The Intersection of Literature & Free Expression  

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

Whenever I travel to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world, I make sure to pay homage to the roots of my craft near the intersection of Columbus & Grant, where North Beach and Chinatown intersect.

It is a simple little tour, really: just three places. The first, City Lights Books, is a wonderful patchwork of angles, stories, perches, step-ups, cellars and basements loaded with books you may not find anywhere else. It is also home base to celebrated poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who spent the 1950s writing poetry collections, turning a half-dozen unknown writers into the famed San Francisco Renaissance crew (or West Coast Beats), and taking on the U.S. Supreme Court when they censored his publication of Henry Miller.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Now 95, Ferlinghetti is a hawk of a man, tall, imposing and imperious when crossed. He and my old friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, still read together once every October. Every time we write a page, article or book with anything we want to say, and then publish it, we’re reminded of who won that landmark censorship battle that culminated in 1961. It wasn’t the Supreme Court.

City Lights is my favorite bookstore, the bookstore that City Lightssparks me every time I walk through its doors. Now 60 years old, it is what an independent bookstore is all about — distinct character and personality, books carefully chosen by a well-read staff, a sanctuary of the written word, and the hub of a great writing community and movement. It is the best store to buy Beat literature in the world. Its selection of poetry, novels and literature reflects an open-minded, story-crafting, intelligence-promoting approach that is, well, the only approach that should ever matter in a society.

My favorite City Lights moment came in 2001. I walked into the store with Marty Balin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lead singer (and founder) of Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jefferson Starship. During their San Francisco concerts in the wild 1960s, bands used to ask poets to open their shows — celebrations of light, spoken word, dancing and music. Ferlinghetti was the Airplane’s designated poet on several occasions. As we walked inside, there was Ferlinghetti, perched in the checkout area. Marty and Ferlinghetti hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. Immediately, I felt like the luckiest fly on the wall as they caught up and discussed music, literature, and reminisced about those early concerts at Longshoreman’s Hall, the Matrix and The (original) Fillmore.

If the walls of Vesuvio's could talk, who would ever leave?

If the walls of Vesuvio’s could talk, who would ever leave?

Across the street from City Lights is Vesuvio’s, the colorful two-story pub that served as Jack Kerouac’s watering hole during his trips to San Francisco. Hemingway had Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Henry James had the White House Tavern in New York City, and Kerouac had Vesuvio’s. He percolated large parts of On The Road, The Dharma Bums and other novels while sitting inside. Now, the place is lined with classic photos from the Beat generation, along with posters of Mae West, Janis Joplin, and other adornments that were part of the bar Kerouac knew. It looked like a few patrons and bottles of ancient booze on the shelves had never left, too.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio's and leads to Chinatown.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio’s and leads to Chinatown.

After that, we took our haul of books a hundred yards to Vital Tea Leaf, located in the middle of Chinatown. (Gotta love the way ethnic neighborhoods run into each other in San Francisco, so effortlessly, without fences or borders.) Our old friend, the 83-year-old proprietor with a sailor’s tongue and a sage’s wisdom, greeted us with hugs at the door. We then spent the next 90 minutes tasting teas made of nectar and gold (so it seemed), and listening to him mix insightful history and preparation tips with playful poking at customers as they walked inside. I find Chinese tea opens up the creative pores in a way that makes verse and prose pour from mind, body and soul; it is always my chosen drink when writing. So, I loaded up with pu’erh, milk oolong, cloud mist and lapsang souchong (the smoky tea), heard our host’s stories about each (cloud mist grows at 8,000 feet, for example), and headed off to write a few of my own.

To me, Columbus & Grant is not only the junction of ancient and modern literature, or the crossroads of shih and Beat writing and poetry. It is also the shining beacon that reminds me of two endangered species — the independent bookstore and freedom of written expression. As we move into National Poetry Month, we’re reminded of the treasures men and women have written for thousands of years. And the inalienable right and freedom to do so. That’s worth honoring in the best way possible — by writing.Kerouac sign

 

 

 

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The Power of Group Book Signings — and Birth of a New Literary Series

In this era of extreme tidal changes in the publishing industry, writers, readers and those who love personal author appearances will be happy to know of a great trend: enterprising authors banding together to form group appearances and signings.

