) Screaming louder and slower as a language translation technique.  We've all done it.  If I couldn't hear or understand the "How are you doing?" then the only thing the "HOW ARE YOU DOING?" has fixed is my once-wavering opinion that you may actually be smarter than you look.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Top 10 Conversations I Could Do Without

1.)  Me:  I have a corn intolerance and can't eat corn or corn products.
      Response: What happens?

2.)  Me: Do you know what the weather is supposed to be tomorrow?
      Response: Why?

3.)  Me: I made cookies for everyone.
      Response: Oh I hate you.  You're making me blow my diet.

4.)  Me: I can't eat anything these days.
       Response: You're so lucky.

5.)  Me: Great! I have a cavity.
      Response: Thousands of people died in the earthquake.

6.)  Me: I'm trying to adopt a dog.
       Response:  So you decided to stay single and childless?

7.)   Me: I do yoga and/or meditation every day.
       Response: When will it start working?

8.)   Me: I can't believe the stores have Christmas decorations out already.  I'd like to enjoy Thanksgiving.
       Response:  But you don't eat turkey, do you?

9.)  Me: There are parts of every religion I disagree with.
      Response: You know you'll go to Hell for that, right?

(And my ultimate least favorite favorite):

10.)  Me: I've decided to make writing my career.
        Response: That sounds like such fun.  I wish I had time to sit around and read and write all day.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Today's Random Thoughts

1.)  Why am I always shocked to discover that I am happier around kind, compassionate people than I am around negative ones?  This shouldn’t be MENSA-level stuff for me anymore.

2.)  I just negotiated with myself like a parent to a child: If you eat broccoli and chick peas for lunch, you get to have a banana for dessert.  I love bananas, but as an adult who has developed all kinds of food intolerances and sensitivities, I really miss the “Payoff” reward foods of my childhood. (Think marshmallow fluff, fudge stripe cookies, and Snickers ice cream bars.)

3.)  In keeping with the food intolerance theme: If food is love, then that explains why I am still single.

4.)  I have officially given up on my quest to adopt a dog.  I am now focusing my efforts on a Chia pet collection.  Bonus: My landlord does not charge a $300 pet deposit for Chias.

5.)  Why do people always ask “Are you afraid of dying?” I’m afraid of the unknown on I-87 during rush hour. So yeah, death freaks me out. 

6.)  Cold & Flu PSA: Everyone in my office is infected and sneezing. And while I get the whole post H1N1 “sneeze into your arm” trend … I just want to remind people that Kleenex is still an option.  Especially if I have to sit across from you and your decorated sleeves in a meeting.

7.)  I recently read that anxiety disorder is a genetically-based condition passed down through generations.  Why couldn’t I just get a funky ear lobe or a freakishly long index finger like a normal person?

8.)  The most negative person I know just complemented my outfit and told me I was a peaceful person.  This means one of two things: either she is about to shed her human form, or she screwed up big time and is trying to assemble allies. I’m not buying whatever she’s pedaling.

9.)  It’s probably not emotionally healthy to long for raisins as much as I do.

10.)Even though my 38th birthday is Sunday, I already have food limitations, an arthritic shoulder, a spastic bladder, and an inability to drink caffeine after 2pm.  So basically I’m just waiting for the discounts to kick in.

The Top 10 Things That Bother Me About Facebook

(Someone challenged me to this today, so here it is):

1.)   The Games.  Look, it’s not that I don’t care about your need for a pig or a cow.  And it’s not that I don’t want to help stock your restaurant with food and furniture.  But I just can’t help you until I get my own life in order.  Also, I’m a vegan minimalist with multiple food allergies, so I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be your “go to” on this stuff anyway.  Incidentally, your online progress is now hidden from my newsfeed.

2.)  The Passive Aggressive Post.  When you say things like: “I hate it when men think it’s ok to promise to meet you at 6:00 and then don’t show up til 6:30 and hand you some lame excuse about having car trouble even though you KNOW they were with their ex!” a few things are happening for me:
a.    Even in the creative writing world, the run-on sentence is over;
b.    Since it’s pretty clear that you’re actually talking about your husband/boyfriend, I’m guessing that maybe he ditched you for his ex because she doesn’t air his dirty laundry on Facebook;
c.    The only thing that interests me less than the problems in my own relationships are the problems in other people’s;
d.     ALL CAPS and !!exclamation points!! in the same sentence are simply too much.  Like jewelry and make-up, choose one. Choose wisely.

3.)   I think we can all agree: the rolling ticker down the right hand side.  Period.

