Books, I Sing the Body Electric

Women, Food and God

Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost EverythingWomen, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the first Geneen Roth book I’ve read. I remember feeling like her other books were on fire in my hands–20 years ago? A long time. Her stories horrified me because in some ways they were so much worse than my own, but really weren’t that different at all. I was not ready to try what she was suggesting because I was not ready to feel the feelings that I feared would somehow have the power to kill me.
Two divorces later, I’m ready. “Women, Food and God” added a spiritual element that I found helpful, but mostly it was the right time for me to read her thoughts again.
Here’s Roth on “bolting”–
“But if as adults we still believe that pain will kill us, we are seeing through the eyes of the fragile selves we once were and relying on the exquisite defense we once developed: bolting. Obsessions are ways we leave before we are left because we believe that the pain of staying would kill us.
But the person who would be killed, the ‘I’ in the ‘pain is big and I am small’ belief, is an idea, a memory, an image of yourself left over from childhood. You already felt destroyed. That was then. You will never be that small again. You are not dependent on someone else to hold you, to love you so that you can continue breathing.”
In my 30s, with no career, and no sense of self, and young children, I had convinced myself that if I could somehow morph into the perfect Anima woman for my husband, all would be well, and really I had no choice but to fit my round body into some square hole, because I couldn’t cope out there by myself.
Even at 40, I still believed that validation would come in the form of a man-shaped object.
It’s nice at 50 to be over that, and to recognize that sadness, anger, grief are not going to kill me. If they could, I’d be dead already.
Roth retains the famous Eating Guidelines that freaked me out in the 1990s, and I still find them challenging.

Eat when you are hungry.

Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

Eat what your body wants.

Eat until you are satisfied.

Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.

Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

For those of us who grew up in the era of the TV tray, she’s heretical! But I’m going to try. I ate breakfast this morning without the early news, my laptop, my iPhone, a book or a newspaper. I did have a big dog drooling at the sight of my toast…but that’s a distraction I can’t fix instantaneously.

View all my reviews

All the Single Ladies, I Sing the Body Electric, Pray First

All Yours

This week I went for an annual physical, and I had that mammogram I mentioned the other day, and then the next day I got a call saying they needed to take some more pictures, and oh by the way it needed to be an appointment right next to an ultrasound appointment, just in case.

It’s been a hard few months, and I will admit that I sunk to the floor, even though this was not bad news, actually, only a request to have me come in and give them a chance to get more clarity. But in this era of being afraid to wonder “what’s next?” it felt like hard information to take in, emotionally or intellectually.

Over the next two days I told a few friends, employed avoidance/denial as a spiritual practice, cooked soup and baked muffins from scratch, wielded a shovel with unexpected power and wrote a sermon.

Today, I went for the second mammogram, and I had to admit I was terrified. Suppose something was actually wrong with me? I have a new job and I’m newly divorced and I live alone with a teenager and I have no family in the area and  not a long list of the kinds of friends locally who would see you through a crisis because I stopped being a regular person when I became a pastor and became all about my work and my friends are also clergy who work too many hours and…

then I was standing in the dressing room in a gown, waiting. And I prayed.

“I’m all yours. No matter what. I’m grateful to be alive and grateful for the love I have in my life. I’m all yours.”‘

It should not be amazing how much better I felt after that. I mean, I am a pastor. I am living a committed spiritual life. Not that the two necessarily go together, but I’d like to think they do for me. Mostly. But I am so easily spun off my stem, so ready to throw my own petals onto the fire and send myself up into smoke, when there is no need.

It felt good to stop that and pray.

Various new views were taken, in an attempt to get a better view of a suspicious area that might be nothing. The technician was fabulous, explaining exactly what we were doing, as if we were teammates in this effort, which was basically to compress the tissue (aiyiyi!!!) exactly right in case all they had seen was a wrinkle or something, in hopes that the wrinkle or something would clearly not be there after all.

I sat in the dressing room waiting, surprisingly calm, wondering if it was better or worse for her to come back quickly. Did it resemble how long a jury stayed out? I thought about the many women in my new church family who are breast cancer survivors. I thought about how they are thriving, in fact. I thought about how bad news doesn’t have to be the end of the world and wondered why I always assume it will be? I thought all this in an oddly calm fashion, for me.

