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Book excerpt this week’s guest article in Vermont Views Magazine

July 30, 2014 – 11:36 am |


Don’t Be Afraid to Buy This Book

July 27, 2014 – 3:42 pm |

RubensWhen I tell people I have a book coming out at the end of the summer, they naturally ask, “What’s it called?” I have learned to brace myself before answering.

Magnificent Obesity,” I say with a fleeting grin in anticipation of what has become the most common reaction: embarrassment. Their eyes dart away from mine, they look startled, doubtful and yes, embarrassed.

It’s as though I have discovered a new obscene word: obesity.

The most discomfited are women who appear to have no weight issues. One such segment of trim, well groomed women in my tai chi class hemmed and hawed over the title and collectively concluded, “Well, it’s not something I would read, but I can see where others might – be interested.”

On another occasion, a family friend wept. “Oh no. Oh no. A memoir? No, that’s not you. You’re not that.” (She couldn’t even say the word.) I was a big brain with a big soul but not that. The next day she called me to suggest an alternative title: I Was a Tank Inside a Tent Dress. Which I thought was interesting, but not relevant to what I had written.

I later heard from her sister that this woman is struggling with the shock of middle-aged spread.

The most awkward reaction thus far has come from a man, a fellow volunteer at a local soup kitchen. “What’s it called?” he asked as we stood side by side tearing and chopping a mountainous delivery of kale.

I braced myself. “Magnificent Obesity.”

He looked flustered. Then he tried to look cool. “So.” He scanned me from head to toe. “I assume it’s based on personal experience?”

Lately I find myself asking men: is this a book you would give as a gift to your wife? Most say no, it would get them into trouble. They don’t want the wife looking pensive or peeved and asking, “Are you telling me I have a weight problem?” My book might be the equivalent of the query: do these pants make me look fat?

But the title is important to the outcome, although not for reasons you might think, so it stays. For me, the real issue has to do with promoting the book, not because of the title, but because of what I look like.

I am morbidly obese at the moment. I am not happy about it and, having already lost fifty pounds, I am working on a hundred more. Since it would be futile to try to turn myself into Miss Fabulous overnight, I will be soliciting recognition As Is. I must deal with attending interviews, readings, book fests and other occasions where my physical appearance and subject matter might cause embarrassment because it is So. Not. Pretty. Or professional or put-together.

The other day I started thinking about going the other way. My “talk” would begin like this:

“Hello everybody. My name is Martha and I’m a pig. I’m a hog. I am obese. I’m an epidemic, a failure, a scandal. A national disgrace. My government has declared war on me. On the very popular sit com, The Big Bang Theory, you can hear men frequently assume that fat girls suffer from low self-esteem, which makes them easy prey, and in one episode you can hear Howard Wolowitz compare watching his mother’s water aerobics class to visiting the manatee tank at the zoo, which is actually sort of funny. And yet not.

“Is obesity a disorder? Or a disease? The American Medical Association recently selected disease, in hopes of facilitating medical interventions. But now we are hearing about doctors who shy away from bringing up weight management with their obese patients because they’re afraid of insulting them.

“I would imagine their patients are already sufficiently offended by the weight bias that has been well documented among healthcare providers, (judges and juries, airlines, public health campaigns, prospective employers, fashionistas, Fit Facebook Moms, Hollywood and mass media). We are also hearing doctors complain that fat people themselves shrink from talking about their weight because it is too distressing for them.”

So there it is. That’s as far as I’ve gotten in my introduction to the book. It’s probably not appropriate. The book itself has a one-paragraph introduction stating that it is not a weight loss memoir or fat acceptance manifesto but a deeply personal reflection on the constellation of factors that may contribute to obesity, the challenges faced in reversing it and the searing emotional impact of fat shame and stigma.

At this point, all I can say is this: Don’t be afraid to buy this book. Talk about it. Say the word. Give it a new context or larger field of inquiry and debate. Let’s get beyond the cost of overweight and obesity to our health care system; let’s get beyond the health risks and longevity risks that may or may not be, the prophecies of death by diabetes and stroke, the judgment of gall stones, acid reflux and erectile dysfunction. Let’s get beyond our narrative of obesity as a national disgrace, epidemic or apocalypse. Because anybody with eyes, tact, heart and soul knows that obesity is people.