4.)  The text box in the lower right hand corner, with that little green dot that lets people know “Hey, I am actually here. I’m just ignoring you.”  I use Facebook to avoid engaging and to avoid having to admit that I am avoiding engaging.

5.)  The messages that “A friend has just answered a question” about me that then force me to give up all my personal information in order to see said question. And answer.  Neither of which actually exist.

6.)  As far as I know, Facebook is not planning on charging people money. But who among us doesn’t jump in on that monthly conversation?  I know I do. ::Guilty::

7.)  The Usurpers.  You know the ones. They start out talking to you on your page, but then end up talking to each other, on the post you started, ON your page, with so many inside jokes between them that you couldn’t participate even if you wanted to.

8.)  The Fake out.  You know this one too. The one that keeps posting things like “I’m taking a break from Facebook” and “I’m just not going to post anymore.”  The only person that annoys me more than this person is the people that beg him/her to stay.  Isn’t there enough emotional manipulation in the real world?!

9.)  Somewhat related to Number 8: the “I’m cleaning out my friends list, so let me know if you want to be my friend or I’m ditching you.”  I’m paraphrasing here of course, but you get the point.  Honestly, if I don’t make the cut, then I shouldn’t be asking to make the cut.  Because that would just make me seem desperate.  And if you want a desperate friend, then you’re not the kind of person I even want to be friends with.  Or something like that.

10.)               The addiction.  And I am pointing at myself as well.  I would much rather scroll down my computer screen at the end of a long day than call (or even email) so many truly meaningful people in my life.  The people I once had to make an effort with, once had to interact with through actual, physical contact.  I guess it’s the way of the world now, and we’re all living in it.  While I am grateful that Facebook has put me in touch with many people I had lost over the years, and many people I have met through other people, I often wonder if it has encouraged and rewarded my social laziness, even as it has brought the world into my living room and allowed me to live in it from the comfort of my own couch. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today's Random Ten

1.)  I have decided to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, as part of National Novel Writing Month.  Incidentally, anyone know when National Get Paid Without Working Month is?  I’d like to get started on both endeavors as soon as possible.

2.)  The fact that I am on day seven of a seasonal cold proves that I am, indeed, capable of a long-term relationship after all.

3.)  Does anyone know where I can find the picket line dedicated to protesting pajama jeans?

4.)  I am now referring to all my doctors, specialists, and practitioners as: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.”  See you on the other side of the wall, Mr. Dumpty. 

5.)  I am contemplating filling an empty M&M bag with organic pumpkin seeds so I look like a normal emotional eater with a normal trigger food.

6.)  On sunny, cool, autumn days like today, I wish I was at home, curled up on my couch, wearing my favorite sweats, wrapped in my favorite blanket, reading my favorite book. I also feel like this every Monday through Friday between the hours of 9am and 5pm. 

7.)  If there is any experience on Earth as unpleasant as the smell of microwaved fish emanating from the office kitchen in the middle of a workday, I don’t recall ever having experienced it.  But that’s probably just because I was knocked out for my root canal and can’t remember my “colic years.”

8.)  (Numbers 1-7 above bring me 242 words closer to my 50,000 word novel.  In case you’re counting.)

9.)  I always think pink is a good color on me until I catch a glimpse of myself actually wearing it.

10.)  Sometimes when people talk to me, I just answer “Yeah, uh huh” to everything they say.  This is usually a good way to avoid unwanted distractions and conversations.  This is also a good way to end up on the office Kitchen Inventory Committee against your will and without your knowledge.  I’m in charge of paper towels.  I don’t know what that means, either.

Why do they ask?

I usually buy my lunch foods at the Hannaford across the road from my office. They are incredibly helpful and professional there. In fact, the ONLY cashier I don't care for is the woman who licks her fingers before sliding your change out of her drawer and into your hand. No thanks.

Just about every day, while scanning my items, the cashier asks "Did you find everything you were looking for?" I always say "Yes, thanks" either because it's true, or because I am in a hurry and found a suitable substitute. But today they were out of everything. My lunch Plan A and Plan B fell apart. So when I got to the register, I waited for the question. And when it came, I responded with "No, I actually couldn't find any vegetables and you're all out of organic raisins, gluten free oatmeal, and brown rice."

I waited. I figured I would get some info about shipment plans, maybe a secret stash in the back storeroom I could pilfer from. Something useful. And then, the response came:

"Wow. Bummer. Yeah, we're running low."

Thank God for bananas.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hasky’s Random Thoughts

Some Wednesday afternoon lightness:

1.) I just read that Mariah Carey battles junk food cravings. She does not have my sympathy. At least not for that.

2.) Bananas are Mother Nature’s candy.

