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From behind Medium.com's paywall: Casual Observations on Social Distancing from a Semi-Agoraphobe

I'm obsessed with numbers. I lived in New York for over thirty years and the situation is so drastic that the first thing I check every morning are its COVID-19 stats. A few hours ago, there were 68,363 confirmed cases in the state, and 1,342 deaths from the virus. Two days ago the death count was 965.


I'm rooting for the home team but I'm also fascinated in that car wreck on the side of the road kind of way.

Now I live in Montana where the virus was a late entry in the race to the Pearly Gates. On March 19, 12 days ago, this vast state with less than a million people had 12 cases of the virus. Today it's 184. The snowball is rolling down the hill.


I didn't make one of those successful moves back to my hometown (12 cases today, an unofficial increase of four from two days ago via a chat with my pharmacist through her protective glass and before she thanked me for not paying in cash). I came back to Missoula loaded with shame about my weight, tired of being on public display walking dogs, to friends who have tight, ritualized lives. It became increasingly hard to leave my apartment or to make or write personal outreaches. I have more work than I'm paid for and somehow or another I get through the days — although often I have to Google what day it actually is. I haven't made the effort I should but early in the month I was getting restive and was ready to take on drink and lunch dates (I had already had one lunch date. I liked it. I wanted more.)


Then everyone was sent home from their jobs and the isolation began to press against the walls as did, increasingly, that thing, that threat. It's easy to see why physicians believed in the miasma theory for so long. COVID-19 feels like that — almost solid, like a huge cloud of gnats bearing down on every standing thing.

"France, you're the only person I'd trust to come over," one of my nieces giggled. "You're the safest person I know." But day-by-day I haven't gone to see my family, scattered around town. I've been in touch, though, which is unusual for me. I talked another niece off the ledge when she was sure she had the virus, my brother and I are in a weird circular email argument about when the country should go back to work and the fact that the mortality rates for normal influenzas are much higher than for coronavirus. I've tried to calm nerves and been successful so far, although I've been mandated to call a grand-niece who hasn't called her mother in a couple of days.


I talk to myself a lot more than I have in the past, mostly lecturing a non-existent audience on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, why the death rates for coronavirus and the flu is comparing apples and salaks, or being defensive about a snitty (and wrong) email exchange.


And I've had to go to the grocery store a couple of times, each an adventure into popular culture. My first trip was to Costco, where I was not only handed a sanitary wipe but was clicked because they're letting a certain number of people into the store at the same time. Then I was confronted with a white board announcing they were out of baby wipes, frozen chicken and a few other items. I was delighted that toilet paper wasn't on the list but when I asked later if they had any, the clerk told me they had expected a truckload the night before but it never arrived.


This is Gun Country. My first image was of some butt-crack stepping onto I-90 with a semi-automatic and highjacking the truck. It's not that ridiculous when you think about Montana and its neighbors.


It was one to a customer in Costco's dairy section, which wasn't tragic since I was on a butter quest and it comes in four-pound packs. (Eggs come in two-dozen packs, I think, and milk in two-gallon packs. We're good on the scrambled eggs front.)

Recently I read an unusually amusing essay by Ted Kyle about the mass hysteria of buying. We all know it began with hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and, as I suspected, guns and ammunition. Next came comfort food and the ice cream aisles were wiped out. Then Google recorded a huge bump in bread recipes and stores sold out of flour and yeast — and there isn't a bag of flour to be found in Missoula, which is bad news for me.


Now it's seeds and starter kits as the country gets ready to dig victory gardens. Not here yet, where it's still snowing in the mountains. Montanans are still baking bread.


I NEED me some flour! You all can buy bread easily but I depend of flour as part of my livelihood. I want to make a COVID-19 cookie: oats, avocado oil, honey, wild blueberries, turmeric, and dark chocolate, stuff that supports immunity.

At the regular grocery store customers are allowed to buy two of each thing, except for flour, toilet paper, yeast, isopropyl alcohol, and paper towels, which are things that do not exist. They're low on soups, too.


'm speculating on what the next herd-buy will be. Yesterday I got a survey question in one of my science emails. What movies, television shows, or streaming am I binging on? I'm sure all of us are sucking up something from Netflix but it was interesting to be asked what (A Discovery of Witches, if you must know. W-a-a-y too much making out and a far cry from the novels.)


Books, I hope; adult coloring books and colored pencils, maybe. Whipping cream and puff pastry for ornate desserts. I wouldn't have expected bread baking so really, it could be anything. "Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings."

Lewis Carroll should have been in coronavirus marketing.


Yesterday I called my veterinarian to make an appointment for my dog to get her bordetella updated, get her annual shots early, and discuss spaying her. No can do. We have to wait for the full year for her rabies and they're not doing any elective surgery at all. They're conserving supplies and medication for the Big Bang when it hits. As for bordetella, I'll pick up the vaccine today and get my brother to hold the beast still while I squirt it up her nose.


So yes, at last, I'm going to see people.


But only after I finish rearranging my car.


I was intent on taking a big box of things to my favorite charity store in town until it dawned on me that that would be the last place that would be open or restocking. So I've brought the box in with no place to put it, but I have recycling to drop off, as well as groceries "cooling off" in the back seat. I no longer trust who has touched the things I want from the grocery store so I take in what I need, sanitize it, and wash my hands like a heart surgeon. I'm about eight days away from bringing in the other roll of parchment paper and the hand sanitizer I don't need yet.


Sometimes it's more daunting to figure out the disinfecting of hands and products than it is to go to the grocery story and angst out over who's thinking the fatty doesn't deserve a respirator.


Do I? I'm 63, childless, exceedingly replaceable in my work, and not much of a friend.


I subscribe to too many email alerts. I know too much and I know doctors have to make decisions about who gets scarce treatments.


I can't escape COVID-19. The headlines are too dramatic to ignore: "Only One Protective Suit in Hospital," reads one that's hanging out as a possibility for my work today. "How Coronavirus Will


Change the World" is another. It's not just dark times but apocalyptic.


"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!"


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From behind Medium.com's paywall:Letter from a Reader: “My beautiful 15 year old girl who just poured her heart out to me about how fat she thinks she is and how she doesn’t think anyone will ever love her.”