I am not a sedentary lifestyle or a leading public health problem. I am not merely a victim of genetics, fast-food chains or a rapacious, Machiavellian food industry. I am not comedy relief or the last acceptable prejudice; I am not solely a product of income, gender or race. I am people.

There are many reasons why you might not be inclined to read Magnificent Obesity. Just please, don’t let that word in the title be one of them.




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Magnificent Obesity Excerpts Published in the Commons

July 14, 2014 – 10:38 pm |

July 9 The Commons Brattleboro VT

God is Not a Christian

July 12, 2014 – 10:48 pm |

imagesIn the Biblical story of Pentecost, as the Twelve Apostles receive the Holy Spirit, they begin to speak in other languages. “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because every man heard them speak in his own language.”

And because everyone there – Cretans, Arabs, Medes, Jews and Romans – can understand what the Apostles are saying, they realize that that which connects them is stronger than that which divides them, that there is a reality more radiant than their small, dim definition of the world.

One of our Associate Priests, a man with a gift for progressive, challenging sermons, recently brought up this story to make a point.

“God is not a Christian,” he said. “But I am.”

He said he is a Christian because he needs to be part of a story of flesh and blood people trying their best, falling down and starting over and over again. He needs to place his understanding of the sacred into a story larger than himself. But the Pentecost narrative reminds him that the experience of God is universal and that Christianity is not the one true or only way to encounter the divine.

I have no trouble believing that our most lucid and powerful experiences of God pour forth from the unseen, unknown side of whatever doctrine we employ to describe him. God is not a Christian, or anything else restricted to one point in time and space, because God is greater than anything we can imagine.

Think of how vast the universe is. That is how large God’s mind must be. I don’t think that in all of Andromeda there is an object of worship and emulation called Jesus Christ. Or Mohammed. Or Buddha. And Andromeda is just one galaxy, our closest neighbor, another impossible sweep of gas, dust and a trillion stars.

Clearly, in a universe of 200, possibly 500, billion galaxies, we are not made in God’s image. We have made him in ours. And the more we try to reduce him to our own level, define him solely on our own terms, cram him inside the limits of our ability to comprehend, the further we get away from him. God is not a Christian. He can’t be. He is a mystery. He must be. I am a Christian because the Christ story sometimes embodies that mystery for me.

Moses may have seen the Promised Land, but he did not gaze upon the habitable planets of Alpha Centauri. If all people who subscribe to organized religion could separate their path from their truth and acknowledge their truth to be the inconceivable Source we all share, we might find enough common ground to live in peace.

If we could say God is not a Christian but I am, or God is not a Muslim but I am, or God is not a Hindu but I am, and be content with the knowledge that whatever God is, his great mind holds one galaxy for every star in the Milky Way, we might discover the missing link between the secular and the spiritual, between the hard facts of life and the attainment of an ideal.


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Nightmare at the Museum

July 10, 2014 – 6:21 pm |


ScreamWe all have our moments – although in this case, it should have been one moment because we are supposed to hit rock bottom only once – but let’s be merciful and remember that the best laid plans of mice, men and women who want to lose 100 pounds often go astray.

So let’s put it this way: One of my bottommost moments occurred at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, other wise known as “The Clark” in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

It was a picture-perfect mid-August afternoon. My best friend Michele’s birthday. At her request we nipped down to Williamstown and met with another friend who lived in Great Barrington for lunch. We ate an excellent Chinese meal, strolled around the charming downtown and window-shopped some cute stores before setting off for The Clark, which is justly celebrated for its French Impressionist and Academic paintings, British drawings, oil sketches and silver.

The building was under renovation that summer but still open and featuring a special exhibit of recently excavated artifacts from Shanxi and Gansu provinces of China, many of which had never been exhibited outside the country. I have a curious affinity for ancient Chinese culture and I was looking forward to coming within arm’s reach of these religious and ritual relics and what had been described on the web site as “a magnificent house-shaped sarcophagus.”

