I started reading the Best American Essays 2013 yesterday. I usually hate these things and only read them mainly to confirm my suspicion that the same stories keep getting told over and over. But I have to say that so far the first three essays of this edition have been refreshingly interesting and inspiring. In fact the third one resonated with me so much that I’ve decided to make it my first post of 2014. The quote below is from Richard Schmitt’s “Sometimes a Romantic Notion”, and it sums up exactly what has inhibited my writing for most of my life – not the fear of failure or success or whatever, or even lack of time or resources or support (although I’ve never had much of any of these), but something even more strange and probably unique to fiction writers, and possibly “romantic”.

As a writer, I spent years hiding and denying my connection to the circus because I had the romantic notion that fiction writers simply made things up out of thin air or their intrinsic, God-given genius. An idea, I see now, about as crazy as running away to join the circus.

It’s fantastic to see someone else name the thing I’ve struggled so hard to define, and while he’s referring to time spent in an actual circus, the metaphor still applies – we all come from circuses (and by “all” I mean all us interesting people) – but some of us, for various reasons, are reluctant to draw from that rich, seething soil. I have long shared the weird (and inaccurate) notion that good writing is supposed to come from someplace foreign, that it had to be entirely made up in order to be of value, so I’ve avoided telling all my best stories, the easy stories, the ones that are constantly on the tip of my tongue, just trying to keep them from blocking the really, really good and unique and original stories  that I might possibly invent from scratch. But I’m finally realizing that it’s taken more effort to suppress my own crazy circus full of stories than it would have to just write them down. So that leads to my biggest and most cherished resolution for the year: in my writing, I’m going to do my best to come home to the circus, and stop trying to run away to the normal. I’ll be sharing it here. Happy New Year!

Crohn’s “Cured” by Pot?

Crohn’s “Cured” by Pot?

This article claims that 5 of 11 test subjects were cured of intractable Crohn’s disease by smoking pot every day for 2 months. 

If I try this, will I have to change my name to The Dalai Lion? 😉

But seriously, I wonder if this was a large enough sample, and if there were other factors in these people’s recovery. It’s interesting though, to hear that people are actively trying to research alternative treatments for folks who don’t respond to the usual drugs. 

Also, did these people have to go to work and function or were they just sitting around smoking grass for 2 months? Big burning questions here.

I’m curious what other Crohn’s patients think!

Coconut Chai Panna Cotta

I’ve been experimenting with gelatin deserts a lot lately. I was inspired by some creative recipes at Empowered Sustenance. Her Fennel Panna Cotta is delicious and a great base recipe that adapts well to different flavor additions. I’ve used it as a guideline for ratios (gelatin to liquid to sweetener) and have come up with some yummy and satisfying combinations. Earlier this week I also saw this recipe for Chai Vanilla Bean Pots de Creme at Eat, Live, Run, and while it looked divine, I’ve got some dietary restrictions to accommodate, so I borrowed a little from each and came up with this. It’s gluten-fee, dairy-free, and can be adapted to SCD and GAPS. If you have a sensitivity to caffeine or tea, you could just use chai spices (cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, etc). Either way, it’s a sweet, creamy, earthy, spicy, incredibly easy treat!

1 can coconut milk (I use a full-fat, BPA free brand), divided

1 tbs. loose leaf chai

1/4 cup white sugar (it would be great with 1-2 tablespoons of honey instead)

1-2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp unflavored gelatin

Combine all ingredients except gelatin & 1/4 cup of the coconut milk in a saucepan, bring just to a boil, stir, cover and steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix gelatin with reserved coconut milk and stir for 1 minute until dissolved. Strain chai into gelatin mixture, whisk to combine and pour into 4 ramekins. Chill for a few hours or overnight.

Settling In

My Crohn’s diagnosis is fairly new, just a couple of months so far even though I’ve had symptoms for over a year. Some of the symptoms have gotten worse, some have gotten better, some are new. So I’m still learning how the disease is going to manifest for me. I don’t know yet if I’ll be one of those people who goes into remission or one whose condition doesn’t respond to medication. I don’t know if my symptoms will get worse or go away or come and go. I don’t know yet if the adjustments I’m making now to my diet and lifestyle are temporary or lifelong. I don’t know what my patterns are yet. But I’m learning! Everyday I feel like I learn more about what my body needs and what it doesn’t need, I learn more about what feels good and how to maximize those feelings. I’m learning how to really, deeply care for my body in a way that just never occurred to me before. I’m becoming gentler and more forgiving of myself. Mainly because even though the disease is unpredictable and destructive, I kind of understand now that my body’s natural inclination is toward wellness. Even the destructive inflammation is my body’s (overzealous) attempt to be well. And knowing that helps me be a little calmer about the whole thing.

I didn’t know anything about my body’s drive toward healing until last year when I was run over by a motorcycle, suffered multiple fractures and got to watch them heal. In fact I resented all kinds of thing about my body, always wanted to change my weight or my height or the thickness of my legs, and even while I watched my bones heal, I still thought that the process was something I could and had to control. In my mind I couldn’t figure out how to make the bones fuse, make the swelling to down. I couldn’t even conceive of what a normal body would feel like again or how I could make it happen but I tried! I actively and enthusiastically iced and elevated and flexed and did everything I could to help the process along. And in the end I realized that while that stuff may have helped, my body had it under control the whole time. It knew which cells to send where, what to add and take away, and in its own time it righted itself. Knowing that gives me tremendous faith that it’ll work this out too, as long as I do my part and be gentle and keep faith.

