For Barbara…

It’s never easy to hear that someone you care about has died, especially if you’ve kept that person alive in your mind for a long time because a good fiction is sometimes better (well, maybe not better, but certainly easier) than the truth. For more than four years I’ve told myself that my friend Barbara probably moved away from her apartment in Edina (Minnesota) in 2015 and forgot to send me her new address.

I met Barbara in the spring semester of 1996. I was finishing my degree at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and she was my advanced nonfiction writing professor. She’d come out of retirement to teach the course, however “retirement” for Barbara, then 70, was hardly like most of us imagine.

We became friends that semester, and when I moved back to Pennsylvania later that year, we began a once-a-year correspondence that lasted nearly twenty years. Every Christmas, we sent each other a letter detailing the events of our year. Some went on for pages, and hers often read like mini-memoirs. Hands down she led the more exciting life. She traveled the world, each year to a new country, and when she was 80, she climbed Kilimanjaro.

In the early 2010s, when she was in her late 80s, her handwriting became more difficult to decipher and her once long correspondence filled only the blank inside of a Christmas card, but her tone never changed. She was always upbeat and joy-filled, never a word of complaint.

Except for the sympathy card I sent her in 2011 after I read in that year’s letter that her cat of nearly twenty years had died, we didn’t respond to each other’s letters except at Christmas. That was part of the unspoken understanding of our friendship. We were bound and committed (almost in defiance of the pithy nature of email) to writing once-a-year epistles that were meaty, vivid, dense, and time consuming, both in writing and reading. I looked forward to her letters with almost childlike anticipation, the kind that Christmas invokes, and I always saved her previous year’s letter to refresh my memory before reading the new one. I also mentally crafted my letter throughout the year, noting the big stuff, of course, but more importantly, the little things, like the details of a moment working in the garden or rocking a grandchild, a habit she stressed all writer wannabes should adopt.

In 2015, I was excited to tell her that, at 52, I’d started a master’s program in composition and literature, and that my decision was largely based on her example of not letting age define her. My letter wasn’t returned to sender, but neither did I receive a letter from her. My first thought was that she had become physically unable to write anymore, so I resolved that I would keep up my end of the correspondence. In 2017, when again I didn’t receive a letter, I allowed myself to think, for a few seconds, that maybe she had died, but I chose not to find out. I kept her 2014 letter in my Christmas card basket, just in case, and I imagined she was living somewhere, perhaps in Ireland, with a new cat.

Writing the Acknowledgement page for my book* last week, I included Barbara, and in typing her name, I knew it was time for the truth. I wrote an email to the alumni association at Augsburg and they forwarded it to a professor in the English department, someone I knew vaguely from back in the day. In his email this morning, he confirmed that Barbara died in 2015 after several months in hospice care.

As I formally grieve my friend, I remember and honor the role she played in my writing life, not only through her teaching and encouragement, but in how she lived and wrote about her life. Her writing was exemplary, often a model for some of my columns and blogs. While she is no longer here in the flesh, her influence will be with me for as long as I write.

Still, I will always miss her most at Christmas.

* Tentative release date for my first book is December. I will have more information about it in the upcoming months.

Emotional Transportation

My sister texted me last night to say she was on the struggle bus. I wrote back saying I was on the vacant train. I can’t think my way out of a bag this week, and I can’t retain the plot of a movie or TV show without referring to IMDb. To help shake these cobwebs, I’m cooking things that, unlike slapping together a grilled cheese, require thought and concentration. Even then, I follow a recipe like I’m stoned. It took me over an hour to make rice pilaf yesterday.

On Monday I made bread in the bread maker, which is simple enough to do, but I measured out the yeast like it was the last glass of wine I’d ever drink. I have one and half yeast packets left, enough for one loaf of English muffin bread and another loaf of bread maker bread, and it feels weird and waaaaay hypervigilant that I know that. I can buy bread in the store, but like many of you, I’m trying to limit where I go. It’s been nine days since I was in a physical store (Lowe’s for water softener salt) and it was the first time I’d worn a mask. I support wearing a mask in public, but wow…I didn’t realize how confining they are. Nothing like a little claustrophobia to go along with a heightened state of germaphobia.