The power of the group read, this occurring at Vista Library, site of the North County Literary Cavalcade: Sunset Poets and Hummingbird Review  launch. (L-R) Sunset Poets creator and poet Dick Eiden; "Dances With Wolves" author Michael Blake; poet and musician John Doe, of the legendary group X; Charles Redner, Jr; Hummingbird Review publisher & author Charles Redner; fictionist Alwyn Pinnow; and yours truly

The power of the group read, this occurring at Vista Library, site of the North County Literary Cavalcade: Sunset Poets and Hummingbird Review launch. (L-R) Sunset Poets creator and poet Dick Eiden; “Dances With Wolves” author Michael Blake; poet and musician John Doe, of the legendary group X; Charles Redner, Jr; Hummingbird Review publisher & author Charles Redner; fictionist Alwyn Pinnow; and yours truly

 

AK Patch, the author of "Passage at Delphi," will appear Feb. 23 to launch the North County Literary Cavalcade series at Vista Library.

AK Patch, the author of “Passage at Delphi,” will appear Feb. 23 to launch the North County Literary Cavalcade series at Vista Library.

Not necessarily. Speaking from San Diego County and nearby areas, I can report that a few enterprising authors are working hard to create more group signings. Kaitlin Rother recently hosted an event at the new San Diego City Library that drew a standing room-only crowd. Author Lin Robinson, one of the most innovative and funniest writers around,  is stirring up the waters for a group signing series as well. “My thoughts are to get some local writers together and do something major and newsworthy, maybe in the atrium of the new San Diego library, or across the street in the beautiful Jing Si Café,” Robinson said.

It goes from there. A genre-based group, the Crime Fiction Collective, has been staging group signings for awhile. The La Jolla-based indie bookstore Warwick’s presents not only national authors, but individual and group signings with area authors — in which the author gets a table and signs for several hours on a Sunday afternoon. Very cool.

Group signings are awesome. Several authors appear together, read from their works, perhaps hold a short panel discussion, and then meet, greet and sign. While every author wants (and should have) the stage to themselves, I can tell you that booksellers and libraries love group signings. Why? They put more butts in the seats — and more buyers, or patrons. Readers feel like they’re at an event, and when you attend an event, you want to take the energy and memory of it home with you; hence, buying a book (that’s why motivational speakers and leaders always sell books at the back of the room). Plus, authors receive the dual stimulation of sharing stories from the trenches with other writers, and engaging with their readers.

We will be actively promoting all group signings on this blog, and on the Word Journeys Social Media Network. If you’re an author, band together with a couple other authors, visit your bookstore or library, and set yourself up. It will be much easier than you think — and you will connect eye-to-eye with your audience. Readers and writers, stay tuned.

 Speaking of libraries, I’m pleased to announce something I’ve wanted to create for a long time: a monthly literary series. This one even gives a naming nod to the Golden Age of radio and TV! The North County Literary Cavalcade will be hosted by Vista City Library. Reference librarian Kris Jorgensen and I met earlier this week, and laid out the plan for a combination of author signings, group reads, student presentations, panel discussions, topical workshops, open mics and festival events that will involve national and area authors, educators and poets. Best of all, we’re drawing authors from all fiction and non-fiction genres, plus young adult authors, sci-fi writers, and children’s writers. No matter your reading preference, you’re going to be up close and personal with a prominent author at this series.

Vista Library is a great venue: We hosted a pair of Hummingbird Review launches there, drawing large crowds in both cases. The secret? Yep — group reads. We had six to eight readers on each occasion.

Our first event takes place Sunday, February 23, from 3 to 5 p.m. Author AK Patch will present the history and backstory of his new historical adventure thriller, Passage at Delphi. This book brings the famous Greek-Persian War (source of the “300” movie series) into modern-day light, as eyewitnessed by time-traveling professors. They are under the influence of the Greek God Apollo, who worries that today’s civilization will go the way of the Ancient Greeks. If you’re a “300” fan, and pacing the floors waiting for the March 7 premiere of 300: Rise of an Empire, this book will not only feed you, but give you a counter-story filled with excitement and depth.

I’ll also be reading, as Dr. Patch’s warm-up act. Kris Jorgensen and I will co-host the event, and we will also present the schedule of Literary Cavalcade events.

Hope to see you there — and at all group signing events.