This is the heartbreaking gist of a mother's seeking help that won't hurt her daughter's self-esteem.


For the purposes of this reply, let's call them Mom and Annie. Further, I believe this question is based on a Psychology Today blog I wrote seven years ago about how to work with your teen who is overweight. Thanks, Mom, for delving so deeply into my past work!


Dearest Annie, I identify. I was a trainwreck at 15, trying to fit my very round peg of a self into very narrow oblong slots. I was just shy of 240 pounds. I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to study ballet. I had recently lost 36 pounds over the course of six weeks by eating 500 calories and exercising for four hours a day over the summer but once I was back in school with after-rehearsal 4-Bs cinnamon rolls and Friday night pizza, I quickly piled it back on — plus more.


That summer's attempt to wrest myself from the beast wasn't a healthy diet, although many anorexics would applaud it. My father was a doctor and approved of what I was doing rather than scouting out a more sustainable plan of eating. I'm so very happy you can pour your heart out to your mother. I never did: she wasn't that kind of mother.


I was criticized for that blog because I told parents to give their overweight kids anything they wanted as long as it wasn't food. Tennis? Sign her up. Basketball? Put up a basket, and put it behind the house where Bobby's jiggles won't be seen. Put it up even if you have to pave a court there. Or sign him up for one-on-one lessons at a time in the gym when the court is most unobserved.


Readers felt I was telling them to spend money they didn't have.


After years of doing social media in the weight loss/health/fitness categories, I feel justified in rebutting, "Can you afford not to do these things? Your kid's life is at stake. Take out a second mortgage or a loan; make a deal that Bobby will pay you back. Do what you have to do but get him moving and be there for him as much as possible."


I can say this now with certainty because 1) it didn't happen for me and my parents could have afforded it, and 2) I've read hundreds of studies on childhood obesity. It's imperative to reverse it, no matter what it costs.


I would have loved to learn tennis, to spend time horseback riding, to be in a swimming pool a couple of times a week. No one asked me what I wanted and that's simply not excusable. It's more inexcusable because I had been educated (nine years of parochial school; a lifetime of attention given to the rivalries and athletic performances of my brothers) not to speak up and ask for these things myself. My parents assumed I would magically take care of it myself.


By the way, Mom, let's not tell Annie about any of the medical consequences of her overweight. She's got enough to handle.


I'm 63 and I've spent the last 20 years trying to figure out how my obesity could have been arrested. Along with the shame of my body, I was ashamed of my life. I'm hopeless at math — as I was failing geometry, why didn't my parents find a good tutor? When I walked into P.E. one new semester and was confronted with a beam, uneven bars, a vault, and a trampoline, why didn't someone gently tell me to go outside and walk around the athletic fields for 45 minutes?


These were the days of Joni Mitchell, Carole King ("You're beautiful as you feel" always made me snort with fury), Diane Keaton, Stevie Nicks, Judy Collins, Michelle Phillips. The girls I was attracted to wore their hair long and flowing, and dressed in long skirts or short skirts, they accessorized with loopy earrings and necklaces they beaded themselves.


(The Good Girls — the ones who were academic and worked on the yearbook — wore other clothes, but I was not a Good Girl. I was arty and angry and snotty.) So why was my mother trying to dress me like a Good Girl? And then, why did she give up dressing me at all?)


The one really good thing she did was to get me contact lenses. Late in my senior year when I was becoming more assertive about my true needs, I asked to be taken to a dermatologist, one of the smartest things I ever did. My father taught me to drive on the eve of graduation — much too late because it tied me down — and I got a car. I asked for a therapist for my graduation present. He saved my life by taking me seriously. I had few friends in university but I adored my classes.


So here are the four lessons I want you to pull from my anecdotes. 1) Be there for Annie. Get to know her. Get to know what she wants from life. 2) Sign her up for whatever physical activity she'd like to be involved in. It's less expensive to pay for private ballet lessons than bariatric surgery or insulin. Annie's metabolism is now at its strongest. On a healthy diet, adding physical activity will pull the pounds off like iron filings to a magnet. 3) Let Annie pick out the clothes that best reflect who she is. Same goes for hair, glasses/no glasses, jewelry, etc. Teach her what her best attributes are. I have great hair and good legs and navy blue eyes. That's a lot to work with if you know how to do it. Make sure she sees those people who can work wonders, dermatologists, massage therapists (the overweight/obese suffer horribly from lack of touch, as well as the stress knots caused by anxiety from shame), a really great hair dresser who works with teens and college students, etc. 4) Be her advocate, sometimes as sneakily as possible. I would have been thrilled had my mother stormed the halls over gymnastics, but I would have slunk to the floor under my desk if she'd done it over my geometry teacher's inability to pound theorems into my soft, Hawthorne-ish brain. Academics, being able to drive, being trusted are also a part of self-esteem.


NB: Who else is Annie? Is she a reader, a gamer, a Good Girl or an Arty Girl? What makes her laugh? What, besides her weight, makes her cry? Are there things she'd like to learn — that vaunted beading, or tatting, or making furniture? Hobbies are essential because when you stop wall-to-wall eating, you have time, energy, and obsessing on your hands. Fidgeting burns calories. This means binge-Netflix is not such a good idea, even without the pop corn, because when we're into a binge, we tend to sit or lie without movement. Much better to knit or read (I change positions when I read) than get hooked into one mini-series after another.


You've done a brilliant thing by getting Annie into therapy, Mom, but here are two questions: is her therapist a specialist in addiction, and does she like him/her? If the answer to the latter is meh, then look for a therapist who specializes in addiction.


It's time to face up to two things that should comfort both of you: overweight/obesity is not a moral failing. It's a chronic disease, just like epilepsy or lupus or Crohn's. I won't use diabetes because it's so closely tied to overweight/obesity and thus becomes another thing we can blame ourselves for. You need to let Annie know she has a disease and that, like all diseases, she has to take her medicine.


The second thing is that if Annie had an MRI of her brain, it would look almost exactly like the brain scan of a cocaine addict. The particulars of overweight/obesity is that most of us can not stop eating, any more than a meth user can walk away from a half-full syringe.


No one with a disease, no addict, should feel feel shame. Annie needs to learn hope.