By the time we got to the Clark, however, I was in acute pain. Not just stiff and sore, but nearly incapacitated. I had been dealing with serious chronic pain for several years and it wasn’t getting any better. A combination of flat feet (which orthotics merely exacerbates), plantar fasciitis, spinal stenosis, sciatica and an impaired sacroiliac had begun to limit my life in really noticeable ways.

Add to this mix, the aging process and 140 pounds of excess weight and I had reached a point where severe pain prevented me from standing for more than four minutes at a time or walking more than one city block before I needed to sit and lull the pain until I could stand for another four minutes or walk another city block.

While my friends used the bathroom, scouted the bookstore and mapped out their route through the museum, I leaned against the information desk in the lobby in a dead halt and posture of despair. I was with my best buddy Michele, who was well aware of my chronic pain, but the friend from Great Barrington was her friend and someone I had only just met. I did not feel comfortable showing so much discomfort, self-disgust and vulnerability to a stranger.

How does one explain to a stranger who had planned a fun and festive afternoon with the girls that one has just reached a moment of life-paralysis? That at age 60, one can stand in the middle of a buzzing, busy lobby and feel as helpless as a one-year-old child? If I can’t walk, I can’t live. If I cannot walk, I cannot see the world. I felt as though I had just fallen out of legitimate, three-dimensional life into a void. I no longer qualified as human.

I glanced across the cavernous lobby and saw a bank of manual wheelchairs lined up against a wall. The very idea broke my heart, but it seemed the only solution at that particular moment. I was in so much pain I wasn’t sure I could even get to them and I almost asked an attendant to help, but bitterly, almost in anger, I forced myself to hobble across the lobby.

I managed to reach the wheelchairs on my own and that is when I hit bottom.

Little tags on their cushions warned that they had a weight capacity of 250 pounds.

A billowing gray mass clouded my vision and my soul. I felt a kind of death, a deep-set, sick apprehension that my life was coming to an end. The shame would kill me.

I weighed well over the capacity of these chairs.

Even my only solution was not an option.

This turned out not to be the case, thank God. I spotted a short row of wheelchairs with a 350-pound capacity. Michele, who is 15 years younger than me, looked startled and a little disappointed when I rolled the wheelchair up to her and stifled my humiliation long enough to explain that the only way I was going to see the tomb guardian beasts and luxury goods of ancient China would be if she pushed me. Her friend drifted off and didn’t say much to me after that.

By the time we got to Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Monet, I was back on my feet, pushing the wheelchair, which gave me something to lean on so I could still sort of walk and a convenient place to sit when the pain got to be too much. Believe me, it felt better than being pushed and being made to feel passive. Powerless. Old.

That afternoon I discovered that I did not like Renoir but that art can still thrill and uplift when I looked across the room and saw quite by surprise Frederic Remington’s “The Scout,” the well-known painting of a lone Blackfoot Indian mounted on a horse staring across a snowy plain at night. I also discovered that afternoon that I was fatter than I had ever imagined I would be and that the pain had become debilitating and that my situation was unacceptable.

A month later I wandered into the offices of the Biologic Integrative Healthcare and Wellness Center in Brattleboro, where its owner, naturopath and nutritionist Dr. Samantha Eagle, took me in hand and achieved what Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous and psychotherapy had not. I started losing weight. I guess I was ready.

I still have a long way to go in my struggle against food addiction and I know that in the best of all worlds we should not be motivated by fat shame and stigma. But for me, rock bottom was my nightmare at the museum, the sharp pang of mortification I felt when I realized that because of my weight how close I came to missing that magnificent house-shaped sarcophagus and Remington’s incandescent “The Scout.”







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Coming in Out of the Wind – My Morning Routine

July 7, 2014 – 9:15 pm |


I thought I’d try to be helpful and share my morning routine with you, despite the fact that when I went looking for other people who have shared their daily practices, Google in its impossible way showed 45,100,000 results.