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Growing Up and Waking Up: Part Two of Interview with William Blake

READ PART 1 OF INTERVIEW

William Blake came to the practice of meditation a little later in his life, when he was in his mid-

'A Creative Toolkit of Meditations' author William Blake

‘A Creative Toolkit of Meditations’ author William Blake

40s. The consequent changes that occurred in his life gave him a stronger appreciation for the practice, and its wholesale benefits, than he might have recognized when he was younger.

That love of life and how to improve it through meditation runs like a fresh breeze through the narrative of his book, A Creative Toolkit of Meditations (Balboa Press), now informing and changing lives from coast to coast.

Here is part two of our exclusive interview with Bill Blake — including the question everyone asks him (and we couldn’t resist, because it’s such a great connection):

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: When was the moment in your life when the light really turned on as far as the benefits of meditation? What took place for you to say, “This will be a staple for the rest of my life?”

WILLIAM BLAKE: My long history of meditation, from 45 to 77, was necessary for my final realization, which was fairly recent. I wrote my book so that other seekers could grow up and wake up more quickly. I’m not a good example of a quickly enlightened being.  Yet I know that every single flaw and every tedious effort was necessary for my final resolution. The whole part of my life that I call a “mess” disappeared when I was told by my wife, Haygo, that I had shown “neediness” for approval during my talk with a family friend who sought my help in relating more positively with her daughter.

For a couple hours, I pondered this word “neediness.” The next day, I easily observed my neediness for approval and praise when I spoke with someone. By that night, I had fully dropped all my neediness to change, to improve, or to be “better.”

For me, “neediness” concisely substituted for any thoughts of being “unworthy,” “flawed,” “incomplete,” or any other negative thought or feeling. I lost my neediness for my wife to be any certain way, for me to be any certain way, for anything to be any different than it was. I was free from my own judgments of myself or anyone else.

9781452574394_cover.inddWJ.COM: What was the biggest shift?

WB: Everything became contextual, and understood as unique and specific for that moment in time. I’ve lived from freedom since my realization: I love the objective, rational term “neediness.” I now lack any need for this neediness. What is my experience of life since this revelation? The answer is consistent mindfulness, much greater functionality, rapid change of negative lifetime patterns, and freedom.

WJ.COM: A related, actually the backbone of A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, are the phases of life – waking up and growing up. You just shared a personal example of this, but on a larger scale, how how do you define “growing up”, versus the typical social definition?

WB: I borrowed “growing up” and “waking up” from John Welman’s article in the Winter 2012 Tricycle. My rendering of these terms is distinct from Welman’s descriptions. A great question is, How is “growing up” different from customary social definitions? The first answer is that my definition of “growing up” is conscious, active investigation of what serves us, and what doesn’t. Conformity seems to be the standard brand behavior of society. What’s expected of a person with a particular class, race, education, age, and group identity? Consensus is holding on to an identity that conforms to a person’s group standards and, of course, confirms with her parents’ standards. In contrast, “growing up” implies an investigation of these standards. Do cultural expectations and norms meet my needs? Am I happy hanging out with this block’s kids all weekend? Am I compassionate when my mate returns from a hard, hard day’s work and I watch her immediately slink toward bed to sleep for an hour? Are my parents living mostly from their parents’ formatted behavior? If I’m rebelling against my parents and their culture, am I creating my own unique life style or merely rebelling because that’s all I know how to do?

The second answer comes from the questions of Who am I? How can I live my life? What school classes do I enjoy and which do I dislike? How do I manage to get the classes I want? Romantic love doesn’t last long. What are the qualities that make a really good relationship between me and a woman (or man)? Can I make enough money to take a half-year vacation to a Scandinavian country? I’d like to experience how they live. Who are my parents? These inquiries are not conventional thinking.

Growing up thus involves two distinct, fairly rare activities: 1) investigating activities of our culture and the behavior of our parents. 2) Asking ourselves what we want for this lifetime, and what are the means of fulfilling them?

WJ.COM: A section I’ve never seen before in any meditation book concerns ways of listening and investigative dialogue. Wow – if only we all knew this! Why are listening and asking the right internal questions so important not only to meditation but to a fulfilling life?

WB: Listening is one aspect of mindfulness, full presence. “Asking the right internal questions” is clarity, mindfulness aligned with compassion for the reality of another person’s inner life. Clarity and compassion are elements of full mindfulness. When these two traits exist, we begin employing investigative dialogue to help others. As Chapter 5 states, investigative dialogue is useful maybe once every ten conversations. People have to be ready for it, and the listener must skillfully and graciously ask the right questions. Therefore, if the speaker is truly seeking, he or she can find the correct answer.

Why are “right internal questions” important to meditation? Why is food important to a marathon runner? Right internal questions are the meat and potatoes of meditation that fashions mindfulness. In order for mindfulness to express clarity and compassion to another person, we must listen and ask the right internal questions. Therefore, meditation can emphasize listening and skillful inquiry. They’re the wheels driving the mindfulness cart.

WJ.COM: Can you say a few words about active, conscious breathing as it applies to creating space in which to live our lives fully?

WB: In its many forms, conscious breathing stops monkey-mind thoughts. It therefore “creates inner space.” When a thought does arise, conscious breathing quickly relegates it to Silence. When I discuss the five stages of inhaling a positive thought and exhaling another positive thought in Chapter 6’s “Meditation on Dimensions in Relationships,” I give the Step 1 affirmation on the inhale as, I am loved by the heart. Then the meditator moves into Silence. During Stage one’s exhale, the thought is I love the heart. Again, the meditator rests in Silence. Conscious breathing thus enforces two actions: 1) It creates inner Silence; 2) When a disruptive thought arises, it ends that thought and thus releases inner Silence or Space. Chapter 2 has two simple meditations, Replacement and Redirection, that also create inner space or Silence.

WJ.COM: Finally, we’d like to ask the question everyone else asks you – how are you related to your namesake from the 18th and early 19th centuries, the great poet William Blake? What about his work has inspired or influenced you the most?

WB: When I was a young boy, a distant relative checked out the history of William Blake’s descendants. I am a descendent of William’s elder brother, John. Unfortunately, Blake hated this brother. He was a bourgeois, unsophisticated fool who didn’t even like poetry. William wrote an unpublished poem that began, “My brother John in a black cloud.” So I might have the bad genes, not the good ones! (laughs)

Actually, William Blake is one of my two favorite poets, along with Emily Dickinson. He had an adventurous life instructing the younger romantic poets, including Keats and Shelley, how to use poetry to slice and dice their culture and society. Blake also built a hut in a tree and lived there with his wife for a couple of years.

Blake’s poetry nudged me more into the archetypal inquiry of What’s the truth about this particular activity or behavior?

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Meditation Tools for Our Daily Lives – Interview with Author William Blake

(PART ONE OF A TWO-PART INTERVIEW)

To order “A Creative Toolkit of Meditations”

Meditation is a word with as many meanings to people as forms of practice. It can mean devotion, contemplation, reflection, mindfulness, heightened awareness and focus, or simply peace and quiet. In most Eastern religions, it serves as the center of daily awareness and contact with the deeper self, or soul. In many Western religions, its importance is somewhat to entirely less. Some religions incorporate or feature meditation in their practices; others ignore it altogether.

However, millions of people in the U.S. practice meditation in one form or another. Its benefits are physical, mental 9781452574394_cover.inddand emotional, and its value longstanding.

Given all the variables for this ancient practice, sometimes a book comes along that breaks down the basic premise of meditation — and then provides equally simple exercises that will benefit all of us. Retired college professor William Blake has written that book, A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, now available on Amazon.com and through bookstores nationally.

A direct descendant of the great poet William Blake’s brother, Mr. Blake offers twenty simple tools with a basis in mindfulness that are specifically adapted to people with busy lives, tight schedules, and countless things on which to focus. In other words, nearly all of us. He spices it up with an excellent bit of memoir and personal storytelling, to give us background on his own journey, as well as the tools he presents to help us with ours.

What follows is part one of a two-part interview with Bill Blake on the back story of A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, and the book’s value to all of us.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: First of all, Bill, what motivated you to write A Creative Toolkit of Meditations?

WILLIAM BLAKE: I diligently studied and practiced seven spiritual traditions, spending a year or two for each one. Each delivered a useful message and helped me climb the steep, rocky path leading to greater functionality and happiness. Yet these practices, and their books, didn’t provide me with a coherent model. Depth and breadth were lacking. So I began writing the book I couldn’t find: a short, simple, reader-friendly book conjoining growing up and waking up, presenting a variety of easily mastered meditations with illustrative anecdotes, all of which encouraged readers to construct their own meditation practice. In sum, I attempted to write what I couldn’t find in any bookstore.