3.) If you think that playing your music in your office will signal whining, negative coworkers to leave you alone, you’re wrong.

4.) I am oddly drawn to the smell of Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion With Aloe. I wonder if this is a symptom of something. Low iron? Kidney malfunction?

5.) The zit sisters have moved into the southern hemisphere of my chin. Welcome, ladies.

6.) Some famous writer once wrote: “I write to find out what I don’t know.” I realized as I battled my way through this morning’s painful edit that I write to prove that I don’t know anything.

7.) Where did the Octomom and the Balloon Boy go? They were both pretty big news stories at one time. I’m suspicious that they have teamed up and that someday soon we will see eight little hot air balloons flying overhead and a bunch of crazy parents in hair and makeup running after them faking fear and concern.

8.) Water is like emotions: overrated but unavoidable. So I swallow both.

9.) My birthday has become like every other annual appointment I try to avoid until I Google the consequences of avoidance and see “Death” listed as Number 1.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Starting the Next Chapter

My friend Patty posted this on Facebook today.  And it is the perfect response to my "How do I get through this latest episode of writer's block?"

I edit as I write - and it is a curse.  My writer friends sit through seminars and workshops, their hands sailing across white paper, slowly filling the lines with inky thoughts and useful freewrites.  I execute a single opening sentence, then waste the rest of the time revising it.  Editing.  In some cases, censoring. (Um, are we gonna have to read these out loud?).  Who edits a freewrite as they go?  And still considers it a "freewrite"?!

Again with the life/writing-writing/life mirror, I know.  But it's true  --  you can't move forward if you are always looking back.  And yet, at the same time, you can adjust the future by being aware of the past.  And sometimes, every now and then, after you have moved forward, learned something new, added more words and images to your story, you can go back to a certain place, at a certain time, and delete that comma.  Or combine those two fragments.  Or, if you're really brave (or desperate), kill off that powerful hero you thought was going to triumph in the final sentence.  Because you've glimpsed the future, and things look different as you move forward.  Not better or worse, just different.  Because "forward" is where hope is.  Where possibility lies.  Where all you've done and labored over exhales and expands into a stronger version of itself.  Connected to its origin, but somehow uniquely itself.

And I don't know about you, but when it comes to writing and life, I would rather spend my time filling up the blank pages instead of trying to empty the ones that have already passed me by.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I'm submitting a piece to"Bookmarks," an annual program offered by the Arts Center of the Capital Region. As a way of inviting local writers to share (and hopefully read) work on a variety of topics, the Arts Center is seeking essays about Family and the Holidays.  I mean, come on. How can I not?

While I support recycling everywhere but in my writing, I couldn't help but think about a piece I wrote last year titled: "Christmas Pageant Touchdown."  In a nutshell, it centers on the 1984 St. Mary's of the Lake Christmas Pageant the year I was cast in the coveted role of Mary.  I was the envy of all the little angel girls and the shepherd girls (thus began my lifelong experience with the "there are always more girls than boys in theater" reality).  We even  had to change Wise Men to Wise People that year, to accomodate the female Balthasar, a gender risk I like to think put us progressively ahead of our time.  As Mary, I had to carry the baby Jesus (a donated Betsy Wetsy doll) down the center aisle, walking slowly and with purpose, before laying him gently in his wicker crib.  I thought I had everything under control, until the perfect storm hit: a mischevious altar boy, an erupting incense ball, and a series of sneezes that launched Betsy Wetsy Jesus from my maternal arms and up the center aisle like a Hail Mary Pass.  Thus marked the end of my pageant career and the most memorable living Nativity in the history of St. Mary's parish.

When I saw the Bookmarks "Call for Entries" I knew I wanted to submit this piece.  As one of few humorous pieces I have written in my relatively short writing life, it is certainly in keeping with my newfound theme of "Lighten Up."  It's funny.  It's light.  It speaks to the 11 year-old experinece of "everything is a crisis and a drama" and it layers the adult perspective of reflection and reframing throughout.  And by the end, and "in spite of myself," I do manage to deliver Jesus to the manger. So all is well, at least in terms of the human race.  Perfect. 

Except ...  essays submitted in this category could not exceed 750 words.  No exceptions.

My piece, as you might imagine (based on how many words I used to merely summarize it here), was a bit longer than that.  Eight-hundred thiry-five words longer, to be exact, bringing the total word count to 1,585.  I was pretty sure there was no way to cut the piece in half (plus an additional 43 words) without losing essential  meaning.  But everything I am reading about craft and word economy and "clean writing" motivated me to try.  If nothing else, it could be a good exercise in ... trying.  And a good learning experience in ... failing.