I understand that this vacant feeling is part of my emotional response to the pandemic, and I admit that I have adopted old coping mechanisms, including self-judgement for utilizing old coping mechanisms, and I really need to stop “doomscrolling” before going to bed. But the one emotional transport my sister and I agreed we wouldn’t hop on is the guilt wagon.

I’m all for utilizing time creatively…in normal times. But right now, I’m not up to faking creativity. Sure, I would love to write something brilliant with this “extra” time on my hands, but never in a million years could I guilt myself into it. What I’m writing right here is borderline boring, or maybe it’s all-in boring, but it’s all I’ve got right now and that’s OK. And if I feel like reading a book or watching a show at 1:00 in the afternoon instead of being brilliant, I do it. Now, sometimes I do it with a glass of wine or I eat crackers and cheese in bed with the dog (*see the last paragraph about coping mechanisms), and sometimes I say to myself, “You should ____” (write, exercise, sweep the deck…), but I’ve gotten pretty good at shutting myself up.

Reading and Writing in Prison

“When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions.” Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice, 1974

I led an eight-week poetry workshop at our county jail a few summers ago, and there was a corrections officer who routinely laughed at me when I went through the security process to get to my classroom.

He’d say, “What do they need poetry for?” or “Writing poetry? Ha! Yeah, that’s what they need!”

I’d simply smile and say, “We all need poetry!”

I’ve been volunteering in the prison system for four years. I taught classes in writing and literature in our county jail, and I’m currently a writing mentor for the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, and an advisor/editor for the inmate-written newsletter, The Grove, at the State Correction Facility – Pine Grove. You can access our newsletters here.

I do this work because I believe with all my heart that writing and literature connects us to our humanity, and if there’s a place and time people need to feel connected to their humanity, it’s when they are in prison.

Working with the inmate community, I witness writing that is raw, truthful, powerful, self-reflective, angry, funny, searching, and every other kind of human emotion out there.

Reading poetry and literature, though, is a different animal. Upwards of 50 to 70 percent of inmates in the U.S. have not completed high school, or cannot read above a fourth-grade level. While many of my students have completed high school, almost everyone at first resists offering their ideas about a piece of writing or starting a conversation about a text that is confusing or complicated. This isn’t unique to the prison population. Could you analyze a text in front of your peers? Imagine if those peers were strangers you lived with every day! High school, college, graduate school…it doesn’t matter how much education, background knowledge, or experience you have, you’re probably going to be nervous offering a thought out loud.

What frustrates me the most is when students call themselves stupid. I know it’s a defense mechanism, so part of my job is to bring out their confidence, to help them believe in themselves as readers, and – in the grand scheme – to believe in themselves overall. So I try to select texts that speak to them or wake them up.

For instance, at Pine Grove, I met a man who goes by the pseudonym “Stone.” He writes poetry and has contributed several pieces to our newsletter. I asked him if I could use his poems in the men’s poetry workshop, and he agreed. Students couldn’t get enough. His words spoke to their feelings, and it helped them understand how to read and relate to an unfamiliar work.

Many of my female students wanted to read texts that addressed drug addiction, bad relationships, and motherhood. Their request is in keeping with what I said before: Literature helps incarcerated students relate to their humanity, to “find” themselves again, and reconnect to their former lives and selves. I don’t mean they want to wallow in their past or how they got to prison in the first place. They just need a place in which they feel engaged with a larger and similar community.

For instance, I like to use the poem “Emotional Idiot” by Maggie Estep. It’s a poem about emotional duality in an intimate relationship. It begins, “I’m an Emotional Idiot / so get away from me. / I mean, / COME HERE.” When my female students read it, several of them exclaimed, “Oh my god, that’s ME!” When male students read it, their reaction was similar, but in reverse. “Oh my god, that’s my wife!” (or girlfriend or significant other). Either way, both groups connected to the poem and, more importantly, connected to themselves and their lives.