They’re all there, including the harried parent trying to routinize school mornings, the mom with pre school children and instructions on how to get the kids out of bed; someone called the Productive Muslim; entrepreneurs eager to set themselves up for success all day long; people who are not morning people, people lucky enough to start the day with a swim in the ocean and the large number of people who wake up to yoga followed by Julia Cameron’s famous three pages of free writing.

There are super star daily rituals, summer routines, winter routines, advice on how to simplify and fast-track your morning routine (especially when it comes to makeup and hair) and the suggestion that in order to have a productive morning routine, you should have a restful evening routine (sleep on your right side, never cry yourself to sleep, no backlit screens in bed).

I found a fine description of the need for a morning routine while reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I am taking his words out of context when I paraphrase him as saying that the real problem of conscious life arises the very moment we wake up in the morning.

Says Lewis: “All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

I developed my morning routine after a health crisis that triggered a prolonged spell of anxiety, a three-year convulsion of tears, panic attacks, colitis, frequent heart palpitations that required emergency medical treatment and a crash course in terror management. The trauma is now behind me, but I have not forgotten the value of a morning routine. I may even have come to think of it as an enchantment against the return of evil spirits.

The routine has evolved over the years to accommodate changing circumstances in my life. Here is what it is today:

1. I begin with reading and prayers, even though I am an atheist ninety-three percent of the time. The subject matter varies but I always begin with a new thought from a book of daily reflections (which can be found for every occasion, time of life or state of mind). Right now I read from Forward Day by Day, which is issued quarterly by the Episcopal Church, where I find spiritual sustenance for the seven per cent of the time that I’m a believer.

2. I don’t go so far as to reflect on the scriptural passages assigned to that day; I just get on with the material I have assembled over the years from the Book of Common Prayer, St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, Celtic and universal peace prayers. The significant thing here is repetition, saying the same words everyday in an effort to reprogram my neural pathways and change my internal bearings from negative to positive.

I find this one to be an especially powerful re-programmer: “Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown. Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with you. I choose to live beyond regret and let you recreate my life.”

Here are other samples and excerpts:

“Come, spirit of fortitude, give me courage and determination, that in all distress and uncertainty, I may with a calm and confident spirit remain strong in faith, patient in hope and constant in love.”

“Open our eyes, Lord, that we may see all you give so abundantly and teach us to be grateful. In all that you have given us, let us see your hand and let our delight in your gift become an unending prayer of thanksgiving and an ever-growing habit of generosity toward others.”

“Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things;
Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth;
Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness;
And make me the cup of strength to suffering souls.”

3. I follow my prayers with belly breathing. You know the drill. As you inhale, expand your abdomen and pull the air into your lungs with as little movement from your chest as possible. As you exhale, flatten your abdomen, pulling your navel in toward your spine so as to empty out completely, like a balloon releasing air. Breathe through your nose: rhythmically, deeply, effortlessly.

I may say to myself, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I release all tension.” (Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Breathing out, I smile.”). Whatever my choice of words, the intent is to draw in love, peace, joy and whatever else makes me feel whole and to expel the crazies from my soul.

4. The abdominal breathing seques into meditation, which I am terrible at. But I keep trying, for at least ten minutes each morning. If I must experience thoughts at this time, I make sure they are a contemplation of some current event, issue or challenge in my life.

5. When I’m done sort of meditating, I say a morning mantra, which I wrote when I succumbed to the nameless, needless fear otherwise known as panic disorder: “It’s going to be a great day. I will arrive at all my destinations safely and so will all whom I love; I will look for God and for grace in all people, places and things; I will listen for the voice of Jesus telling me I have nothing to fear.”

6. I then set my intentions for the day. While framing a to-do list of appointments, meetings, classes, errands, activities, work assignments and social events, I visualize successful outcomes and goals fully realized.

7. Then come the gratitude prayers. I acknowledge and give thanks for all my blessings, past, present and future. I begin with the established ones: food, clothing and shelter, friends and family, good health, my intelligence, resilience and rich inner life, my creative ingenuity and the free time to exercise it. I then select three incidents from the previous day that taught me a lesson, made me feel loved or gave me joy. Sometimes I have to give this some thought, but it’s worth it because when I go digging and come up surprised, I receive the extra gift of realizing how generous life can be.

8. Next, I assign myself homework for the day. I pledge to pay special attention to a specific personal issue, dilemma or flaw. It usually has something to do with managing anxiety or being a more loving, forgiving person.

9. I conclude these devotions with the words used in a 2,500-year-old Buddhist meditation on loving-kindness: “May I be filled with loving kindness; may I be well; may I be peaceful and at ease; may I be happy.”

10. This is a good time to have sex, if it happens to be available.

11. Then it’s time for news and music. I listen to all classical all the time, except when I’m in the mood for vintage jazz.

12. It takes effort but while listening to news and music, in an effort to relieve chronic back pain, I do exercises designed to strengthen my core. I think it’s called lower abdominal retraining and it takes me from a pelvic tilt and bridging to physical feats known as Back Lying Bent Knee Fall Out, Straight Leg Raise, Isometric Abdominal, Clamshells and Hip Flexor Stretch.

13. I am now sitting up. I spend several minutes working with a foot roller and a rubber ball to help ease the pain of plantar fasciitis.

14. Then I do Tapping, otherwise known as EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), which entails tapping your fingertips on the same energy meridians used in acupuncture while addressing a personal issue with an affirmation of unconditional self-love and acceptance.

15. If I’m not planning to swim that day, I do a vigorous round of dry brushing, an ancient practice from a number of traditions considered useful for buffing away dead skin, promoting circulation and lymphatic drainage, clearing clogged pores and eliminating toxins. While a washcloth or body brush are recommended, I use a dry loofah.

16. Once I’ve brushed all over, careful to always brush toward the heart, I give myself a light oil massage. At the moment I’m using lavender skin lotion, although the Ayurvedic tradition suggests cold-pressed sesame oil that needs to be “cured” by heating and then re-bottled. I’ll get back to the sesame oil when I have time to cure it.

I’m still trying to work up the courage to swish sesame oil in my mouth every morning for cleansing the blood and treating a lengthy paragraph of ailments and disorders. I am interested because after oil swishing for a month, a friend of mine began developing the cleanest, whitest most sparkling teeth I have ever seen.

17. I finish off the massage by liberally spraying my feet with diluted peppermint oil and enthusiastically sniffing one of my favorite scents: a mixture of peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus essential oils. (This is effective for perking yourself up at any time of day.)

18. Now I’m out of bed and in the bathroom, where aside from the obvious, I scrape my tongue and gargle with warm water (supposedly good for preventing respiratory ailments). I then do nasal irrigation with a squeeze bottle instead of a neti pot and a prepackaged solution of salt and baking soda. Next I drink a tall glass of very warm water, to which I have begun adding the juice of a whole lemon. (To reduce pain and inflammation, stimulate bile production and regular bowel movements, boost energy and remove toxins.)

19. Finally I eat breakfast, which, if I’m being good, I record in a food log.

20. If I’m being really good, I follow breakfast with full body stretching or a round of tai chi. I am currently trying to switch my workout time from late afternoon to mornings, which would mean leaving the house at this point to do cardio, swimming or strength training.

I have been following different versions of this routine for seven years now. I don’t always get to every item every single morning but I never ever skip my devotions. Reading and prayer has become a vital means for grounding myself and taking back the day when I’m feeling anxious.

Even when I wake up in a miraculous state of equilibrium, my morning routine enables me to step away from what C.S. Lewis calls my natural fussings and frettings, to push back my petty wishes for the day and make room for larger life. For me, silence, reflection and self-care are equivalent to coming in out of the wind.


Fairly, the most vital aspect that is considered while buying medicaments from the Web is to make a good choice. In fact, about 35% of individuals get drugs online. Of course most pops is Viagra. What about “http://rootinfonline.com/generic-cialis-online.html” and “generic cialis online“? Is it possible to prevent erectile dysfunction? It is possible that you know about “generic cialis“. More info about the question available at “undefined”. A scientific review found that about 14 percent of men taking Zyban had sexual malfunction. So if you are experiencing sexual problems, it is vital to see a competent dispenser immediately for a complete natural expertise.