'A Creative Toolkit of Meditations' author William Blake

‘A Creative Toolkit of Meditations’ author William Blake

WJ.COM: You spend a lot of time in the book working with “real-time” meditation practices. Can you elaborate?

WB: I invented this phrase, or at least didn’t borrow it. “Real-time” means a meditation that is done posthaste. You’re eating with a friend, and he makes a remark that irritates you. You observe and feel this agitation, and then you release it by breathing it in slowly and deeply and then breathing it out slowly and deeply. You friend has no idea that you’re fully experiencing, and then letting go, of your negative feeling toward him. That’s real-time meditation. It makes conscious what’s here-and-now. With sit-down meditation, you’re sitting down in a meditative posture and conducting a meditation that will last at least a few minutes. It could direct your attention to a troublesome or enriching incident that happened yesterday. An efficient toolkit includes both styles of meditation. Both augment mindfulness, i.e., conscious awareness.

WJ.COM: We talk about being conscious, but what does it mean to be in a state of full consciousness?

WB: First, we experience a knowing (not a belief, conviction, or mere mental understanding) that I am consciousness. I am consciousness is not a belief, but a recognition. In short, full consciousness implies that we’re aware of our own awareness along with the object of awareness. If I’m fully conscious, I’m aware of my hand on the steering wheel, and also aware that I’m aware of my hand being on the wheel.   

Second, full consciousness is the sense of being connected with everything. Everything is connected with everything. I am the plate, bread, butter, potatoes, and beans right in front of me, and then I am the whole table along with whatever is on top of it, and then I am my wife’s smiling mouth and lips.

Third, full consciousness expresses awe and Wow! as we experience inner and outer realities. Objects, from a sunset to a coffee cup, have enchanting shapes, colors, textures, and smells. This enchantment is caused by our perception of “focal points,” which are the most concretely perceived part of any scene. If we look at our desk, we can see dozens of objects and can identify them by name. Yet each milli-second, we’re subtly attracted by a single object.

WJ.COM: Can you elaborate on how it draws out from a single object?

WB: For example, I’m now observing my computer screen. I notice the whole screen. Yet the focal point object is the shining silver surface of the hp logo contrasting with the blackness surrounding the hp letters. A milli-second later, my focal point is the straight right vertical line of the typed page on the screen. In another milli-second, my focal point is blue tip of a pen sticking up, with five other pens, above the rim of a circular cloth container. Full consciousness perceives one focal point after another, all day long. They produce the awe of life.

WJ.COM: It looks like the writer in you found plenty of appeal with this book, too, especially when you broke down how different traditions view “consciousness”. How did you present that comparison in the simplest possible form?

WB: Here’s how I summarized various traditions’ verbal pointers to What We Are:

• I must have and be awareness to experience anything. (Modern)

• I must have and be nothingness to experience anything. (Oriental)

• I must have and be the light to experience anything (Quakerism

• I must have and be here and now to experience anything (Everyday talk)

• I must have and be spirit to experience anything (Hindu and Western)

WJ.COM: You narrow down the various goals of meditation to two words – inquiry and mindfulness. Can you explain their differences – and also why they are such drivers of transforming lives when brought together?

WB: We practice inquiry when we have an issue: uncertainty about joining a church group, confusion over which career choice to follow, unhappiness with a mate, a lingering health problem, which political campaign to sign up with. Of course, we can also address these issues by reading a book or by meeting with experienced friends to access their wisdom. There’s more than one inquiry route to mindfulness.

To expand mindfulness, we practice it with both real-time and sit-down meditation. In addition, we are always breathing, and the breath is always manifest and available. By simply noticing our breathing, we become more mindful and stop beating ourselves up with negative thoughts about ourselves or someone else. With sit-down mindful meditation, we can move into the Silence and then deeper Silence. After a while, our minds slow down their assault of negative thoughts. Peacefulness assumes its rightful place in our lives. In short, inquiry provides useful answers to difficult questions, and mindfulness progressively cuts out trashy thoughts and feelings.

WJ.COM: What are points in common between the two styles — and at what point do they come together?

WB: Both styles feature Silence. Inquiry meditation asks a question and then passes into Silence which doles out answers. Mindfulness meditation starts and ends with Silence. It thus stresses an increasingly peaceful mind.

If both inquiry and mindfulness meditation are employed, we’ve got two strong, flexible walking sticks through our dense mental forest. One reinforces the other. As we clear out overgrown brush and tangled roots, or practice inquiry, we dive deeper and deeper into peaceful mindfulness meditation.