I could go on and on with examples of how literature and writing impact incarcerated students, but I realize that some people think offering reading and writing classes to people in prison is a bunch of liberal BS. Believe me, I hear that all the time: “Why would you want to work with those people? Aren’t you scared?”

No, I’m never scared. I do this work because annually, roughly 641,000 people are released from state and federal prisons and back into our communities. The question we must all ask ourselves is: Who do we want them to be?

Study after study shows that the more literate an offender is upon release, the less chance he or she will recidivate. Check out these statistics. In general, the national recidivism rate, without engaging any education in prison, is as high as 75 percent. However:

  • Completing some high school courses cuts recidivism rates to 55 percent.
  • Vocational training cuts recidivism to 30 percent.
  • An associate degree drops the rate to 13.7 percent.
  • A bachelor’s degree reduces it to 5.6 percent.
  • A master’s brings recidivism to zero percent.

Hope is central to success on the outside, and when incarcerated individuals start to believe in themselves and believe that they can achieve academically, they can change the direction of their lives. It gives them a powerful tool that will not fail them on the outside, and can give them the confidence to engage with the difficulties that will most likely arise upon release.

“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

For more information about education and the criminal justice system, please visit the website my friend and fellow grad student developed last year,

Clinging and Distraction

Have you ever thought about someone you haven’t seen in ages, and then a few days later you see them somewhere, like the grocery store?

This morning I listened to (checked Twitter) a dharma talk that I didn’t realize would address an issue I’ve been dealing with the last several days. (Checked email. Googled “dharma talk definition.”) (A dharma talk is like a sermon given on some aspect of Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher.)

The title was “Letting Go.” Gil Fronsdal, one of my favorite dharma teachers, asked the questions, What do we cling to? What non-helpful, non-beneficial thoughts and actions can we let go of? (Made the bed.) He wasn’t talking about things, per se (Googled Marie Kondo. Her approach to tidying things is very Buddhist-like.).

Suffering happens when we have a tight grip on ideas that “limit our ability to be wise, to see, to maneuver freely in the world,” and that freedom from those limiting thoughts and actions comes only when we intentionally let go.

In December I committed, again, to writing the book I’ve been saying for years that I would finish. Despite the self-doubt and (checked the news) questioning my ability (answered a text), I’m finally doing it.

 (Emailed my daughter.) Listening to the talk, I thought about how I cling to negative thoughts about my writing, and how my tendency is, while writing, to distract myself (responded to a Facebook message), like I hope the writing will write itself while I’m doing something else. Gil suggested that when we identify what we want to let go of, that we let go into the clinging itself and ask, What’s going on with that feeling? Where are those actions coming from?

Here’s what I came up with: I cling to the fear of failure, and staying present and writing through the clinging is not easy. Ouch! Keep going! And I soothe myself by thinking that if I fail, it will be a familiar feeling and it won’t hurt as bad. I’m afraid that if I put myself out there again, my voice will be ignored, or worse, it will be like talking into an empty barrel. (This is too much. Texted a friend). And I deal with these thoughts through distraction.

As you can see, in just seven paragraphs, I left the process of writing this blog nine times! Even more times if you include the times Jim called, and the dog needed to go out, and I adjusted the electric heaters because we have to conserve gas because the gas line is frozen, and I was hungry and made a sandwich, and I was in the mood for a cup of tea.

The distractions I invent are even worse writing the book. I walk away and distract for hours and days at a time.

But here I am, near the end of this blog, back from the distractions to finish. I will get this blog on my site today (paused…reached for my phone, didn’t pick it up, didn’t give in to the desire to leave), because this is a really important topic, and I want to talk to you about it. Not about my clinging, but yours. You don’t have to get personal, but what do you cling to? What do you want to let go of so you can be more wise and move more freely in this world? Leave a comment. I promise I won’t read it as a distraction mechanism.