So I went to work.  The adverbs were the first to go.  I slashed most words ending in "ly" without too much pain.  I could easily see how ineffective they were. How unnecessary, and actually how distracting.  The next casulties were the repitious phrases.  Statements like "I shot him a glare of condemnation" became "I glared" and "The fragrant smell of fresh winter pine" gave birth to "Fresh pine."  This was a bit harder than  the adverb killing, but felt simulateously liberating, and gave my reader a little credit for the ability to read without being led.  As I worked my way through the essay for a third time, I noticed that the first two slayings had gotten me started on the final major editing task: my darlings.  My pearls.  Those beautifully unnecessary phrases and rhythmic but distracting words that showcase my skill for metaphor and my love of literary devices.  One at a time, I popped them and watched them vanish.  What I didn't expect, however, was that in their absence, the concrete words around them expanded, grew richer, filled in the white space and told the story in direct, clear language.  And my story, my experience, was actually funnier without all the fluff.  More compact.  More urgent, just as everything was for me at age 11 (and sometimes as it continues to feel at age 37).  I let the extras fall away and was left with the beautiful core of my experience - pure, precise, perfect.  At least as perfect as my memory could reconstruct it and my current state of mind could recall and comment on it.  Perfect because it was finally real.  And honest.

Even as I crave metaphor, I despise cliche.  So when I say that writing mirrors life and life mirrors writing, I realize I am neither original nor concrete.  But I'm saying it anyway.  Because it occurred to me, as I struck my words from the computer screen one at time, that I was conquering a fear.  Of course, I had saved (as I always do) my original long version, and could go back to it any time I wanted to wrap myself in the security of all those words and images. All that poetry and calculated rhythm.  Yet here was a new version.  A crisper, cleaner, more exposed version.  I made a change, and nothing bad happened.  In fact, I learned something about my child self in the process.  And now, with newfound courage and a positive experience behind me, I will continue to revise myself as I submit my piece and hope for the best.

Building Muscle

"The length of the sentence isn't as important as the words in it.  Be sure that each word is significant, that it fully advances the meaning.  As you revise, delete all extraneous words: make your writing muscular." ~~ Sue William Silverman (from *Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir*)

I'm struggling with the writing process lately (or still), so I'm binge reading.  And I've really come to value the craft books as much as the memoirs themselves.  As I was making my way through Silverman's book this morning, the above quote struck me for several reasons.  First, I was actually reading the book at the gym, while hampster-wheeling my way around the elliptical machine.  The gym radio was blaring, the six gym televisions were all flashing various news and entertainment and food shows at me, and the 4:45am diehards were chatting and clanging metal weights against metal racks. 

Sounds a bit scattered, no?

I wish I were one of the peaceful zenfolk I so admire, who strive to work through one task at a time, remaining present and mindful of each moment, rather than multitasking and ADD-ing their way through life.  But I'm not.  I have a strange sort of brain filter that seeks lots of stuff at once, and then compartmentalizes it all before bringing it into focus.  Sort of.  And sometimes.

So as I muscled my way through this morning's cardio, I  bookmarked Siilverman's "make your writing muscular" advice, knowing that it was just what I needed to read today. This is just the sort of imagery that reaches me.  I am so much more likely to respond to something quick and practical over something deep and wordy, despite how deep and wordy I often tend to write.  Or live my life.  After all, you can cover up a lot of meaningless nothing with abstraction.

When I worked as a personal trainer, I was forever reminding my clients that "a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat."  While people often heard this as "a pound of muscle weights less than a pound of fat," the point was - a 150-lb woman with 15% body fat is going to wear smaller clothing than a 150-lb woman with 30% body fat.  They both weigh the same in terms of mass, but the woman with 15% body fat is physically smaller (though not lighter) than her bulkier counterpart.

So what about language?  What about word ecomomy?  When I first started thinking about lightening up my language, I thought about it in terms of "putting my language on a diet."   But perhaps that wasn't the right train of thought.  Perhaps I should have thought about it in terms of "word bulking."  Or "language carbo loading."  I don't necessarily need fewer words, but I do need tighter words.  More compact language.  More sculpted, defined language.  And, in the process, less word flab.  In keeping with the diet metaphor (a particular fascination of mine, for reasons that will follow in future posts) my work is filled with cellulite sentences and love-handled phrasing.  And yes, I love it for its individual beauty, but I know it could be a healthier version of itself, even as its beautiful curves learn to comfortably take up space in the world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lighten up? What does that mean?