And Mom, you need to get into therapy as well, and with an addiction specialist who will understand the almost impossibility of quitting. You need to know what's going on, what helps (exercise is strongly advised in recovery from addiction, by the way) and what doesn't. And you need to hand some of the burden of Annie's sadness over. You need to grieve her sadness and rage at it, and have a relationship with it that you have the skills to keep separate from your own life.


Here are my last two caveats. As much as is possible for a 15-year-old, put Annie in charge of her life. This has sort of been the message all the way through this answer, but it needs to be stated clearly. Let her plan and prepare her meals, decide on a clothing allowance and let her shop with you as back-up.


The second is to make sure Annie sees a metabolic specialist. (If your community doesn't have a metabolic specialist, which is a rather recent discipline, go to an endocrinologist.) I eschew the idea of bariatric surgery and if you agree with that, make sure the subject doesn't come up. But you need to know whether there is a reason for her weight gain besides eating. Rule out Cushing's disease, for instance, or diabetes. These doctors are the best prescribers for the new classes of weight loss drugs because they've studied the subject much more than an internist.


Mom, Annie: I have a lump in my throat and a sting in my nose as I conclude this. Remember, please, that there are positives in a life of sadness. There is gratitude. There is service — which I hope I have given, because my life is pretty bleak right now, mostly because of my weight. There is hope.

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From behind Medium.com's paywall: Breakfast Hacks from the Rooms

Once upon a time I was a Stepford Wife in one of the many 12-Step programs for compulsive eating/not eating. I lost 188 pounds. The magic wore off when I ran up against Life.


But now life is living alone in lockdown, social distancing, the smell of campfires obfuscating the sun, Proud and Boogaloo Boys looking for a reason to shoot off their precious weapons, and the Orange Bobblehead making it hard to imagine we'll ever stop living in a soap opera.


The Serenity Prayer is looking pretty good right now. I'm thinking of going back to the Rooms or the call-in meetings.


Plus I want to lose some weight.


I remember my first days with the Stepfords. I ate a 16-ounce salad at lunch and dinner, with four ounces of protein and a tablespoon of oil at lunch, two at dinner. Breakfast could be a measured whole carbohydrate, the equivalent of four ounces or protein, and a fruit.


The concept of no flour, wheat or sugar was, of course, anathema. But I saw results in the stories I heard from other Stepfords. And after I got the hang of it, I've pretty much stuck to a Stepford breakfast every day.


EVERYONE had yogurt — one cup — at breakfast. They raved about it. They licked their bowls clean. In my universe, yogurt was in the category of tofu and fish with tentacles. But after a while, I got really tired of oatmeal and two eggs.


So here's what I finally figured out and it's so nutritionally sound and satisfying that I want you to have the option as well.


Extracts, preferably oil-based, are the best thing to happen to breakfast since bacon. If you go to an online store that specializes in extracts, you'll be dazzled or nauseated at the variety — root beer, blue raspberry fountain flavor (???), cake flavor, bubblegum, capsicum, salted caramel… the options are as wide and weird as your ability to type "extracts" into your search engine.


Here are some recommendations:


Lemon, hazelnut, key lime, blood orange, cherry, or coconut in yogurt is terrific. (Just warning you, peach, peanut butter, egg not, and honey extracts taste like ass.) Monk fruit is your new best friend. It's the only no-calorie sweetener that doesn't have an aftertaste or give my niece headaches. Buy from Amazon because it's not cheap. If you're planning to have it out in a sugar bowl, buy the white version. The brown clumps when exposed to air. If you're eating the dictated 1/2 cup berries, adding them to your yogurt makes it feel bulkier, as well as complimenting the flavor of extract you've chosen.


And here's the thing about weighed and measured food: you can eat all the fat you want because, hey, it's four ounces or one tablespoon. Plus, fat is now a "good" food. (I can't remember he new bad food since MedPagePlus hasn't issued any warnings against quinoa.) Greek yogurt hadn't happened when I was Stepfording, butI ate full-fat Brown Cow which had a layer of yogurt fat on the top. Now I eat 5% Fage and I snigger to myself when my brother takes one of those fruit-at-the-bottom molecules when I luxuriated in a full cup and a half cup of berries. He doesn't believe me that my yogurt is better ad healthier than his.


If it's summer and the thought of a hot breakfast makes you break out in heat rash, grab a Teflon skillet and toast your 1/3 cup oats while shaking the pan over the heat just until you can smell the sulphur. It takes two — three minutes.


Another summertime go-to involves cooking brown rice in the coolest part of your day. Using 2/3 of a cup of rice, add 1/2 cup cottage or ricotta (so good!) cheese, a bit of salt, monk fruit, almond extract and berries. This and the toasted oatmeal yogurt are perfect for taking to work or when traveling because they're one container meals.


Stone fruits are also good in yogurt, as is kiwi and pineapple. Some fruits are too dense or too wet for yogurt. But if you want watermelon in your Greek God, the extract is available.


Oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal. A world unto itself.


No, you don't get to have it with maple syrup or bananas (grapes, bananas, and cherries were considered too full of sugar), but you can add maple and butter extract and monk fruit. As we wait for the election, try pumpkin spice instead of the other flavorings, or apple pie spice with a chopped apple.


From my own experience, I advise you buy the large bottles of butterscotch, butter pecan and black walnut extracts. (In a fix, we could have two rice crackers, 8 ounces of milk, two tablespoons of cream cheese. Can I tell you that, while you shouldn't indulge often, butterscotch and monk fruit added to cream cheese and spread on your rice cracker is like being human again?)


Sometimes these breakfasts didn't hold me until lunch (I lived in Brooklyn at the time. Commuting is a lot of walking and the Stepfords didn't have snacks. My sponsor suggested I try six ounces of potato instead or rice or oatmeal.


A spud, whether white or orange, with a half cup cottage cheese or two eggs scrambled in a bit of water or a good Teflon pan is incredibly satisfying. It was my breakfast today. Sometimes I saturate the potato with hot sauce or wheat-free tamari or soy sauce. Butter extract made potatoes and oatmeal a homecoming.