If you’re interested in listening to the Letting Go talk, you can click here for the link, or watch the video. What Gil says about grief and depression starting at minute 30 is especially interesting. If you get that far, let me know what you think. I’ll be blogging about it soon and would love your input.


Where Have I Been All My Life?

If there is a lesson I learn over and over again it is that nothing is permanent. Nothing stays super awesome, nothing stays super bad, and nothing stays just OK, especially if we choose them not to be.

I’ve been wandering in a haze of OKness since finishing a nutrition certification program last year. I’d spent two years training for something I thought I wanted to do, only to find out it wasn’t what I wanted to do. While I’m still committed to my own nutritional health and wellness, my heart isn’t in counseling others about theirs. My first and true love are words, and while I will continue to share my thoughts and experiences about weight and food and exercise here once in a while, I am (finally!) breathing life back into the ZenBagLady blog. And…I’m writing a novel. The weight book and the grief book are on the back burner right now as I do something I told myself years ago I couldn’t do: write fiction.

I’m not sure why I thought I couldn’t write fiction, but then, it wouldn’t be the first time I thought I couldn’t do something.

When I was a senior in high school, I went to see a guidance counselor because I thought I wanted to go to college. Maybe be an English teacher or a veterinary technician. The guidance counselor looked through my records. I was a B-minus student who skipped school a lot, usually to smoke pot in the parking lot with my friends before going to Burger King for chicken sandwiches and onion rings. I was also a student who scored in the 97th percentile in the PSATs and worked at least 20 hours a week.

The guidance counselor sat back in his chair and looked at me over the top of his glasses.

“Ever think of getting married?” he asked.

He didn’t know that I was pretty good at discussing early 20th century literature and diagramming sentences, or that I was the one in my four-person biology group who did most of the fetal pig dissecting. He didn’t know because he didn’t ask the right question, and I was too dumbfounded and eager to please authority to know what the right question was. What a kick in the pants to hear: “You’d better get married because clearly you’re not good at anything.” The even bigger kicker was that I believed him.

I got married a year later. A year after that, I had a baby and my husband died. While the guidance counselor could not have foreseen this fate, I see now how his question set me – an uncertain and naïve young woman – on a circuitous career path.

By the time I actually went to college, I’d been a waitress, a secretary, and a beer cart girl at a 9-hole golf course. Nothing wrong with any of those jobs, but I knew I had to pursue words as a career. Working full-time for most of the 10 years it took to complete my degree, nothing has been more personally satisfying than graduating Magna Cum Laude. It forever put to rest the subtextual notion that, academically, I was not good at anything.

Hopefully I’ll still be good at something academically come January when I start graduate school. Like a former editor of mine once sang, “The old gray matter, it ain’t what it used to be.” But this program is designed to prepare graduates to teach lit and comp, something I didn’t think I could do 33 years ago. So, at age 50, I’m out to prove myself wrong once again.

What have you told yourself in the past that you can’t do, only to discover you can? How do you find your way out of OKness?

A Writing Manifesto (…I think I can, I think I can…)

Let’s say you get asked to write a book about the moon. You’ve never written about the moon before, so you create an outline and do a little research before you sit down to write about the moon.

After a few chapters about the moon, you realize that you also have a lot to say about Skylab and Apollo 11. You try to focus on the moon again, but the lunar module comes into your mind and you start singing “Dark Side of the Moon” as you write about Neil Armstrong and what it might have felt like to be the first person to bounce down to the moon’s surface.

You share your work with the person who asked you to write about the moon and she tells you that no one wants to read about Skylab or Apollo 11 or the lunar module. The want to read about the moon. So you try again to write just about the moon.

But you can’t. You think the moon is limited and dull and would be so much more interesting  buoyed by stories about the getting to the moon and walking on the moon. The person who wants you to write just about the moon thinks the moon is fine the way it is and so you part ways and you put away your stories and get a job at WalMart.

That’s what writing was like from 2009-2011. I tried hard to write the book someone else envisioned, but it was like acting in a play in which I didn’t know my lines. I lacked faith to write the book I wanted to write, and so I gave up entirely and went back to school to study dietetics.

I loved school, and the experience challenged me in ways I needed to be challenged. Studying nutrition and math and science got me out of the rutted thinking I was running myself over with. Volunteering at the soup kitchen introduced me to a world I’d only read about.

But school ended four months ago, and I’ve moved away from the city and the proximity of the soup kitchen. I’ve been wandering aimlessly in the guise of getting used to this new town. I almost had myself convinced that I just need more time to figure out what I want to do with my life until yesterday, when I read an article in a Minneapolis business journal about  a company I worked for a long time ago – the one that gave me my first writing job.  The company, general contractor M.A. Mortenson, won the contract for a $200 million expansion project at the Mall of America.

I remembered when the Mall was built and how Mortenson wasn’t the general contractor, although they did their best to bid the project. Instead, they were contracted to build the parking lots. While not the same as building the largest mall in America, they knew the parking lots were important and the company put its best and brightest managers on the job. Years of experience later, they are one of the top-grossing companies in Minnesota, building skyscrapers, hospitals, and ball parks all over the country.

I have this habit of thinking and then acting on the notion that if I can’t build an entire mall, I won’t be happy building a parking lot. For the last five years I’ve thought, ‘If I can’t write this damn book (the way someone else wants me to), then I can’t write at all.’ This, I now know, is bullshit.

I’ve been writing all my life, even before I learned to print. From my sandbox, I’d regale the pine trees with stories of riding my trike and drinking Kool-Aid. I am a teller of stories – mine and other people’s – and I tell these stories in the space of 3,000 words or less. So rather than write one book about one subject, I will write one book with many stories; the book I’m supposed to write.

I started organizing my thoughts today and it was like walking into a room filled with overflowing file cabinets. There are coffee stains on the desk, a half-eaten sandwich leaning against the keyboard, cobwebs in the corner, and books piled on every chair. In my mind, the place is just the way I left it years ago.

It’s good to be “home.”

Visualizing and Patience: A Divorced Girl’s Guide to Living Alone…Kind Of

Like you haven’t noticed, I’ve avoided writing for weeks. It’s not that I don’t love my blog or love talking with all of you about weight and food and all that good stuff. It’s just that I feel like I have nothing to write about, when the truth is I have a LOT to write about. I’m just afraid to put it out there. I’m afraid if I start writing, I won’t stop.

The minute I open Microsoft Word, I find a distraction, something to keep me from the keyboard. Facebook, a computer game, making a complicated recipe, texting, something…anything…to avoid writing.

Why? Well, part of it is that whole Minnesota Norwegian Lutheran anal retentiveness. Growing up, I heard, “That’s not something we talk about,” a LOT. So why write about the stuff no one wants to talk about? Oh, but wait. People DO want to talk about it. They ARE talking about it. They’re not afraid to put it out there – their pain, their heartaches, their joy. Shelley’s blogging through her mother’s surgery . Ellen’s blogging about her post-weight-loss body and acceptance and all that huge emotional stuff.  Lyn’s blogging through sickness Samuel’s blogging though his grief.
Bloggers do this all the time. They put themselves out there. Maybe not all of it, but at least the stuff they think most people can take, the stuff we have in common. I used to do that, too. All the time. You guys know that. But then I got quiet.

It’s not like I didn’t have things to write about. I mean, I made a killer hummus the other day. I lost a pound that took me three weeks to lose. I went on an awesome hike in the 50-degree muck. But it was the background noise that kept me from writing. Those paper-thin moments when things seemed so clear, and then disolved like a communion wafer on the tongue.

Then I read this: “If you don’t visualize what you want out of life, then you are at risk of other people and external circumstances influencing your life because you are not influencing it yourself.” That’s from the book “7 Habits of Highly Frugal People.” A friend sent me this link the other day.

Except for a project in a class in high school (“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”), I’ve never visualized my life. I mean, really sat back and imagined the big picture. I’ve lived most of my life by the seat of my pants, often letting other people tell me what’s right for me, what’s wrong with me, and what I “should” do. A victim mentality, perhaps (ouch). But I really never had much of a backbone (ouch x2).

I lost weight this last time, and am keeping it off, by sheer determination. It’s probably the first thing I’ve ever done just for me. But living alone for the first time in 30 years? It’s harder than weight loss ever was.

This whole “visualizing” my life…well…that’s been the interesting part the last few months. I needed a compass and so I went to what I knew. And what I know is that, like losing weight, living alone is a lifestyle change. And when you want to incorporate change in your life, it has to become part of your life. It has to move within the fabric, the ups and downs, the scheduled and the unexpected.

I love this quote from a WW success story I read recently: “Patience is key. It took me a really long time to lose the weight. I think I became successful when I accepted that some weeks I would gain and that was OK. I didn’t let weight gain give me an excuse to throw in the towel. When I realized I didn’t have to be perfect, I was able to commit.”

Finances, weight loss, getting used to living alone…it all takes a certain degree of commitment, acceptance, and forgiveness. There is a learning curve, and with that learning curve there must be patience.

Just as I learned how to lose weight and I continue to learn how to maintain, I will learn to live alone. I will try to not let the people I don’t invite into my life to influence my thoughts or decisions.

What I visualize, at least right now, is a life not spent alone, but spent in the company of people I love and who intrigue me. I don’t mind cooking for one, it’s challenging. I like setting my own schedule. I can sit in the pain and the tears without running away…most of the time (HUGE step for me…FYI). I will read/listen to the criticism that is bound to come (that happens online…), but I will still blog about it. I’m doing my best to not be afraid.

Thanks for sticking with me. I really do love writing this blog and communicating with all of you.

My Book Overview: Need Your Feedback

As many of you know, I’m writing a book (what blogger isn’t, right? LOL). The proposal is done and in my agent’s hands. Now all we need is a publisher.

And readers.

I can write until I’m blue in the face, but a book isn’t much of a book without readers. So I thought I’d share my book overview with you and ask, Does this sound like a book you’d read or recommend to someone ? As always, I appreciate your feedback.

I’ve been up and down the scale more than a stripper on a pole. There isn’t a weight between 128 and 296 that I haven’t seen once, twice or five times.

Weight evokes memories, same as the smell of apple pie or the ocean or an old boyfriend’s aftershave. Pick a weight, any weight, and I can tell you who I was dating or married to, how old my kids were, where I worked (or didn’t work), who my friends were, what kind of car I drove, where I went grocery shopping, how I wore my hair, where I went on vacation, who died, who hurt me, and what church I attended.

At 249 pounds, I checked into a mental health facility for a week in 1987; attended my oldest daughter’s high school graduation in 2001; and launched a weight-loss blog in 2005.

At 200 pounds, I tucked a blouse into a skirt after losing 49 pounds in 1987, but hid in a too-large, draping black dress when I married my fourth husband in 1998.

At 170 pounds, I started college in 1989; graduated from college in 1996; and walked my youngest daughter down the aisle in 2006.

At 150 pounds in 1977, a doctor called me fat; in 2007, a doctor called me thin.

The scale began chronicling my personal history the moment I was publically called “fat” by a group of boys in junior high. Until then, I thought I was the only one who noticed my awkward pre-adolescent body. Other people noticed too, because not long after being outed as fat, I was inducted into the “Pretty Face Club” by my grandmother, a few aunts, and the guy who said he’d date me if I dropped a few pounds.

My scale number lingered in the back of my mind like a gnat. Weight was intricately woven into my life, embedded in the everyday layers of doing and being. Weight was usually a subtle discomfort wrapped in reminders as simple as seeing my reflection in a storefront window or the facial reactions of friends and strangers when they saw me. Weight became a scapegoat and dieting a deflection from what was really wrong.