One of the things that’s helping me adjust and settle in is meditation. I practice mindfulness daily, really just by quieting down and experiencing the present moment. Meditation has made a tremendous difference for me already!  I’m learning to spend more time in the spaces between the pain, and that makes the spaces feel bigger and the pain smaller. I’m actually less scared of the future now than I was before I got sick in the first place. And I try to approach my symptoms with a sense of curiosity rather than dread. This is all helping it feel less cataclysmic, and more manageable.

Book Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove

ImageI’m reading Karen Russell’s new collection of short stories and so far this one is hitting me right where I like it. “Reeling for the Empire”, a story about young women in Japan during the Meiji empire who are conscripted to spin silk in a factory and find themselves permanently altered by the commitment, stands out as a potent example of why I fell in love with this collection so quickly.

The story touches on all my sweet spots- magical fantasy, introspective and fascinating female protagonists, and my favorite pet fascination with Russell in particular – the female protagonist who believes herself to be the agent of her own undoing. Russell has written this type of character before in Swamplandia and in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a character who is struggling to understand the cause of her great transformative trauma, and to devise a way to transcend it. The meditation on regret in this iteration is especially captivating, and the narrator distills her understanding of it beautifully when she explains “Regret is a pilgrimage back to the place where I was free to choose.”  How lovely and apt to think of regret, or any internal processing of memory or imagination as a journey, and especially to view the kind that you must repeat and revisit as pilgrimages. For gems like this it’s been a joy to watch the author develop over time, and as with all my favorite authors I derive as much pleasure watching them negotiate and construct recurring themes over the course of their careers. In this way, Russell joins the likes of Elissa Schappell, Don Delillo, and Jonathan Lethem, contemporary authors whose new works will always have a spot reserved on my “To Read” shelf.

20 Best Rock Clubs in America


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Rolling Stone has posted a list of the 20 Best Rock Clubs in America.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked for 10 years (collectively) at the Troubadour & the Great American Musical Hall, and they’re both in the top 10! I personally think they’re some of the best rock clubs in the country, but it’s always a thrill to see them honored this way.

Check out the full list!

You Could Find Me In the (Autoimmune) Club, Bottle Full of Bud

I always sort of knew I might develop an autoimmune disease at some point. The women in my family are riddled with them, and they get them fast and hard. My mom died of lupus 3 weeks after her 52nd birthday. My grandmother developed rheumatoid arthritis in her mid thirties and was wheelchair bound for most of her life thereafter. All of my aunts and many of my cousins have some form of thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or some combination of them. So I had a good sense that something might come up for me eventually. I got tested every few years for lupus and R.A. and all my tests were good – my blood pressure is low, cholesterol too, my diet’s clean, I’m physically active, no joint pain and I could run three or four miles without passing out, so I thought I still had a long way to go before I developed problems. But, like I say, everything happens, especially change.

About a year ago I started having digestive problems. It came on slowly at first, just discomfort after eating, but more and more I started noticing that food, in general, was making me sick. As my symptoms got worse, I tried various elimination diets, trying to identify what was causing so much grief – gluten? dairy? alcohol? caffeine? sugar? But no matter what I took out or put into my diet, I kept getting sicker… and sicker. I got to a point where food wouldn’t stay in my body long enough to digest anything. I was bloated, and pale, and in so much pain that I basically trembled constantly, and I’d gotten so used to it that I didn’t even notice I was going through my life like a beat-down robot. Then my boyfriend and one of my best friends teamed up and made me finally go to the doctor. It took about 6 weeks of increasingly unpleasant tests for the doctor’s to identify what I have as Crohn’s disease and confirm that yes, in fact it was all food that was making me sick, or rather it was my immune system that was making me sick in such a way that no food could possibly feel good. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease where your body sends too many white blood cells to parts of your digestive system causing inflammation, ulcers and erosion of various membranes, so that when you eat, it’s kinda like shoving food into an open wound. When I saw the scopes of my insides it looked like I’d been eating shards of glass and battery acid for days.

Then, just as my doctor was coming up with a treatment plan,, my immune system continued to get hopped up like a college girl on Cuervo and sugar-free GoGirl, and got all ratchet on the hardware in my (formerly broken) leg. After almost six months of steady healing, my leg started doing a historical reenactment of what it looked and felt like when it was first broken (swollen to twice its normal size, impossible to put any weight on it.) And it kept getting worse! Red, blotchy, firey hot, it looked like I had dunked my leg from the knee down in boiling water, I assumed I had reinjured it, but when I mentioned it to my trusty GI doctor, she identified it as an extension of the Crohn’s disease. So now we know that what’s going on is a more general inflammatory condition and whenever my body feels stress, it starts ramping up and goes off to fight The Great War somewhere in my body, and if there’s no war to fight, it damn sure starts one.At least now we have a diagnois(ish) and a plan.

Knowing that autoimmune disease is triggered and aggravated by stress, it made perfect sense that this had started when it did, 6 months after I was run over by a motorcycle, amid all the stress of balancing an intense physical therapy schedule, full-time work, a 10 mile commute on public transportation on crutches, fighting daily with hospital accountants and my insurance company, and learning that my boyfriend and I were on our own because the dirtbag who ran me over had no insurance. Stress-wise, I was fully primed for my immune system to overreact.The good news about that, from my perspective, is that because it responds so dramatically to stress, it’ll probably respond well to stress-reduction.

So while we convince my white blood cells to go home and sleep it off, I’m on steroids, anti-inflammatories and a super limited diet of basically white starchy food and meat. I’ll write more about the details of the diet and the creative solutions my boyfriend and I are coming up with to accommodate the new restrictions and challenges. If you have a similar situation, or a blog with recipes or tips, please feel free to share them! (and good luck with your healing!)