Whoa, My Journey – Two Months Later

The last two months have been a whirlwind of small, achievable changes that have become a new lifestyle of healthy habits.

20131230-215156.jpgThis was me in 2013 when I started this blog and began practicing yoga. At that point, all I wanted was to FEEL better and move my body.

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This was me in May 2017. Thinner, healthier, but alternating between starving myself and meals where I ate too much. Just a few months later, I would end up in the hospital for a week with gastritis and uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. I will admit for the first time that between January and August 2017, my bulimia returned after about 20 years in remission. I was probably actively purging 3-5 times a week. I was also drinking too much and not exercising or practicing yoga. I did ride my horse Beau, but not regularly.

fullsizeoutput_3aebThis was me in January 2018. Healthier, stronger, but still with blood sugar that had to be controlled by medicine, sleeping poorly, needing a lot of caffeine to get through the day, with erratic eating. I had fully committed to returning to yoga and was practicing 4-5 days a week. I had mostly stopped purging. But I was not healthy.

This is me now.

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What did I do?

A bunch of things.

First, I started adding strength training to my yoga practice because I want to be able to press into a handstand. I still can’t press into one, but I can get my toes off the ground. I can also balance on my hands away from the wall if I use the wall to get up. Because I’ve spent two months building my shoulders and my abs.

Second, I joined an on-line workout group. I show up every day in my group and share what I am doing. Where I am struggling, how I am falling down, how I am succeeding. I ask questions. It has been a HUGE help for me.

Third, I made changes to how I eat. Let me stress, I am NOT on a diet. I eat differently.

Here is where I will get on my soapbox. I know that sugar is bad for me, because if I eat it and take my blood sugar 2 hours later, it will be high and stay high until I workout enough to burn it off. I know that my stomach cannot handle most dairy. BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN ALLERGIC TO IT MY ENTIRE LIFE. Despite the fact that I ate very little dairy as a child, when I became an adult, I ate a lot of dairy. I ignored every message my body gave me about how bad dairy makes me feel. I ignored that it was the easiest food for me to purge because my body wanted it OUT. I ignored that once my gall bladder was removed in an emergency surgery in 2014 my body could not handle high fat foods. I would take enzymes, protonix (super strong acid reducer), and zofran (anti nausea medicine), but I would still eat it. Finally, I know that MOST gluten is bad for me, because after I eat it, I have GI problems. I will occasionally eat pasta with gluten in it at night but that’s it. I FOR SURE do not eat bread in it. And if I do? It’s that same round of enzymes and prescription medicine. And often? Dairy and gluten are both bulimia triggers. My stomach feels enormous and my body says GET IT OUT.

Fourth, I dramatically cut back alcohol. I still drink wine a couple nights a week, but I almost never drink vodka or bourbon or mixed drinks. Now, I KNOW that vodka has fewer carbs and calories than wine. But my body hates it. It reacts just like it does with dairy and gluten only times ten.

Don’t I feel deprived? Don’t I feel sad about what I don’t eat?

Nope.

I will, occasionally, have a treat. Almost never sugar, but occasionally I will have a kid’s size ice cream or when I was at the Kentucky Derby, I had this vodka drink I love. The Lily.

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But I KNOW that I am going to feel awful after I eat or drink it. I will probably have to take medicine and enzymes. So it better be SO FREAKING GOOD to justify feeling sick. I also know that dairy, gluten, caffeine, and sugar can all trigger migraines and I HATE spending a day in bed in extreme pain.

I also don’t feel deprived because this isn’t a diet. This is how I eat. I invest the time, money, and energy into buying and making really GOOD healthy food. I know the places I can order food that makes me feel indulgent but not sick. I eat every 2-3 hours so that I am never hungry. I shop at whole foods and healthy markets (which I can afford because I don’t eat out a lot, I don’t go out to lunch, and I have cut Starbucks down to a couple of times a month.

Fifth, I cut out Starbucks and lunches out. Because I wanted to control my sugar and dairy intake. So instead, I buy good cold brew coffee and use it with my favorite vegan superfoods shake and I have my own, made at home frappucinno. This was maybe the hardest, but as a side benefit, it became a LOT easier to cut sugar and dairy. Because Starbucks was my number one “it’s only two pumps of flavored syrup and skim milk it doesn’t matter” place.

Look, I have big dreams for my life that I have not achieved and I want to LIVE long enough and healthy enough to achieve those dreams. For me, it’s about my mindset. If I know I can eat all of these amazing, delicious, healthy foods that make me feel good and do 90% of the time.

The final thing for me was to pick a workout program that REALLY pushes me. It feels good to be pushed. To work hard. To sweat a lot. To have that feeling of accomplishment when I finish it. To know that 80 days of this workout is getting me closer every day to my handstand goal. To have a trainer in my own home who pushes me to lift heavy, have good form, and increase my cardio intensity and endurance. Every day in this program is a deposit into my future yoga practice.

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And I can see my stomach size shrinking and my abs emerging. So now two months in, I have lost five inches off my waist. I’ve lost 10 pounds and 24 inches total. But more importantly, through a series of small changes and goals, I have transformed who I am, what I eat, how I eat, how I workout, and how I view my health.

And I am no longer on blood sugar medicine, stomach medicine, or a host of enzymes. Just one super food shake a day.

This is not a diet.

This is my life.

 

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Join Me on My 30 Day Journey

I started this blog six and a half years ago, shortly before I began my fitness journey with yoga and riding, as a way to have a life outside of being a lawyer. [First Post] [https://wordpress.com/post/lifeoutsideoflaw.com/9].

I have come so far. I have friends, hobbies, I’ve lost about a hundred pounds, gained enormous strength and resilience, changed the trajectory of my career, kept my passions of reading, tried dozens of new hobbies, loved some and let others drift away.

But I had a serious health scare this August that made me realize I needed to do more about my nutrition and fitness. And to that, I had to make peace with my body.

So those of you who have read me from the beginning know about my 365 days of selfies to learn to love my face. I began a new journey last year to learn to love my body. And to do that?

I had to listen.

Because my body – my stomach, my brain, my adrenal system, my hormones, my skin – will tell me what it needs.

What it needs is a consistently clean, clean diet. Heavy on plants and protein heavy grains, fish, water, tea. It needs controlled and regular portions. As raw and fresh as possible.

It needs consistent exercise. Yoga, strength building, riding, cardio, weights.

It needs it EVERY DAY.

And I was good about it at home, but bad when I traveled. Then great when I traveled, but bad when I returned home.

And every time I let my routine slip for a day, I could feel it in my body, my brain, and my emotions.

So I had to get passionate and obsessed about my health and nutrition to push me to prioritizing my self-care.

Why?

I’m 41 years old.

Both of my parents died before the age of 53.

I feel like in many ways I am just getting started in life, so I need to make this time for myself, my health, my nutrition, my fitness, to achieve the goals and dreams I want for this life. But I cannot do it alone.

I have tried doing it alone and I just let other things become more important than my health. And I cannot give everything I have if I do not take care of myself.

So here I am, beginning a new health journey, one I am so passionate and excited to share. One that I discovered, because I wanted to be strong enough to live to 80, strong enough to push up into a handstand, strong enough to have the endurance for the next 20 years of my career.

This is not about being thin.

I wasted more than a decade of my life on an eating disorder that kept me tiny.

This is about being strong. About building a tribe of people committed to achieving their hopes and dreams and helping others achieve theirs.

I’m going on this journey for thirty days to see how far I can go.

Please join me.

Send me a message or click the instagram link for more information and to DM me.

 

 

 

Cat in the Rain

sometimes,

I am a cat in the rain

huddled under a

cardboard box

wanting only to be

picked up

dried off

claimed

but sometimes

I’m that American girl

who thinks if only I had that

little cat under the table

I could suffer the rest of this

If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat

sometimes I’m that orange tabby

poor slob without a name

thrown out of a cab

in the rain

to hide in an alley

until Holly is sobbing

searching in boxes

and sometimes I’m that girl in the cab

who can’t bare the idea of being

fenced in

but can’t live

all alone anymore

so she runs into the

alley

looking for Cat

If I ever find a real place that feels like Tiffany’s,

I’ll buy some furniture and give the cat a name

And I know I play it off like I can be this

chic girl

who doesn’t need

but I need

I sit in the clean well-lighted place

the place I go

to escape all the chaos

scribbling in my notebook

alone

yearning for

something more

He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean-well lighted café was a very different thing.

always

I am that cat,

that American girl,

that lost little Holly

In the rain

waiting to be claimed

 

 

 

Yoga is Not a Cult: Boundaries and Perspective

In 2013 and early 2014, my yoga practice crashed. For two years, I had an active and passionate practice. I was in terrible health. Weak in body and exhausted in mind. I walked into my first anusara-inspired fundamentals class and couldn’t walk the next day.

But I got up and kept going.

I nursed an ankle that suffered two fractures and a poor recovery, that was often swollen and left me unable to run or walk. I nursed a soul that was yearning for more. I nursed a brain that was exhausted by nothing but constant fire drills and work stress (which is normally something on which I thrive).

I had a home studio, but called myself a yoga gypsy. I practiced everywhere. With everyone. I spent two. painstaking. years. building enough strength and flexibility to do wheel.

I spent almost three just to be able to occasionally kick up into a handstand against the wall.

I rehabbed my ankle, and had the privilege of traveling to work with some awesome yoga teachers. Elena Brower. Desiree Rumbaugh. Noah Maze. Darren Rhodes. My own teachers and coaches Roxanne Krumanacher and Danielle Tridenti. Many more. There are very very few yoga teachers in St. Louis I have not practiced with and I generally enjoyed all of their approaches. I took what they offered and integrated it into my practice.

I learned crazy awesome things from Sell and Brower and still have my notes from those workshops. I fixed my down dog and shoulders with Justicia DeClue.

I made this awesome group of sister witch yogi friends. Many of my friends from outside of yoga joined me.

My yoga practice became a defining feature of who I was. Gradually my health improved. I got stronger. I began to lose weight. I changed my diet.

And then I discovered ashtanga, which remains a major part of my practice to this day.

But along with ashtanga came a teacher who lacked the boundaries and perspective necessary. I don’t blame him because it’s kind of an awful community in some ways. Let me be clear, there is so much in ashtanga I love. The rigor, the ever changing nature of the same series. The self transformation. I routinely listen to the owner of Hilltop Yoga in Lansing Michigan (whom I have never met, but a friend of mine was her former student) teach. Lecture on the sutras.

I had several really inspirational workshops and practices with very well known Ashtanga instructors. I read the teachings of Sri K Patthabi Jois and Sharath Jois and most of what they say resonates.

But, as Kino MacGregor recently said, “teachers have a sacred duty to their students.”

As a lawyer who represents people who are hurt, this duty is sacred to me. And in most professions — medicine, law, mental health — that duty comes with ethical responsibilities.

After a year, my practice stalled, and I felt terrible about myself. As though I was in constant competition with the very people I needed the most in my life. As though the fact that I had a career was an impediment to yoga that I needed to rid myself of.

Every day I was on the mat, I felt like a failure. I felt alienated from the rest of the yoga community that I loved. As though taking a yin class or playing in a workshop or different tradition was a betrayal.

What happened to me with this teacher, the way he infected my marriage, my friendships, my job was not half as bad as what happened to several of my friends who are teachers and skilled ashtangis in their own right. The level of competition they faced from their teacher and colleague was reminiscent of the Bella Karolyi horror stories. The degree to which he interfered with their lives would be actionable in any profession with an ethical board.

It hit a place of such toxicity that I ran.

What Elena Brower once said, in describing the pain of leaving the Anusara community and her relationship with John Friend resonated more than anything:

John seemed threatened, sad, unsure and at times, unsteady. Several of us tried to talk to him about it, only to be met with denial and even sometimes anger, which in many cases drove us, in our own personal ways, into old patterns of wanting to please our “parents”: backtracking, questioning ourselves, adding to the mounting pile of lies, assuaging him so we could stay in his good graces, feel safe, and keep our lives in order. That part might be the saddest part, and the part about which I’m personally most sorry, this repeating of family patterns in this professional context.

This was what hit me the most. The replaying of old patterns I had worked so hard to end.

And so I ran.

I didn’t run from yoga itself, the beauty of the primary series is that I could do it on my own, four years of 6 yoga classes a week gave me enough of a sense of how to create the practice I need.

But i ran from all my teachers.

I ran from my community.

I lost my grace.

At a time when I needed the yoga community the most, I ran to a barn and hid there for two years. I leased a horse within six months of returning to riding lessona. I continued leasing horses until I bought Beau. And yoga became something I did at home to stretch for riding. It became exercise. It became a way to be stronger and more flexible in the saddle, something my great friend Kelly Hogan made a video about, in part, for people like me.

But what I discovered through a series of some of the most talented hunter trainers in the midwest is that a sane relationship with my trainer was not as an acolyte. It was not as a fan. It was not as anything more than a teacher. Our relationships had boundaries. I ended one when it became too personal. I added a component of life coaching to another as a way to further my equestrian education without blurring lines.

And it was only in the last six months when, after virtually non-stop travel, I returned to yoga. I just started going to classes in studios out of town. Practicing more intentionally in hotel rooms.

When my health got bad again this summer, I just showed up for a class with my first teacher. And since August, I have been slowly rebuilding my spiritual yoga practice. my yoga community. My commitment to myself. To self care. To transformation. To working at my edge.

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But I carry those lessons with me. I won’t take classes with my close friends. I’ll practice with them, mysore style, me still struggling with the binds of marichyasana and last third of the primary series. But I choose boundaries. I choose healthy, stable relationships.

When I get in the saddle and jump and feel like I will NEVER jump 2’6, I compete against myself. When I get on my mat and feel like I will NEVER had the shoulder strength for a push up handstand, I compete against myself.

And I yet, I realize that these are parts of me. That my strength as a human is not defined by my ability to float forward in a pike position. My strength as a human is defined by my ability to stand up and fight for people who need my help. Yoga and riding support and build THAT strength. They support me as a person.

I choose teachers who see that in me. Who have perspective about goals in life.

I wish our various yoga communities did a better job of teaching its teachers about the ethics of the teacher/student relationship. But I have learned my lesson. And so I no longer look for teachers who expect me to follow them. I take each for what they have to offer and express gratitude for their teaching.

Yoga is not a cult. Yoga teachers are not therapists or doctors or even, with very few exceptions, spiritual leaders, and they have not been trained to be. They people, often luminous people, who brighten our world and teach us ways to access the inaccessible. Just like the trainers who teach me to jump my horse.

It’s a relationship that requires boundaries and perspective. But with that, the yoga community has returned so much richness back to my life and helped me heal from a relationship.

Yoga is a whole life practice. The practice may ruin your life, but the teachers and the community should not break you.

Guruji

Gratitude for the teachers and trainers who are continually putting me back together.

The 2018 “To-Read” Challenge

If you have ever read me before, then you have probably discovered that I love creating annual challenges. In 2013, I challenged myself to take and post a picture OF MY FACE every single day for 365 days.

I did it because I realized I had gained a lot of weight in the seven years since I graduated law school. I had a ton of pictures on facebook, but very few of me and almost none of me with my dearest friends, because my self-esteem was so low.

Enter the selfie.

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Now.

It was through this process of looking, truly looking, at my own face every day, often 10 or 15 times, captured in time, for a year, that I began to develop my true adult sense of self and self-esteem.

Then.

Several months later I began the yoga practice that continues (to my great soreness), to this day. I started riding horses again. I bought a horse. I changed jobs and got to work for the lawyer I admired more than any other (who is hopefully not reading this and thinking I’m a suck up), lost about 100 pounds, gained amazing physical and emotional strength, and set myself on a higher arc of self-evolution.

I have challenged myself with “everyday, baby,” as a way to ensure that I work out every day I travel, usually discovering local yoga joints or hiking paths or city walks, to ensure I eat and drink clean on the road, to communicate with my friends.

I routinely challenge myself with fasts and cleanses, nourishing my body with more kale than is probably sane, largely replacing coffee with tea, and eliminating all but the occasional alcohol (but sometimes, a girl just needs bubbles, agree?).

At the same time, I try to challenge my mind. On my other writing site, I often create writing challenges when I get stuck. Write the rainbow, write the alphabet, write the seasons, write the gods.

But perhaps my favorite challenge is my annual reading challenge on Goodreads.com. Goodreads is easily my favorite social media site. The place where I have made so many wonderful friends, the place where I connect with strangers and my oldest pals over my most beloved passion. Books.

I do not understand people who inevitably say ” … I love to read but I never have time.” I have no sympathy. If you have time to eat, drink, and breathe, you have time to read. (Now, if you don’t love to read, then go do what makes you happy. We all have our passions).

But as a horse-owning workaholic who reads and writes for a living, I haven’t gone a day without reading for at least 30 minutes in … maybe a few times in high school. But by age 19, I committed to a daily practice of reading. As I said in law school, when I would astonish my friends by reading something of my own during finals, I do not feel like I am me, unless I am reading something of my own choosing.

My tastes are eclectic, strange, varied, and nerdy. My Goodreads

I read a lot of YA and I read a lot of science. I am passionate about literature, and addicted to girl-lit mysteries. I read economics and graphic novels. Business books and Vampire Academy series. I read in 3 formats: Paper books, audible, and the kindle app on my ipad.