I've decided to lighten up.  On several levels.  And I'm starting with words.
I tend to write the way I live.  Or do I live the way I write?  Most days, my life reads like an out-of-print book, its age-cracked spine reluctantly and infrequently snapping open to let the world peek inside. My writing group has coined me "The Metaphor Queen," while my frustrated but tolerant friends often say things like: "Stop hiding behind pretty words and just say 'it,' already."  And my writing mentor, a woman whose monthly feedback I simultaneously long for (because she is a brilliant writer and an insightful reader) and dread (because she is a brilliant writer and an insightful reader), has recently challenged me to just "go into the writing and say what you mean."

As much as I love indulging in my out-of-print life, its age-cracked spine reluctantly and infrequently snapping open to let the world peek inside, I have decided to lighten up. I am putting my language on a diet.  I am practicing word economy.  I am switching to language lite.  Clearly, I am making no promises to eliminate the highly undervalued short sentence, however.  In fact, in the absence of metaphor binges, the fragment may become my new addiction.  But for now, I am focused on saying what I mean, without the safety net of abstraction and layers of comparison to cushion or distract.

This month, my mentor has asked me to edit my previous submission (instead of submitting new work).  Her suggestions include stripping away extra words, uncovering and exposing the truth beneath the symbolism, and getting rid of all my "purple prose" (Aside: Stick a pin in "purple prose," because I love that phrase and plan to revisit it.) 

So - step one of Lighten Up begins tonight: Two hours of revision, Enya in the background, and an open window to let the fresh air blow in while the metaphors fly out.  I feel lighter just thinking about it.

The Origin of "Lighten Up"

"The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention." ~~ Sharon Salzberg

Recently, I found myself in the middle of a deep conversation with someone I trust completely.  As I complained about all the "negatives" in my life (or at least in my week), I began to hear myself from the outside - so intent on maintaining my cynicism, so sure I was correct in my assessment that everything, and I mean everything, was bad, unacceptable, insurmountable, incorrect, or simply wrong.  That was my unshakable belief about life at that moment, and I wasn't in the mood to change perspective.

And I was half right.

I was right about the whole "bad, unacceptable, insurmountable, incorrect, or simply wrong" feeling, but wrong about the "was" part.  Because nothing "was" wrong.  Nothing "was" bad.  I was (no shock here) confusing my feelings, my reality, with actual reality.  I was feeling crappy.  But that didn't mean life was crappy.  It just meant I found it easier to rewrite life to suit me, so I wouldn't have to change moods or, heaven forbid, admit that my mood was less than ideal.  After all (and be honest here - no one is judging), is your first reaction to someone's "I feel awful today" typically "Hey, let's  hang out!"? 

Yeah, I didn't think so. 

But rewrite that to suit the group mentality. Now, I bet you respond a lot differently to someone's "Man, life really sucks big time." Right?  I mean, who isn't shoving to the front of the line to get in on that conversation?  Who isn't prompted to shuffle through his/her mental rolodex of "Reasons why life sucks big time" conversation starters?  And honestly, who doesn't want to WIN that one, with the ultimate "Here's why life sucks worse for me than it does for you!!" argument?

As I sat listening to myself spit out how wrong the world was that day, and lamenting how helpless I was to change anything about my life, the person on the receiving end of my rant made an unexpected recommendation.

"Heather," she said, in her calm, gentle tone.  "I'm going to encourage you to lighten up a little."

What?  Me?  Lighten up?  I was light?  I was ... UP?  Everyone I knew thought I was funny.  And I was smack dab in the middle of a comdey writing course, for goodness sakes. And I was doing really well, writing jokes and punchlines and sitcom scripts. Granted, I wasn't ripe for a stand up act at that precise moment, but I could appreciate the light side of life.  Couldn't I?  I was all about humor!  (Wasn't I?)

And then, reality landed.  She was right.  This smart, compassionate, concerned woman sitting across from me, holding my words up like a mirror.  I looked at myself through her eyes and wondered when life had stopped being funny.  And then I realized, life hadn't done anything.  Life was the same.

 I was different.
 I had changed. 

And I found that oddly comforting for two reasons. First, no matter what, I could count on life to simply be there, unwavering, constant, consistent.  And second, if it was true that I had changed, that my feelings and my perspective had tipped at such a negative angle, then it was also true that I could shift them back into balance.  Or something like it.  Misery was merely an option, and happiness was just as available if I chose it for myself.

So, the lightening up process began.  Or at least began to take root.  What a relief to think that life is not bad, or unacceptable, or insurmountable, or incorrect, or simply wrong.  And what a relief to think that, as Sharon Salzberg suggests, "The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention."