Hello and good morning — happy Wednesday (if it is indeed Wednesday where you are) to you. There is tea here, where I’m writing you from, and candlelight, and a little quiet music. No foghorns that I can hear, just a car now and again, early commuters, or maybe the paper-delivery guy.
What’s it like where you are this morning? What’s it like in you this morning?
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My online erotic writing workshop, Claiming Our Erotic Story (offered through the Transformative Language Arts Network) begins this week — we’ll be writing hard all through February, and there’s still time to register if you would like to join us!
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I am thinking a lot about hunger these days. I’m in the midst of some big transitions (it seems like this has been true for the entirety of my thirties, but here it is again), and my appetites have shifted radically. I am not hungry, and am mostly only eating when the rumbles in my stomach get loud enough that the puppy starts throwing me looks of concern, or when I am worried that my cube-mates at the day-job are going to start calling me out. I am feeding myself, let me be clear, but only just enough, small meals.
In spite of this belly-throat-shut down-conspiracy, I seem still to be filled with hunger — just not hunger for what I have fed myself with in the past.
Do you ever do this? I have been a binger — maybe not clinically so, but I used to refer to myself as a bulimic who forgot to purge. I would (and may again still, as this is a long-held and hard-won coping strategy) stuff myself with something, anything, to get away from my feelings. I binged on alcohol, food, television, and after I did so, I was left awash in shame, which allowed me to focus on that feeling instead of whatever was up for me before I filled my body with something else.
When I was living in my stepfather’s house, of course, there was no room for this sort of over-feeding; he was the only one who could binge, and he did so on us. And so it was a profound release, when I was away from him, to sit in front of the television for seven hours, knowing that no one could tell me otherwise. I was free, goddamnit. This was my right. I could eat everything in the house if I wanted to — I was liberated. If I wanted to sit at the side of the party and polish off that entire bottle of Jack Daniels, well, first, it meant that I was not going to feel anymore the ache of not being with the woman I wanted at that moment, and second, it meant that I was truly out of my stepfather’s hands (he was a wicked social climber, and would have looked down on Jack Daniels as low class, which drew the bottle into my hands surely as if it and my hands were magnetized to each other).
This coping strategy was a way of understanding how to consume, how to manage feelings of loss and rage and terror that overwhelmed my body, left my limbs limp or aching with tension, woke me nightly with terrors all through my twenties and into my thirties. I spoke about it, went to therapists and support groups, filled endless notebooks with the words I could allow myself to write about what he had done and what I had done, too — it’s not as though I was without outlet. But still this need to sit with a bag of chips and push every single one into my mouth, until I felt myself bulging, a desire for that fullness and shame, how terrible I felt I was then. This, maybe, a safe way to engage with my terribleness. A contained way. A familiar way. And a way that would pass, quite literally, in the morning, and I could imagine myself empty, virtuous, free.
So there’s that part. Then there’s the part that I have never been the girl who would deny herself food — as a political statement, I have always ordered a full meal on a date. let me not be the dainty who says, Oh, I’ll just have a salad, in case, god forbid, you think I eat and maybe have some heft and weight to me, maybe could meet your appetites. I have, too, felt that commitment/commandment to finishing everything on my plate, thanks to those messages we got (though I don’t remember getting them directly from either of my parents — I think they were in the very air that we breathed in the seventies) about waste, and about there being other children in the world who weren’t getting enough to eat, so you better go ahead and finish what’s right there on your plate.
I think I haven’t written about all this before. These are some of the layerings for me around food, eating, feeding myself, engaging with my hungers.
I have also stuffed myself to avoid or shut down hungers that I felt I couldn’t feed — hungers that had nothing to do with food, but had to do with desire to write, desire for particular intimacies or sex, desire to construct my life in particular ways — another word we use for desire is hunger, right? And when I would stuff myself, I wouldn’t feel those hungers anymore. Instead, I could situate myself back comfortably in my shame, which I knew how to manage, and which I knew would dissipate (at least momentarily).
Here’s what I know: when I let myself stay hungry, stay in those hungers, I am uncomfortable (yes), but I also am driven to do my work, which then brings me profound joy and satisfaction. It used to be, when I lived in Southern Maine and drove in from Hollis to the Maine Mall (the one mall, for real) just on the outskirts of Portland to write for some hours at the Borders there, that I wouldn’t want to eat before I got into the car. I would maybe pack some snacks into my bag, nuts or an apple or something small, but I didn’t want breakfast. Eating sated something in me that I could otherwise put into my writing, and I wanted it in my hands, between me and the pen, pushing the page full of ink.
I am not talking about starving myself, or ourselves. I am talking about allowing ourselves to be in our hunger, feel it, ask it questions, find out what it wants for us.
This is all too surfacy, and I would like to go in deeper. But, for now, I am noticing how, of late, my body is simply not interested in allowing me to stuff it. It/she/we do not want to sit in front of the tv for hours with bowls of popcorn and bars of chocolate: we want to go to work. We are writing, following-up on long-missed email messages, making phone calls, playing with the dog. We are talking with friends, we are drinking poetry like water, we are lit up.
Paying attention to what we’re hungry for is necessary and healing work — radical self-care, even — whether we are hungry for a new way of eating, or a new way of being in our lives. So here’s a prompt for you: What are you or your characters hungry for these days? You might find yourself writing about food, actually, or about something completely other than eating. Just notice what arises as you read the prompt, and let yourself begin writing from there. (If you are working with a character and want to get to know them better, you might allow yourself to consider what they are hungry for…) Give yourself ten minutes for this, or more, if you want to. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thank you. Thank you for being here (in your exact here-ness) and for feeling, thank you for tending what it is within you that wants to be fed. Thank you for your words.
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