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?

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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.

LynnH

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.”