Weight gain was a mostly subconscious and passive activity that happened in the background during good times and bad. But there was always a scale number that triggered an increased sensitivity to the public’s (and subsequently my own) opinion of my body, and I altered my behavior as a result. When that trigger was pulled, whether I was slightly overweight or morbidly obese, I lived life afraid of being hurt and was more inclined to forgive people their transgressions in order to avoid confrontations about my weight.

When I weighed 230 pounds the first time, my kids and I left our home for a few days because my second husband had put his fist through a bedroom wall and a living room window, and threatened to stab my brother with a butcher knife. As I drove away, he screamed out the front door, “You fucking bitch!” and I remember thinking, Thank God he didn’t call me fat.

When being sensitive and forgiving wasn’t enough, when I sensed my approval rating slipping because of my weight, I consulted the scale like a Magic 8 Ball.

“Will I and other people like me better if I lose weight?” I’d ask. The answer was always “Yes.”

Unlike weight gain, which happened without much thought, I was an active, almost vicious participant in weight loss.

I always dieted alone. Whether it was the Tic Tac and Tab diet or Weight Watchers, I didn’t seek peer support, nor did I have a clear weight goal. In diet mode, my weight was like a centipede crawling up my leg. I couldn’t get it off fast enough. I raced through a diet and claimed “goal” when enough people said I looked OK. With everyone happy, I relaxed my original determination and returned to my old way of eating more and moving less. My dance up the scale started anew, and as I danced, I completely ignored the emotional issues that instigated the weight gain and loss in the first place.

It never occurred to me that in order to stay at a goal weight, I had to eat like a person at goal, exercise like a person at goal, and most of all think like a person at goal. I chose not to acknowledge that “dieting” got me nowhere, being thin didn’t solve my self-esteem issues, and that life – whether I was big or small – kept going whether I ate a donut or a carrot. Until I did the inside work, it didn’t matter what I looked like on the outside, but the outside was always easier to manipulate.

It was during my recent (and final) dance down the scale that I finally “got it.” I could no longer deny the emotional and physical weight of 300 pounds as I confronted the potential for an onslaught of weight-related diseases, namely diabetes and arteriosclerosis. I’d also isolated myself from friends and family, hiding in a job that kept me out of the spotlight and living in a house outside of town.

Having kept a diary on and off for 30 years, I turned to journaling as a way to untangle the knots that got me to 300 pounds and its fallout. After losing 50 pounds, I launched a blog and wrote about my weight loss. More importantly, I posted progress photos and made my scale number public. It was like telling those boys from junior high to shut up, or letting my grandmother, my aunts, the boy who wouldn’t date me, and everyone else who launched an opinion about my weight know that I quit the Pretty Face Club. From then on I would not allow my weight to measure my worth. The scale was no longer my biographer.

When I was on Oprah in November 2007 after losing 167 pounds, Oprah asked me a question that was not on the script, but my answer flowed like I’d rehearsed it a thousand times.

“Can you even now look in the mirror and recognize yourself?” she asked.

“I feel like the person I am on the inside is the person I am on the outside. I feel like I match now,” I replied.

I didn’t mean that because I was standing on Oprah’s stage wearing designer “7” jeans and a Betsy Johnson belt that I had all the answers or reached enlightenment. I meant I finally figured out how to be a person who screws up, cries for no reason, gets angry at silly things, and has moments of doubt and moments of shame while at the same time be a person who pays attention to her body’s needs and who treats it with respect. I could finally acknowledge that I was kind-hearted and friendly, a good mother, sister and daughter, and my own best friend even with a body that, underneath the designer clothes, was far from perfect. I do everything I can to care for both my outside self and inside self, with both parts getting equal attention.

This final trip down the scale was a long, emotional road, but worth every second for all that I’ve learned and forgiven. In writing this book, I got to know the woman I was at every weight. I examined her intentions and compromises, her weaknesses and strengths, and in doing so, came to appreciate who she was. I no longer pity her or feel sorry for her or judge her harshly because the path she walked and the decisions she made helped me become the woman I love today.