Then she reappeared, smiling, and said, I kid you not, “Yay!!! We made it go away!!!”

I had to listen hard to understand what she was saying, but then I smiled, too. 
And I prayed the same words again. “I’m all yours.” And then, “Thank you.” And I thought, it’s not in my belief system to believe that God would make something wrong suddenly disappear while we were taking more pictures today, but I feel just as grateful as if that had happened exactly. 
(Not a picture of me, or my technician, but you get the idea. And weirdly, this was the poem on Writer’s Almanac today: Mammogram.)
I Sing the Body Electric, Physical Therapy, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Best laid plans, or how snow messed with me

Two things have messed with my adherence to the plan laid out for me in physical therapy.

1) Snow. When I spend half an hour or more working up a sweat shoveling snow, and thereby also using my bad shoulder a lot, I am not going to get on the elliptical.
2) Snow. When I wipe out on the steps leaving my office, I am compelled to rest the shoulder I jam by putting my arm out to break my fall. 
I am very, very lucky that I jammed and did not tear, sprain or break. But it’s frustrating to be thrown off my rhythm. I’m up to about 20 minutes on the elliptical. I’m aiming for 30, though that all depends on how my ankle responds to the increased time. I have added two more stretches, for a total of eight, each of which I hold for a minute. The next thing I might do is add another set of stretches in the evening. 
I hate to write about this stuff, because in my blogging years, there have been many commitments to one program or another, and then a sense of failure when there are interruptions or diversions from the course I’ve laid out for myself. It’s not like blogging actually makes me accountable, but more importantly it doesn’t guarantee that nothing will go wrong. So this is just a check-in, not a pledge. I’m following the instructions, and I think the PT is a great resource. 
I Sing the Body Electric, Poetry

Disperse the Qi

We wave our arms,
stretching, our hands circling

As we stand on the
painted floor and practice.

Next to me
stands  a tall slim figure

Whose graceful
fingers seem made for this,

Stroking the air
with love.


We draw energy into
our bodies,

Embracing the world,
or even the universe,

Stretching out to
bring in stardust,

To bring in some of
what we are already.


wrists,  knees and ankles revolve

drawing energy to
the center

The place where my
hands rest

One on the other,


I watch them as they
circle away and back

As they expand an
imaginary ball–

Although I close my
eyes and see the colors

Changing from purple
to black.


My fingers, short
and plump, move through the air

The light seems to
come through them.

They move and draw
in and push out

Perhaps with their
own grace,

as I disperse the Qi.

1 Cor, I Sing the Body Electric

Things I Don’t Like About Paul, Part 103

(thinking about 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only
one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to
receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the
air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to
others I myself should not be disqualified.

Yeah. That's one of them. The athletic reference is a metaphor, encouraging us to press on toward the victory of an imperishable wreath (yes, I'm quoting Philippians, which happens to be a favorite metaphorical passage).

But is the body stuff a metaphor for his spiritual discipline? It may well be, but for some reason people hear the metaphor in the first two verses, but make the end of this passage a literal one.

Maybe it's not Paul's fault, except in the sense that he forgot people tend to be bloody literal-minded. Maybe it's us, or not you and me, but other people too inclined to make his word unimaginative and anti-literary.

The body stuff bothers me because for so many centuries we've extended it to include the earth and earth's creatures, enslaving them, using them for whatever might forward our agenda, whether spiritual or military or material. It's a usage mentality, a beating myself or you or whoever into submission sort of dominant-over-matter mindset.

And there are still people putting forward an anti-body agenda, or perhaps a better word would be unembodied or postembodied, asking us to focus like mad on the apocalyptic arrival of Jesus. I guess there have always been pockets of those people, people enamored with the idea of leaving these bodies behind for something celestial. 

But I am becoming convinced that living into these bodies is part of the experience to which God calls us. Why else embody us in the first place? And I don't buy the enslaving image, for body or spirit. Jesus came to set us free from those bonds, not to command us to cinch them tighter.

So whether it's our interpretation or Paul's personal neuroses at fault here, I reject the idea of enslaving the body as a path to the imperishable wreath.