The last item is coffee. I get really bugged by all the things baristas do to coffee because of our cravings. While the Stepfords drank it black, there were still simple things to fancy it up. Add cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, or plain cocoa to the grounds before brewing. A tablespoon added to a pot of hazelnut, vanilla, almond or whatever else pleases you will save you five bucks (if your happy place is a Starbucks salted caramel mocha) and a gazillion calories. Use a bit of peppermint extract and cocoa in your grounds for a taste of Christmas.


H'mm. I may be talking myself into making the phone call after all…

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From behind Medium.com's paywall: Halloween: Tricking Darkness and Death — a COVID tale

It was Ireland and Scotland that gifted us with Halloween. It is a time of darkness and fear — daylight contracts to less than ten hours a day, and our forebears worried about surviving lean times and sickness in the coming winter. The scrim that separates the living from the dead, and the human from the mites of magic and mischief, is at its threadiest. The Celts of 2,000 years ago, and the Wiccans of every age, call it Samhain ("sow-win"), and it is the celebration of the new year. As befits the new year, there was a bit of cleaning involved. Each home extinguished its hearth fire before joining the community at the roaring bonfires that the Druid priests had built. Dressed in animal skins and heads, they gathered to sacrifice a portion of their crops and butchering — and, I think, to dance to the holy flames in order to drive back the dark.


The fires attracted insects, which attracted bats. They became part of the Samhain symbols and it was thought that bats in the home (remember, these were thatched cottages, usually attached to the closed shelter for animals for the sake of sharing body heat; bats would be common visitors) meant a man would die in the new year. Bats wheeling around the home signified a female death. They were feared as pronouncements of destruction and death.


After the bonfire rituals were over, each home took a faggot of the fire to relight their hearths with sacred flame. As well, they placed food and drink outside their doors, a ward against the mysteries that passed through the veil — the souls of the dead, pixies, faeries, even the devil himself — that could ruin the laid-by crops, sour the milk, or bring on sickness.


We have relics of the Celts's jack-o-lanterns, gourds carved into Voldemort-like ugliness to scare off the mischievous and tricksters and they were practical, lighting a farmer's way home from the fields or a wise woman's response to a baby being born.


It is the latter that gave rise to the iconic image of the witch, but only after the Church converted the Celts of the British Isles, which happened by about 400 A.D. The genius of the early Church was that it took elements of the beliefs and holidays of new locations it converted, stirred in some theology and produced something that new Christians were comfortable with. These traditions survive in certain Roman Catholic holy days of obligation like the Feast of the Annunciation, and in the three big holidays we all know — Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.


The belief in witches is tied to the healing women and their knowledge of plants, roots, and herbs. The Church favored the idea of doctors, a man's profession, and so the persecution began. A quick get-away, it was said, was for the witch to turn herself into a black cat. The broom was ubiquitous to womankind in the Middle Ages, and it was sometimes used as a walking stick in inclement weather. Imagine a female healer, coming in the night from her cauldron-concoctions to help a farmer with the sweating sickness. Imagine a priest or newly Christianized Karen seeing her walking through the snow with her broom to support her and her cat determined to accompany her. It's easy to see the healer as mysterious and darkly magical if you have the Church's prohibition of these women pushing you to paranoia.


"Fair is foul, and foul is fair," the Three Sisters chant in the opening of Macbeth, "Hover through the fog and filthy air." The few lines of this scene are redolent of what, by 1606, healers-turned-witches, featuring their supposed control of weather, their ability to prophesize and change the natural order, and the witches's familiars, gray cat and toad.


The Church was never innocent, and its first festivities set at the end of October time of Halloween by the Church were, not unexpectedly, Roman. Ferlia, set in late October, was a commemoration of the dead, quickly followed by the celebration of Pomona, the goddess of trees and fruit. Her symbol was the apple — is this ringing any bells?


It was not strange, then, that the Church consecrated November 1st as All Saints Day, and the 2nd as All Souls Day in the 11th century. (If you went to Catholic school when I did, you lucked out. All Souls Day is a holy day of obligation. We were obligated to go to Mass but had the day off from school. It was bitchin'.) October 31 is the hallowed eve of an important liturgical celebration and became know as…wait for it…Halloween. Trick-or-treating is the grandchild of the exchange of giving soul cakes to beggars in exchange for their prayers for the richer folks's dead. As time passed, children began to go a-souling as well. In turn, a-souling gave way to mumming, which was more fun. People dressed up as ghosts, demons, and other malevolent spirits and would recite a poem or sing a song in exchange for their hand-out.


And there were many poems, songs, scary tales associated with the Irish and Scottish observances. The Jack in jack-o-lantern refers, in Irish legend, to the drunkard, Stingy Jack, who stars in many stories of tricking or making pacts with the devil and is ultimately rejected by both hell and heaven, condemned to roam the earth with a jack-o-lantern to guide his way. The aspect of roaming is tied to the will-o'-the-wisp, or foolish fire, that twinkles scarily over the peat bogs.


The other great observance of the dead that takes place over All Hallow's Eve through All Souls Day on November 2nd, of course, is Día de los Muertos, a three-day long Central American festival of the dead. The Día de los Muertos skeletons and skulls with which we are familiar are tailored creations, painted with the favorite things, work, values, and other pictures associated with one who has passed. These are placed on home altars along with loved ones' favorite foods, drink, candy, a wash basin and towel, and flowers, usually marigolds, the flower of the dead. Candles and incense are lit to guide the souls home.


It's also a time to tidy gravesites and, on All Souls Day, everyone gathers in the graveyards to picnic and reminisce and feast with those who have passed. Día de los Muertos is, once again, a perfect amalgamation of the Roman Catholic Church and pre-Columbian customs. The marigolds, paper banners, skulls and skeletons, cleaning and offerings all come from the old civilizations that succeeded one another in Central America and Mexico.


Día de los Muertos is the most important holiday of the year, surpassing Christmas of Cinco de Mayo. Preparations for it take place months in advance.


It is not the frightening holiday that Halloween is; the dead are welcomed rather than bribed. If death isn't exactly welcomed, it is vastly different from the Celtic fear. It is said in Mexico that a person experiences three deaths: "The first death is the failure of the body. The second is the burial of the body. The most definitive death is the third death. This occurs when no one is left to remember us."


Día de los Muertos is the last continuation of life and love.