And since I joined Goodreads in 2007 and got my iPad in 2010, I have amassed a to-read list of almost 750 books. Anthony Trollope, Ruth Reichel, So. Much. Churchill, the remaining Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton books I saved for my forties, and a literal ton of cheap or free e-books written by friends and strangers.

My reading goal this year was 100 books. I changed it to 150 in July when I knew I would meet it, and will finish the year with about 2010 books.

So for 2018, I am going to set my reading goal at 150 again. But here, in the quiet sanctuary of my blog that no one reads, I have my real challenge. 100 of those books must come from my goodreads to-read list or from the pile amassed on kindle and iBook. Obviously I have to leave 50 books for new discoveries, books on pre-order, last minute dash into Hudson’s at DFW because I NEED A BOOK, books.

But 2018 will be the year of Anthony Trollope and Ruth Reichel and the 652 books on my to-read list. With a (likely brief) review of each here.

I still need a couple more challenges (NOT resolutions) for 2018. But for now I need to finish the books in my current stack and get read to explore those books I decided in 2007 that I just had to read.

Any suggestions?

books

 

 

 

High-Functioning Anxiety

A friend emailed me this link on https://themighty.com/2017/04/high-functioning-anxiety-needs-to-be-taken-seriously/.

I’m putting it as a lens through which much I say about my life can be viewed. I am struggling, have been struggling, between *letting go* of the need for control, constant motion, ever mounting projects, and the cost of letting go.

For me, the cost is high and requires an enormous amount of external stability. The loss of control, the panic, the fear that I never want anyone to see costs me for days if not weeks when even my most beloveds see it. I am still reeling from an attack I had a month ago because someone saw it.

I’ve taken practically every medication available, had every kind of therapy, tried every kind (and I mean every) of destructive behavior and in the end, I still don’t know what works all the time.

Except my addiction to work, caffeine, and likely alcohol when I am out of medicine.

Throw any of those out of whack and I am the friend who goes radio silent for weeks or months as I try to regain sane.

I function at such a high level I have a difficult time getting doctors to take me seriously. I literally fight for medication on a monthly basis, and usually I’m calling from a different city each time. I know what over the counter remedies will help, I will absolutely smoke (though I hate it) to avoid a trip to the ER for panic, and I will hide all of this from everyone and send cheerful texts if I can manage when I am drowning in loneliness but unable to show anyone that I haven’t washed my hair or put on makeup and can’t sleep.

The humiliation of begging over the phone for help as I lose my mind, of sitting in a bathtub rocking back and forth, of being in constant terror is too much. The constancy of external stability is too erratic. The need for order and predictability too annoying.

So I work. Hard. I focus on externalities. I prepare as though every deposition is the most critical 3 hours of my life. I live in hotel rooms, because I can keep them organized and calm.

I travel 3-3.5 weeks a month and work 80-90 hour weeks and I do it to survive. And to some extent this may cost me the kind of self care that provides a brief reprieve — yoga, my horse, my friends, my home — but it also insulates me from becoming that person who is forever falling apart. Who is — like her Mom who killed herself — a ticking time bomb of crazy.

I am viciously hard on myself. I am always surprised when people are kind to me, which makes no sense because most people like me when they meet me. I judge my body and my externalities relentlessly. And I may cry in a bathroom out of fear and rage and too much adrenaline, but no one will see it when I walk into the room.

And when someone is unkind to me, does not like me, judges me, it stays with me for months, years, decades, because it just proves that under it all, I am a mess and too much and if anyone ever got too close, they wouldn’t stay.

Pretty much my life has proven that to be true.

So I work. I work and I work and I show up and help. I may be the friend who disappears, but I am also the one who will run through airports, who will deny her own feelings to help. I always hope my mitzvahs outweigh all the bad parts I see.

There is no good or bad to high functioning anxiety. It is not more or less preferrable to my mother’s long battle with depression or to friends who are more able to share and vocalize their fears. We are all simply people trying to get by. Some of us, like me, have neuro-atypical brains and it shapes how we view and interact with the world.

This is simply me. And how I know to survive in this world.

Writing: New Conversations

I am a sucker for independent bookstores. The kind of place tucked in an urban neighborhood with a used section in the basement, a wide section of popular and edgy fiction, interesting memoirs and non-fiction offerings, and a potpourri of book clubs where people who actually read books come excited to discuss them. For me it’s Left Bank Books, and I’ve been shopping there since I was thirteen, where I acquired one copy of Wuthering Heights.