Don't Let's Call It a Diet, I Sing the Body Electric, Mothering, Poetry

Elliptically Speaking…

The paddles on the exercise machine
like snowshoes in the woods
ease my progress…

Occasionally used heavily, but
other times for hanging towels,
it fills a place…

Actual sweat runs down my neck,
constituting moderate exertion,
lights show fat burn…

The greater efforts of many years
have been poured into children
being mother…

You cannot calculate the effectiveness
of parenting in the same way,
clearly measured…

You only hope if someone stops
to track the progress you will have
seemed to matter…

The revolutions, the level of resistance,
the elevated beating of your heart,
the things that hurt…

Don't Let's Call It a Diet, I Sing the Body Electric, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Roomy Toe Boxes, The Inner Landscape

“Martha posted Desire on Typepad”

I've linked my Facebook account to my blog, and when I post here, a little note appears on my Facebook Wall. After my last post, it skipped part of the title and announced, "Martha posted Desire on Typepad."

And it occurs to me that I gave a pretty contained review of a book that in fact roiled me.

I can relate to Susan Cheever's desire, in my own way.

I'm not a drinker, although I've been known to enjoy an anniversary Cosmopolitan or a few glasses of champagne at the Big Event. But when the rheumatologist informed me that my RA medication would not go well with alcohol, I didn't have a problem with the news.

I'm definitely not a gambler. Okay, I gambled once, when Pure Luck and I spent 24 hours in Las Vegas. He gave me a roll of quarters and I promptly lost it in the slot machines. He was more successful. When the last quarter went in, he kept his winnings and walked away with $14.

My experience with any sort of illegal substances is limited to one substance, one time, and I think that makes me pretty innocent for someone my age.

You and I know where my weakness lies. When I feel that sort of empty that has nothing to do with being hungry, I eat. Reading the addiction book opens up concerns I've had throughout the weight loss process. Weight Watchers roots its plans in a moderation approach. I've written before about my own resistance to abstinence. Cheever quotes someone who says abstinence for food addicts is like taking the tiger out of the cage three times a day. You cannot give food up completely.

I've written about how abstinence terrifies me:

Probably other times, too. I think it's possible that a person who thinks about it as much as I have may need to consider it. It might turn out to be simpler than trying to figure out some way to snack without going overboard.

"Martha posted Desire on Typepad."

Over the last year, more and more people who know me in real life, and through church, read my blog, and as I look back over the old posts from Set Free about taking better care of myself, I realize I wrote more emotionally, more openly. That stopped when I became ill last spring, so that ironically my effort to get out of the birdcage and begin something new led to very careful management of how I communicated my feelings. I didn't do it to protect my readers. I sheltered myself.

It's difficult to be clear about your feelings when you cushion them in bubble wrap, whether that means the shielding of sadness or the padding of pudding. Rheumatoid Arthritis appeared to have dashed my desires of a year ago like a piece of china flung to the floor.

Some of those inclinations and wishes seem funny now. I'll never wear high heels again, but how often had I worn them anyway? I actually like a lot of the shoes with Roomy Toe Boxes.

Others feel like a real loss. It's hard to imagine ever having the energy to hike a whole mountain again; when I think of my feeling of accomplishment and joy to be able to do that in the fall of 2007, and how I assumed there would be plenty more of it to come–well, I guess it's understandable I grieved.

Or that I feel aggrieved.

But as Snowman likes to say, "I don't want to be that guy." Or that bird. I want to be the one who figures out how to live in the new situation and makes the best of it. So perhaps that sometimes makes me too eager to skip a step, or too hard on myself for having gone through a phase in which I resorted to familiar coping techniques.


I know from experience that getting clean around food, whether you follow a plan of moderation or abstinence, opens up caves I would prefer to remain sealed. I know it. My fear of RA-related deformities ties right into my fear of abandonment, with a special twist of "my mother didn't like to see people who looked different in any way."

She didn't like to see me look fat, either.

"Martha posted Desire on Typepad."

What I desired a year ago seems pretty innocent and wholesome for the most part: to keep losing weight until I reached my goal, to wear clothes that looked flattering, to hike with my husband, to feel alive, to do my work well, to support and enjoy my children. I still have all those desires.

I guess this bird's work in 2009 will be figuring out whether RA will really prevent any of those, or whether it's my feelings about RA creating the barrier.