We can draw from this history some ideas of how to celebrate Halloween in the era of COVID. Have you and your kids done any excavation of your family tree? Who can you contact to find out more? This is the perfect day to go over old family photos, do some research on how the generations you can trace might have celebrated Halloween. You can buy blank skulls online or at a number of stores: decorate them either as you wish, in memory of a lost one, or as how you and your circle would like to be remembered. Masks, candles, dolls, streamers and other seasonal crafts can be viewed at GrowingUpBilingual.


Consider these traditions: bobbing for apples was once called snap-apple, in which players tried to catch an apple hanging from a doorframe by using their teeth. Irish parents often invent treasure hunts for their kids — the reward is up to you.


You might try carving squashes, or bake barnbrack, a raisin cake that the Irish eat on Halloween. It, too, predicts future events: finding a ring in the cake means marriage, and a piece of straw foretells a prosperous new year. Maybe Halloween is a good day or night to make apple sauce or plan a dinner that incorporates the foods of the celebration — squash and pumpkin, apples and other late fruits and/or vegetables.


I love the backstories of old holidays and as many games and crafts as there are for Halloween, I have to admit I like the aspect of death accepted in a season of death courted.


Tabhair aire duit féin anocht.



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From behind Medium.com's paywall: What Is the Ex-President Thinking?

I was reading the Harry Potter series when I was struck down by the flu in late January. I had a cough, minor temperature swings, dream sweats, and I couldn't leave my bed for anything but the toilet or the easiest meals. Gumbo soup, pre-cooked chicken in bottled vindaloo sauce, hot and sour soup; the nursing skills of my normally destructive dog; Harry Potter, and watching ballet documentaries on my phone entertained me between long naps.


I got tested earlier this week. I didn't have COVID-19. Only the cough and sweats fit. I could taste spicy food (it helped me cough), I had no energy to stand up in the shower. It was a run-of-the-mill flu but oh, my, I was bored in that gray space of illness.


The impeachment trial of Donald Trump made me human. I watched it on my phone in real-time, read everything I could, watched documentaries about Q, read Twitter like it was the Heathers planning college visits. I knew, as I imagine most of us did, what the outcome of the trial would be.


I also lay sweating and watching what I didn't know, hadn't seen or heard, before. Watching the January 6 riot was like every child's first night alone when the parents were out: The banging on the Capitol door, the shouts hurled at a lone officer, "You're outnumbered. There's a f*ckin' million of us out there and we are listening to Trump — your boss!"


Reading Harry Potter was a good comparison, easy and sometimes useful.


"Our historic, patriotic, and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!


"We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future."


Vs. "Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together." (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)


Now. I'm about as liberal as they come so bear with me as I make a proposal.


I think Donald Trump should have his Twitter and Facebook accounts reinstated.


"I do not forget. Thirteen long years … I want thirteen years' repayment before I forgive you," Voldemort tells the gathering of his coven in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.


Similarly, with the ex-president being a man who wants to be president for life, no matter what it takes, we need to know what he is thinking.


Yes, we'd have to listen again to the argle-bargle of his hatred of Muggles, his insults, conspiracies, disbelief in science, isolationism, obsessions, grandiosity, blame; the social media platforms would have to monitor and censure him. The pay-off, however — this is crucial and worth repeating — is that we'd know what he was thinking.


We should have known the riot would happen. "The ProudBoys will turn out in record numbers on January 6th but this time with a twist," Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, the group's president, wrote in a late-December post on Parler. They were ready and prepared to stand forth and stand up. Tarrio was arrested before the riot, but the signs of the catastrophe were there and ignored because Parler is not mainstream. We need these statements out in the open.


In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the time comes when it is important for Harry to actively seek what Voldemort is thinking, a reversal on the occlumency lessons Snape tried to give Harry.


Hermione urges: "You need to find out where Voldemort is, because he'll have the snake with him, won't he? Do it, Harry — look inside him. Why was it so easy? Because his scar has been burning for hours, yearning to show him Voldemort's thoughts?


Unknowingly, Voldemort's thoughts have revealed two of his greatest weaknesses: the Elder Wand is giving him concern, and the last inanimate Horcrux is hidden in the Room of Requirement. If only Harry had paid better attention to that room, he could have saved time and lives. (For the two of you who aren't Potter Heads, there are seven containers — or Horcruxes — into which Voldemort, seeking immortality, has split his soul.)


What did we miss on Twitter and Facebook before the insurrection? What are we missing now of planned endeavors?

We're on the cusp of an event that is probably a hot topic on Parler. Today, Q and other conspiracists believe that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as president of the United States.


The threat is finally getting some serious attention: "The United States Capitol Police Department [ha] obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4." March 4 was, until 1933, Inauguration Day. Lawmakers have been leaving town and business as usual is taking place by video conferencing.


In the Potter series, magically (OK, pun intended), all of the Death Eaters were caught, the Dementors, inferi, giant spiders, and giants seemed to melt away when Voldemort died.


This is not true of Donald Trump and his lost election. In reading threads reacting to Senator Steve Daines' posts on Facebook, I was foolishly surprised that people really do believe the election of Joe Biden is a hoax. Trump is not vanquished. He's still touting MAGA and threatening "to continuing our incredible journey together."


Prices at Trump International Hotel have tripled around the March 6 date, signifying that the ex-president believes the Q prediction will, at the very least, bring people to Washington, D.C. And it demonstrates the Second Coming will happen in the capital rather than, say, Roy, Montana.


We know what, when, where, and why; after arrests of a number of group leaders we now don't know who, and that makes the difference between any old Rapture and another attack on the country's highest institutions. We need to know what Trump is thinking.


More than a dozen insurrectionists of January 6 say that it was Trump's personal leadership that led them to the Capitol steps. "I believed I was following the instructions of former President Trump," said Garret Miller in a statement released through his lawyer.


Steven Hassan warns that we can't talk MAGA supporters out of thinking what they think. "Get into a strategic and interactive mode by building a good rapport with them, asking good questions, and giving them time to answer before following up. Tell them, 'Share with me what you think is a really reputable article. I'll read it and get back to you on it, if you agree to read something I share with you. But the deal is we both listen respectfully to each other.'"


Colin Dickey tells believers: "'I don't know if you're right or wrong, but if you were right, I would expect the following to happen…' My goal is usually to press the believer's own recognition of internal contradictions so that the belief itself gets harder to sustain… When comparing conspiracy theories to their real-world counterparts, what becomes clear is how conspiracists tend to see the world on a fairly abstract level. There is a purposeful lack of detail and specificity since such detail will reveal inherent problems and contradictions with the theory."


Let's push the Parler-users back onto mainstream media, let's monitor what is happening, and then throw a rope down the Rabbit Hole and let them find different explanations for what they believe. This is a civic duty. Turn them away from Donald Trump, who, like Voldemort, can be disappointed and defeated in his hope "'…[to] recall the banished giants … I shall have all my devoted servants returned to me, and an army of creature whom all shall share.'"


Our work is ahead of us. No one — including our ex-president — can be silent.

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From behind Medium.com's paywall: Dear War Veterans:

I can guess at why you keep your war experiences to yourself. Perhaps, you think, if you tell civilians what happened over "there," we will judge you, or you will further judge yourself. Your evil will be exposed, or your heart. Maybe you want to protect us.


The thing is, we sent you to battle. We don't deserve to be protected from what we allowed. We are part of your story, the story of war.


How, you ask.

I am old enough to have watched the Vietnam Conflict on television every night — and it really was watching a war in near real time. There was no censorship, journalists were free to hitch a ride to any hotspot they could find transportation to, and many of those journalists were freelance. It was the last time a Chief of Staff would allow such breezy access to a combat zone. It was exciting and terrifying because my brothers were heading into that world that seemed to be composed of smoke.


My oldest brother graduated from high school in 1966 and proceeded to lie in order to join the Marines (he was missing a hip joint from a childhood autoimmune disease). He graduated from rifle school in December of that year and arrived in Vietnam in January, 1967, where he was assigned to an artillery unit not far, but worlds away, from Da Nang. I remember reading a letter he wrote to my mother at the time in which he said "things ave been a little tough around here." "Things" refers to the Tet Offensive. Later, when the Viet Mihn had receded into their hidey-holes and mountains, he transferred to a CAP (Citizen Action Plan) unit. CAP units were the Marine Corps's hearts and minds program, wherein GIs lived and worked in a village, winning the trust of the locals and teaching them to fight. This had nothing to do with ARVIN, the South Vietnamese Army. It was villages fighting their own battles with the help of eight or so Americans on the information villagers could be privy to.


These are the only two things he told us when he came back — his assignments. The rest was lies. I've spent forty years trying to unravel and understand them and him. Most recently I requested and received his service record. It was revealing. He mustered out of the Marines as a lance corporal, almost impossible for someone who saw as much combat as he. He'd told us that he was knocked back to private first class because of some wildly successful but highly illegal ploy on his part. But his records frankly show that he was due for a promotion but shipped out before it came through. I know that he went native because when he came home he blacked out his face and very blonde hair, put on a pair of black pajamas and went prowling. One night he asked if I would lend him my rosary.


He didn't explain this and it didn't go on for long, and it hurt my 13-year-old heart that he didn't tell me what or whom he was looking for and what he prayed for. I only knew it was something bad and tragic. Had he wanted to keep that secret, he shouldn't have asked for my rosary. There were plenty of them in a drawer dedicated to the detritus of Catholicism. He wanted me to witness this guilt. Without explanation.


He stopped writing home after he left his artillery unit — we didn't hear from him for almost a year. His later descriptions of his time in CAP would make a classic movie: building a schoolhouse, some lazy times on the Gulf of Tonkin (CAP units were north of Da Nang, between Highway 1 and the coast), tense fire fights at night. There was even a love element.


If there was, in fact, a Vietnamese Liat (see South Pacific), then why did he not sign up for another tour, as his records reveal a conversation about? He told us he wanted to do another two-year tour but was refused. Why did he lie about that? My next oldest brother was joining up in six months; my father was a veteran of Korea, a doctor during the worst battles in that sorrowful war. They, at least, would have some understanding. The rosary thing brought me into this circle of people who would understand.


Maybe it was to put us off from less trivial events, which, given the black pajama days, worked about as well as standing in the middle of the yard while playing hide-and-seek. Or maybe it was for a rebel's glory.


But I was there. drinking shots of tequila at 11 a.m., when Saigon fell. I saw the overfull helicopters tilting out to sea, the ships crawling with refugees, the legions of people taking what they could and heading for the possibility of anonymity in the countryside. I also saw my brother put his fist through a wall. I saw him getting drunk, which would reignite the malaria he caught in Vietnam. I saw him weep.

For the last seven years he had the pride of Marines and the love of a lush, dangerous country. Pride and love were locked away. Did he feel that he, too, was locked away?


He and I didn't always get along and one day I set out a big stack of nonfiction books about the war, hoping either to irk him into telling some true stories or, at least, to irk him.


His reaction was surprising. He fell on them like a kid on Christmas morning. I think he was lonely. I think he desperately wanted to swap stories and laugh or wail in recognition. I had given him half of what he might have been longing before.


He died in 1987. He had been attending a group for Vietnam veterans and at the memorial, one of them told me that, beneath the habitual lies and occasional outbursts of unacceptable violence, he was really a good guy. I gaped at him in astonishment and then someone came over with condolences and I never caught up with this man who might know some of the truth.


And so I have read and watched everything I can find about the war and about CAP units. I loved and hated my brother, and some of my hate was not knowing the truth about him. Nothing would have surprised, shocked or disgusted me; his life had already done that. The movies and Ken Burns had already done that (Ken Burns's The Vietnam War was not about the war. It was about policy wonks and anti-war demonstrations.) I can close my eyes and feel the wall of hot humidity, the smell of creosote and iron seeping from the wounded and dead, hear the chaos and cries for help, feel the sweat pouring into eyes and crotch, see the mayhem and, most frighteningly of all, the Vietnamese boy aiming his vz.24 at me — me, who had done nothing worse before this hell than get

drunk and skip Latin…


So why not answer questions about your war. We sent you "there" and it is our obligation to know the truth in order to shoulder our own culpability and complicity. We are not made of glass; we will not break. The more you speak of it, the less it will come for you in the sound of fireworks, the backfiring of a car, the peculiar mix of colors in a random sunset. "It reminds me of this time in Afghanistan when…" is much more cathartic than a dream or a flashback, although you may need professional help for them as well.


By "we" I speak of empathetic listeners. You'll know they're not if within minutes of a conversation they ask about killing. You'll know if they insert themselves with opinions and flat statements rather than questions of clarification and experience.


It's time to talk to us. You might be surprised at how much we love and accept you. Close the distance, come back to ordinariness, let us share the burdens, let us love you.


Semper Fi and Aim High and an open-handed Veterans Day to all.


Best regards,



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How Do I Get An Agent? - Fiction

This is the second most frequently asked question in my life, right after, "what is your diet?" and a childhood friend wrote me about it last week.

If a question is asked this often, it's probably a good idea to answer it someplace once and for all so that I don't have to answer it again.

"How do I get an agent?" is unanswerable. It is unanswerable in the short run because I don't know what you want an agent for. Fiction? Nonfiction? Historical fiction? Cozy mystery? Biography? How-to?

First lesson: Know your category. No one can begin to tackle this until s/he knows what you have to offer. Agents tend to have likes and dislikes. I couldn't, for instance, get into fantasy for love or money, although I like magical realism. Nor did I represent romances or science fiction.

I was merely deeply skeptical of everything else.

Let's say you've written a novel. The next question that needs to be asked applies to every kind of novel: is it finished?

Next: have you copy-edited it tightly? Have you compared its length to other books in the same genre?

It costs more to publish a long book than a short one. That's a simple matter of paper, ink, printing charges and the time given the book by its editorial and rights staff.* I advise any writer in these days of a severely slumped book market to keep it short.

Have you edited it to be as compact as possible? I'm not talking pulling the margins out so that a 500-page manuscript becomes 400 pages. Is its word count as low as possible while retaining story and style?

OK. I'm assuming you've now clarified what genre the book fits into and that you've cleaned the manuscript up. It's time, then, to write the query letter which is now, more often than not, sent be email.

You have four paragraphs, two of which are perfunctory -- the greeting, in which you state the genre of your manuscript, and the thanks at the end. The second paragraph is a description of the novel, which you will make as brief as possible. DO NOT TELL THE AGENT WHAT THE NOVEL MEANS. Stick to its plot -- "Cinderella is the beautiful stepdaughter condemned to a life a drudgery. When the prince of the kingdom decides to take a wife..."

The other piece of that paragraph is mention who the novel's cousins are. If it's historical, is it literary, like GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING? Is it popular, Rosalind Laker? Is it the first in a series, like Philippa Gregory's novels set around the Tudor courts?

You might think you're unique or that it's dangerous to mention the competition. You aren't unique and Chevalier, Gregory and Laker are not your competition. They are your betters, what you aspire to as a first-time author. I'm not insulting you. Not that long ago these authors were being asked to define the writers and books they were like.

And publishing is not the most creative business in the world. It doesn't like books that fall between slots because it's difficult to market them. I know this because my books have fallen between slots. Health? Memoir? Diet and weight loss? I find my books in all kinds of areas in bookstores.

Your second paragraph is biographical and it needs to stick to what is pertinent to the sale of the book. Do you have prior publications? Do you have a degree that will make you more of an expert in this genre? Do you work in a field associated with your degree and genre?

The agent doesn't need to know if you're married, have children, like to knit or play golf. All of that can come up over lunch, later.

There are scads of books out there on how to get a literary agent. I'm giving you my experience here but you'll need to invest in at least one of them for the directory of agents.

In choosing whom to submit your work to, your first resource is who your cousins' agents are. You'll most likely find this information in the author's acknowledgments. You probably won't recognize all the names there and the author may not make it clear who her/his agent is, so use your directory to figure it out.

The directory will also tell you what the agent's interests are, what books s/he represents and, often, whether the agent is open to new clients and what kind of proposal s/he wants to receive.

The directory that I felt gave me the best space to represent something of who I am is Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over! I recommend it for that reason. If you're reading this, you can hopefully skip buying the books about "pitching" your book.

It's not that complicated. And back in the day, no one in publishing actually used the word "pitch".

Next up: Nonfiction.

*"Rights" refers to the various subsidiary sales in a book's life: first serial (excerpt in magazine in the same month of the book's publication), second serial, audio, book clubs, film and television, foreign rights) Read More 
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In Defence of Kindle and the Reader

I was chatting with my agent last week who was bemoaning the State of Publishing. Mind you, in the thirty-one years I've been in or around the business, we have been bemoaning the State of Publishing. In bad times, there were stock market crashes. In good times, there were buy-outs and mergers. Bantam Doubleday Dell, for instance, were once three separate publishers that merged together and then, eventually, were merged into Random House. The rules changed about imprints within the company competing in auctions or who we could submit work to.

Still, the State of Publishing is pretty bad right now. One event coordinator in the Northwest told me that their store had hosted a couple of readings by local authors and no one showed up. (Was I ever grateful I had a decent audience.) When houses are being repossessed and people are loathe to buy a new refrigerator, it's hard to slap down twenty-five bucks on a new hardcover.

"And then there's this whole digital book mess," she said.

"I think it will be the saving of us," I responded.

She was shocked. "How can you say that? The book prices are so low!"

"What's the royalty on a Kindle sale?"

"Twenty-five percent," she said.

"OK, so ten percent of a twenty-five-dollar hardcover is two dollars and fifty cents. Twenty-five percent of a ten-dollar Kindle book is...two dollars and fifty cents. AND it's a one-off."

"What do you mean?

"You can't resell a digital book. You can't loan it. You can't donate it. The price makes purchasing easier to swallow and if you have a whim in the middle of the night or during a blizzard, you can still get your book immediately."

"Ah," she conceded. "I hadn't thought of it that way. Should you write about this"


I can't believe that my reasoning hasn't been written about in the trade magazines or the press, so I'm sticking it up here.

Is the reader hurt by the digital book? Of course. The device itself isn't cheap. You can't use it for academic purposes because at least the Kindle doesn't have page numbers. There are other drawbacks as well, but the main one is that you might not be able to get The Girl Who Played with Hornet Tattoos at a garage sale for a dollar or at a used bookstore for five dollars. You can still buy it used at Amazon or other resale sites -- for about fifteen dollars.