Pick a weight, any weight, and I can tell you who I loved and how I lived. My former self, at any number, survived the best way she knew how. She endured loss, left an abusive relationship, went to college and worked full time, and raised two strong daughters. Most of all, that 300-pound woman initiated the final dance down the scale. She’s the one who finally “got it.” She lives inside me, stronger and wiser than I gave her credit for. She has my full respect.

The Gleefle That Sneefed – Lynn in First Grade

In my report card dated June 5, 1970, my teacher, Mrs. Marlene Larson, wrote: “Lynn is a good natured and friendly child who is most considerate when associating with her peers…She completes the majority of her assignments with a high degree of accuracy.” It was Mrs. Larson’s nice way of saying, “Lynn is a bit high strung and nervous. She hates conflict, hates to make mistakes, and seems to be growing a large stick out her ass.”

Ah, the good old days.

Academically, first grade was my favorite year ever. That’s when I learned how to write the alphabet, then words, then stories. I apparently was quite good at math, too, but it didn’t take long for my right brain to eat up most of my left brain, and in future years my math skills went in the toilet.

But I could write!

“In our creative writing program,” wrote Mrs. Larson, “Lynn can express her ideas through written communication. Her stories are indicative of advancement in the use of capitalization and punctuation technique.” Not exactly a rave review of the content of my stories, but it’s good to know my love of grammar was apparent from the beginning.

My parents kept a few of my stories, and dad was kind enough to put them in the envelope he gave me years ago that contained my report cards that I found last week. Here’s what I wrote, verbatim, however, in a few instances I put the real word in parenthesis so you don’t struggle trying to figure out what the heck that misspelled word is.

Jan. 28, 1970

My friend

I have a friend who lives in Omaha her name is Teela her est (used) to live here with me I love her very much her love me to

OK, so my grammar sucks in that one, but Teela is still my friend (although she doesn’t live in Omaha anymore), and look at the next one and how much my punctuation improved in just a few weeks.


March 6, 1970

If I want to go to the moon I wood see. Captain kangaroo and Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. And the Man in the moon. That’s how Mane (many). I liked it.

Some girls dreamed of being princesses. I dreamed of seeing Captain Kangaroo on the moon. Inspired, no doubt, by the moon landing seven months prior, I was apparently very excited about the possibility of space travel. I was no Phil Nowlan, but it’s fun for 44-year-old Lynn to see 6-year-old Lynn still had enthusiasm for fantasy.

This next story was no doubt inspired by my love for Dr. Seuss books. I wish I could remember what was going on in my head as I wrote this because it is incomplete. Either I wasn’t given enough time or enough space to explain what “sneefing” is. The Gleefle went to the zoo and I’m sure he meant to “sneef” while at the zoo, but he apparently didn’t get past the pig exhibit.

LynnH May 2, 1970

The Gleefle that Sneefed

Once upon a time there lived a. Gleefle and he was going to the zoo. He saw a big pig his is a big fat one to.

Sneefing could mean so many things. Maybe that’s what my husband was doing in 1970 when he and his friends got stoned at ZZ Top concerts on the beach in Galveston. Perhaps Nixon was sneefing in the White House.

This has potential as a creative writing assignment: finish the Gleefle story and define “sneef.” Care to post your ideas?

I’ve not known a time when I didn’t write. My grades in language and reading were always top notch, and I’ve kept a journal since fifth grade. I once thought about being a veterinarian, a marketing major, and a teacher, but always, always, I went back to writing. Yes, I am still sort of uptight and anxious, and that stick is still there much of the time, but writing has always been a release, a way for me to understand who I am. I appreciate it for the gift it is.

What were you passionate about as a kid? Did you recognize it then and does your career or educational path reflect that passion? As always, post a comment or send me an email. And don’t forget to make your best guess about “sneefing.”