WJ.COM: A most impressive aspect of your book is how you present meditation to the dynamics of today – the hurried lives, bombardment of mind-numbing messages and external stimuli, pressure to make ends meet. Why is it so important for us to bring our practice to bear on the situation at hand, rather than trying to escape or “rise out of it”, as some practices might suggest?

WB: Americans encounter several debilitating issues every workday. Americans work longer hours than employees in any other modern industrialized country. Until about 100 years ago, marriage meant joining a community of extended family members who helped to raise our children. Now, both parents often work and children are farmed out to paid keepers. In addition, we’re submerged in a legalized society where we must be careful to follow the rules. A solid vocational or academic education requires many years of study. About 50% of recently graduated engineers can’t find decent work with decent salaries. For most adults, their environment is not a relaxed and enjoyable one. An hour’s crowded freeway drive to work and back isn’t fun. Many goals and payments have to be met.

With this pressure to conform, meditation can teach us to be fully present in each moment. The freeway traffic is heavy, but the cars are brilliantly colored and designed. A variety of radio music, interesting news programs, and even poetry are available to breathe in and out. The hills and trees can be beautiful, and buildings are often designed with exquisite form and color. As you walk into your work office, you observe Margie has white strings threaded through her dense black hair. George is as comically gruff as a bear and moves like one. Your desk is uncluttered and clear, with all the its pens, staplers, and a computer screen accommodatingly ready to work. You think, Today at least half the time I’ll serve my customers while being present and mindful. Meetings will be enjoyable with all their confrontations and absurdities.    

(PART TWO WILL APPEAR ON MONDAY, JANUARY 27)

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Bringing Presence to Eating Disorders: Author Joanna Poppink

(NOTE: This is part 2 of a 3-part series on author Joanna Poppink and her book, Healing Your Hungry Heart, which directly addresses the eating disorder epidemic in the United States in a most personal way – and offers insight and steps to achieve recovery and lead a happy, fulfilling life. It is available through Amazon.com and at many fine booksellers.)

Healing Your Hungry Heart author Joanna Poppink

Healing Your Hungry Heart author Joanna Poppink

WordJourneys.com: You weave together patient stories, before-and-afters, and personal experiences in Healing Your Hungry Heart to address inner and outer aspects of eating disorders, how they affect lives, and find lasting solutions. Why does this method of writing connects so well with readers?

Joanna Poppink: When I was in the midst of writing Healing Your Hungry Heart, I thought of all the people I’ve worked with in my practice and all the questions I’ve been asked over the course of my career.  I wanted my book to give information and direction, and my publisher gave me a page limit. As I was writing, I realized that I was trying to jam too much information into the book and was leaving out the personal stories.  So I wrote on Facebook and asked my followers, “What would you rather have, more information and less stories or less information and more stories?”

The response was immediate and unanimous:  more stories.  So I rethought the structure of my book and wrote with the stories.  The stories tell more than I know I’m writing.  Sometimes just a little detail in someone’s personal story triggers a powerful response in the reader that can make a difference in whether or not they will proceed to their own recovery work. Stories give hope. Stories show that people aren’t alone in their illness. They give examples of the effort required to turn their lives toward a new direction. They give the reader a place to identify.

I wanted to give as many examples as possible so readers could find parts of themselves in at least one story.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to get motivated for recovery work.

WJ.com: What do you feel are some of the societal and internal reasons for HHHthe eating disorder problem we have in our country? What is the common experience in the person with these disorders?

Joanna Poppink: A few things:

• Isolation. A secret self that is merciless in self-condemnation. The harsh self-criticism covers a vast territory that includes and goes beyond body shape and size.

The mind divides lived experience, so that when the person is in one world, the other doesn’t exist and vice versa. Splitting can be mild or severe.  It’s a protective device so the mind doesn’t have to know what it cannot tolerate.

• Magical thinking.  All troubles will go away if: she has a beautiful body (beauty based on current impossible standards); achieving perfection (in body, grades, career, work, any task).

• Treating herself as a thing, an object that doesn’t feel or shouldn’t feel and is desperately lost and frightened when she does feel. This tragic state allows her to invite and accept abuse and exploitation in her life. The rule is, she shouldn’t feel any pain or discomfort; if she does, it’s her fault.  She is her own abuser blaming the victim who is also herself.