Which is five dollars more than you'd pay on your Kindle or Sony Reader.

And which cheats the publisher and author out of their ninety and ten percent of the cover price respectively.

But there is always the library. And remember: the more you take out books from the library, the more support libraries will get in this State of the Economy, and the more you'll contribute to that book's inevitable wear and tear...so that it has to be replaced.

At ninety and ten percent of the cover price for publishers and author respectively.  Read More 
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What Book Did You Read???

Among the eighty-two thousands things an author now needs from the web in order to publicize her book is a simple gadget called the Google alert. This alert can be used for any word or phrase one wants. I still get updates on "obesity research" which I relied on while writing ANGRY FAT GIRLS and I get daily updates on "Frances Kuffel".

This alerts have grown more necessary each year because so much is being written exclusively on the web. Despite getting a lot of updates on how my books are selling on eBay, I'm also clued in to what people are saying about my writing in blogs.

Sometimes it's not pretty.

Sometimes I have to respond, as creepy as that makes me feel.

One such blog drifted on to my radar this week. I think the real problem the writer had with the book was actually with me. It's Okay to not like me. I don't like a lot of memoirists and the ones I do, I'm scared of. However, if I was going to blog about a memoir I didn't like, I would at least check my facts.

Bloggetta scoffed at how small incidents like being yelled at when my dog jumped and barked at a man who startled her can start me on a binge. I can certainly see that most people would not gain weight over such a moment but a slightly closer reading of the book would have reminded her that I suffer from depression combined with social anxiety and that one of the things that really finished off my weight gain was realizing I had been willfully ignorant about the options I had in dealing with my abusive boss.

Obviously, someone who couldn't tell her boss not to twist her nose is going to be sort of a weenie. Part of the book is about my struggle not to be such a weenie.

Nor could Bloggetta understand why being fired, with a severance package, from a bad workplace could jeopardize my thinnosity.

What are the three things considered most stressful in life? Death, moving and job change. Job loss IS job change, and I had truly identified myself as a literary agent so much that it was difficult to find another meaning in my life -- despite the fact that I was ten months away from publishing Passing for Thin. I hadn't made the transition to being a writer.

I'm venting here because Bloggetta posts on a site that allows less response than a fortune cookie. Still, I think a slightly more sensitive reading would have revealed to her that this fat lady, for one, has to factor depression into any equation. She would also have remembered that I lived in self-blame for not having defended myself in that job, or with the guy who verbally abused me over Daisy's misbehavior.

And Daisy was OF COURSE on leash, Bloggetta -- a point you really got wrong.

I often respond to thank blog writers for taking the time to read my work. If the review is simply nasty (go look at Amazon comments on PFT if you want to know what it's like to be publicly disliked for perceived venalities), I let it go. But when it's wrong, either in fact (Daisy off leash on a busy Brooklyn Street? I don't think so) or in spirit (hadn't I described how hard it is for me to identify what emotion my reaction is and how to properly express it?), I have to respond.

Because along with Google alerts, the Web is becoming the end-all of publicity. A couple of years ago, Blogalina might have read a review in the Post and decided to read the book but now it's more likely she'll read Bloggetta's take and decide to give the book a skip.

For someone who has a hard time standing up for herself, I sure have to do a lot of it lately. Read More 
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The Littlest Loser

Gad, have I been remiss with this blog or what?

The time to strike is while you're "hot" (I wish!), so I and my Oscar-winning ankle have been home working on two new books proposals, one for a group of essays, and the other another memoir that I'm not yet confident about discussing. I had an essay to write and the bulk of it took about two weeks, then I pressed home by finishing it and the other proposal in about three days.

I sent it all off to my agent on Monday night and have been lurching around in a coma/post-partum thing since. I'm determined to be more productive today while I wait to hear back. Waiting is hard at any time. When you're in a cast & you're hit with a sleet-snow storm that produces many inches of icy snow, waiting is f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

Many thanks to the comments from my last post. The yo-yo is tiring, isn't it? The worry about what to eat, whether you can pull yourself together the next day if you eat THAT -- I'm amazed at how we live.

I've kind of gotten the drift of how to use Twitter as a marketing device. I find an interesting person or product, follow it, then look at who is following that Twit. When they follow back or someone initiates a follow, I have a canned response pointing them to my book.

Ninety-nine percent of the people who follow me are weight-loss/fitness experts. My response is always, if you want to know more about why people have such a hard time with this, read my book. (The other one percent are women associated with chubby porn sites. I learned only this morning that there is such a thing as a double-L bra cup...)

I only have some hundred characters to make my point. If I had more, I'd say, "Look, Mr. Abs, you work with flabby, desperate people who have a history of trying, succeeding, failing. Why don't you think about the underlying causes of eating?"

A terrific radio interviewer recently asked me what I think of THE BIGGEST LOSER, and in particular an incident in which a coach berated a contestant during a work out.

I tried to contain my fury on the radio. We don't get fat because, gee, life is swell. We get fat for a lot of reasons, but one of the very big ones is, as a commenter said about the last post, we're stuffing down anger. What is anger but a reaction to being hurt? And being hurt is a reaction to being denied love and/or respect.

So when a coach viciously attacks an obese contestant, I freak out. The coach is pushing exactly the button that says, "Eat!" but expecting that the pressure of the show will keep him or her from doing so.

Making weight loss a competition is a crime. I could no more watch THE BIGGEST LOSER than I could a dog fight.

I remember that some years ago there was a recovery clinic for anorectics that claimed phenomenal success rates because they smothered the girls in love. This was long before I began the process that became Passing for Thin but I thought, "THAT is what we need. We fatties need to be held, reassured, coddled, LOVED. We need to be touched. We need to learn that we have all the reasons in the world to fight for our lives."

So I get furious at THE BIGGEST LOSER & the comments about laziness. If I ran a clinic for obesity, I'd have massage therapy every day. I wouldn't let patients see the scale. I'd make my staff hurrah for every clean meal eaten, every effort made to build self-respect & self-confidence. You made your bed? Gold star! Washed your hair? Aces for you! Put on EARRINGS? Go to the head of the class!

Anyone who forgoes any substance that represses scary feelings is THE BEST LOSER.

Fuck the biggest. Rejoice in the small gains & losses. Read More 
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