By any definition, I am well read. I downplay how much I read, because my tongue got a little bloody after one too many run-ins with those people who say: “I love to read, but I’m so busy. How do you have time?” Reading is not something I like to do; it’s something I have to do. Like air, water, food, and shelter, books fall at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I live with my books, carrying them with me from room to room, to work, to the barn, to dinner. I write, underline, and star. I fold pages; write poems on the frontispiece; notes in the margins; questions on the tops of pages.

I also return to my books. That copy of Hemingway short stories from 11th grade lives in my bedroom, and when I want to think about how to say more with a story, I pull it open and start flipping through two decades of notes. Three Virginia Woolf collections scattered around the house, when I need bravery and inner monologue. That copy of Goldfinch on my fridge is my third, because I keep loaning it out, and then need to find it, and read Boris. The poets – Eliot, Cummings, Neruda, Parker, Dickinson, Ginsberg, Whitman – and on and on are in my living room, where I sit at midnight or dawn and write words.

For years, I referred to my writing as “secret w.” My process was monastic in comparison to the deeply collaborative writing I did as a lawyer, where almost every memo, opinion letter, brief, motion, and article, was reviewed, edited, discussed, debated, and revised with my boss. He saw things I didn’t, read sentences in ways I did not intend, saw flaws in the structure, or wheat hiding in the chaff. My legal writing got strong, while my poetry and prose stagnated. It needed air and light.

What I love about independent book stores is how often they foster local writers. I walked in one day for a young adult book group and heard a few acquaintances talk about writing. Fresh off a failed novel, a failed marriage, in some ways a failed life, I screwed my courage to the wall, and asked if they were writers and knew of a local group, and I met Anna, who introduced me to an online writing community.

I read and commented a few hours a day, somehow finding time to add these stories, memoirs, essays, poems, and blog posts into my daily reading routine, accepting this reading time the way I accept my book reading. Finally one day, I opened a text box, wrote a poem and clicked post. I did it the next day, and the next. Until I was posting my writing six or seven days a week for months, while reading and commenting on other writers, bit by bit, building a community of writers who read and commented on my poems and prose, creating a writers workshop for peer critique, nourishing my with fresh blood.

All those conversations I had in the pages of my books came flooding forward. Debating narrative styles, bickering about showing and telling, I remembered Woolf. If wanted to write a piece that began and lived in the thoughts that pass like clouds across my mind, I would read Mrs. Dalloway. To that I received a quick reply from the friend who took my hand and helped me walk into the process of a poem: Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers. I discovered two things: first, how I would approach writing memoirs and memoir-style fiction, and second, I was not alone in my conversations with other novelists and poets. This conversation didn’t just go in vertical directions, but horizontal ones as well. But my fellow writers didn’t let me off easily, challenging me to say more with less, to cut the extraneous, to write like an assassin. I revised stories, Hemingway and my friends in my ear as I wrote.

My truly collaborative writing began with Edith Wharton, when C, a fellow writer and I circled each other, considering friendship, and she asked: “What is your favorite Edith Wharton novel?” The question alone excited me. House of Mirth and Summer, I answered, although I love all of them. Are you more Lily Bart or Countess Olenska? That day, many months ago, C became Countess.

We went back to Emily Bronte, talking about our destructive first loves, our Heathcliffs, until I realized I wanted to explore pieces who I am, not just who he was. But I froze, the topic too vast, until Carole called with the first piece of our “Pieces of Me” series and I responded. We decided to write about ourselves in each color of the rainbow, and now we are pulling out chunks of our soul to describe sensory reactions to summer, and not a day passes when we don’t plot and plan games with words. Her Heathcliff essays drug out old stories, until I began to write things I hadn’t tried in years. Fairy tale drabbles to concentrate my voice; dialogue only stories; games, games, endless word games. A conversation that started by Bronte, inspired by Countess, organized by me, and read by my writing community, and it helped me find, at last, sweetness in my writing that felt true, a sweetness that balanced out the raw and the dark and rounded out my voice.

What began in a bookstore at thirteen with Emily Bronte became something I cannot live without. This practice of reading, digesting, discussing, and writing in response is as elemental as reading itself. Far from the solitary activity it was for a decade, I have a space and a group of people to whom I belong, and with whom I share my most solemn wishes. Now I come knocking on your door, looking for a new community, new mentors, new writers, new books, and new blood for my words. I’m ready for new conversations.