And under it all, if she can get near the experience, is a terrible despair.

WJ.com: What are the main warning signs of an eating disorder?

JP. A number of things: eating for emotional reasons and not hunger; eating too little, getting too thin and focused on perfection in all things; eating large amounts of food in secret; throwing up or using laxatives as a way to get rid of calories consumed; exercising to an extreme in order to get rid of calories consumed and to lose weight, even when thin; feeling out of control when eating and continue to eat when no longer hungry or continuing to starve when very hungry; and harsh self-criticism about weight, shape and always needing to weigh less no matter what the weight.

WJ.com: When people want to recover, what are some of the first mis-steps they take? And why are they mis-steps?

JP: People can decide they want to stop their eating disorder behavior but have little or no appreciation of what recovery work looks like. They still think it’s about stopping the behavior. So mis-steps involve diets, Appetite control pills, eating every other day projects, eating one meal a day, eliminating certain foods, taking on an all-consuming project so they are distracted from their eating disorder behaviors, and more.  None work.

More serious mis-steps involve taking up a different destructive behavior like drinking alcohol, taking drugs or become promiscuous. To the person with an eating disorder who lives with constant self-criticism, sometimes nothing destructive or dangerous seems worse than the eating disorder behavior. But, as you can imagine, these behaviors only had more trouble to her life and do not address recovery at all.

WJ.com: Mindfulness is a big part of your life, your practice, and Healing Your Hungry Heart. What are the principles of mindfulness especially apropos for dealing with and recovering from eating disorders? How did this work for you personally?

JP: Developing a mindful attitude and approach to living requires you to be aware of the present moment.  Eating disorders are designed to remove you from that.  To be aware and mindful of your immediate and genuine experience is often intolerable to a person with an eating disorder.

To sit quietly and let herself be aware of her feelings in one living and real moment is to let her inner experience come through.  She can’t bear that.  And yet, to be able to be real in the present moment is to be able to be free to be your true self and live in the world as it is.  This allows you to make realistic decisions, to honestly appraise your situation and make wise choices, to know what you genuinely feel and move away from what is negative and move toward what you care about.

The approach to the present moment for a person with an eating disorder needs to be gradual. Being present for a few seconds may be enough in the beginning.  She needs to learn that she can survive her own feelings.

Mindfulness continues to work for me personally.  I can take a short or long time for a mindfulness experience, like watching a hummingbird in detail in my garden

or pausing while shopping to feel the ground under my feet and attend to what I see, feel, hear, smell.

WJ.com: Can you speak briefly about the exercises you’ve incorporated into Healing Your Hungry Heart?

JP: The exercises build gradually on each other, taking the reader slowly and gently into a longer and deeper experience of her own present moment.  The exercises build the reader’s strength, because she knows she did the earlier step, which gives her a more solid base to take the next.

(PART 3 of the Joanna Poppink interview will post on Friday, Dec. 20)

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The Road to Healthy Eating: “Healing Your Hungry Heart” Author Joanna Poppink

(First of a three-part interview series)

When Joanna Poppink was 40, she faced a pivotal, critical decision – do I continue to feed bulimia, or do I make a choice in how I eat?HHH

The crossroads to which the author of the wonderful book Healing Your Hungry Heart came is familiar. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men will have dealt with one of hree eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating – at some point in their lives.

In a culture where up to 60% of elementary school girls are concerned with their weight, the seeds are planted deeply. They are fertilized to alarming and sometimes fatal levels by media messages and concepts of attractiveness that openly espouse the super-thin.

Joanna made major changes in her life during her 30s. When she entered her 40s, she dealt with her bulimia head-on. “So much of my energy and thinking and behaviors went into maintaining my eating disorder,” she says. “If it were free for something else I could do vast things in the world.  That thought gave me real hope and incentive for the first time.”

Today, Joanna works with people struggling with eating disorders as a therapist. She also has written Healing Your Hungry Heart, part-memoir, part-prescriptive and part-self help and exercise, which gets right to her point about the origin of eating disorders – at the heart level. Learning to love and trust ourselves, she says, is a most critical step for coming to grips with any eating issue.

On this holiday season, when food consumption is higher than normal, we present a very special and exclusive three-part interview with Joanna. Once read, if you know someone who is in a difficult situation with their eating, please pass along this link or provide information on Healing the Hungry Heart.

Healing Your Hungry Heart author Joanna Poppink

Healing Your Hungry Heart author Joanna Poppink

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: Joanna, tell us briefly about your professional background, and when you started working with people with eating disorders.

JOANNA POPPINK: I was a returning student in the 70’s. I finished my B.A. at UCLA and Masters at Antioc, majoring in psychology. Then years of internships. I passed the licensing exam, and the State of California gave me my MFT license. Partly because of my age, partly because of my interests and partly because of luck as I advanced in my studies, I befriended senior clinicians at UCLA and at psychoanalytic institutions.

Bulimia was in the process of being discovered.  I had suffered with bulimia since I was 13 and was new in the mental health profession.  My friends had decades of experience in the mental health profession but knew nothing really about bulimia.

WJ.COM: Yet, because of being in a crowd of senior clinicians, you started talking with each other about it.

JP: Because we cared about each other as friends and respected each others’ minds we talked openly and in depth about the symptoms and experience of bulimia – my part, and how that could relate developmentally and psychologically to what was known about normal and abnormal human development (their part). I had no idea just how rich and powerful these conversations would be in furthering our knowledge about the illness and what it takes to recover.  They benefited us and the people we would work with for years to come.

My working with eating disorder patients developed gradually as my own recovery progressed and people who had children with eating disorders and then adult women with eating disorders began to find me.  It was years later that I decided to specialize in the field.

WJ.COM: When you were 40, you came face to face with your own bulimia. How did that happen?

JP: No one knew I was bulimic.  I ask myself the question you are asking and many people have asked.  My answer changes over the years as my awareness grows. I thought the change came, when, after cleaning myself up after a purge, I thought, “What could I do with all this energy I use for my eating disorder if I used it for something else?”

My answer staggered me.  So much of my energy and thinking and behaviors went into maintaining my eating disorder. If it were free for something else I could do vast things in the world.  That thought gave me real hope and incentive for the first time.  That’s when I told a few trusted people in my life I was bulimic and got love and support instead of my expected rejection. That’s when my healing work started in earnest.

WJ.COM: Yet, the seeds for this recognition and healing started a few years before, when you were 32.

JP: Yes they did. Starting at 32, I began to earn my own trust.  I went back to school and got degrees. I made rich friendships with quality people in my profession. I discovered I could learn and that people respected me and what I had to say. I gave talks at conferences and led seminars. People were glad to come and listen.  Colleagues invited me to do more. I made enough money to support myself and my child. I was building a belief in myself that I was valuable, competent and strong.

WJ.COM: How do you look back on that now?

JP: I believe I was creating value, competence and strength in myself. When it was solid enough, I could ask myself the eating disorder question that set me on my path to recovery and freedom. When the pain of early recovery work unleashed itself, I had wonderful friends to hold me with Sunday brunches and walks in nature, and even a recovering alcoholic psychiatrist who shared his story and the power of 12-step.

All that had to be in place before I was ready to begin.  Even my therapist was in place.  She was my supervisor and agreed to become my therapist when I told her I was bulimic.

I suppose the quick answer to your question is that I created the healing and recovery environment I would need to go through recovery.  When that environment was complete my inner dams burst and the healing environment held.

WJ.COM: Since bulimia was barely on the medical recognition map, it took a lot of self-discovery, fortuitous events and people dropping into your life to set out on your recovery path. It’s far easier today.

JP: Today, with so much more known about eating disorders, people don’t have to wait as long as I did to find a healing environment that can hold them as they work for recovery.  Clinicians and treatment centers abound and are ready to work with eating disorder clients.

WJ.COM: You cover far more ground in Healing Your Hungry Heart than any other book on eating disorders I’ve ever seen. Why do you feel it’s so vital to approach this situation with 360-degree vision versus symptomatically?

JP: When a person’s eating disorder begins, a good chunk of normal development stops. The eating disorder behavior moves her mind away from stressful situations that develop in normal life.  She learns to deal with stress by using her eating disorder to go numb rather than feel, assess, communicate and learn, as her life grows more complex over the years.

Often a person with an eating disorder feels very young and acts with teen-ager and even infantile responses. She’s not trying to be cute. That’s her immature response.

Real and lasting recovery involves picking up development where it left off and supporting healthy development as it occurs for the first time.  When she gives up her symptoms, she’s given up her coping style.  This is a frightening and vulnerable place to be.  Yet it’s essential that she get to this psychological place so that she can learn anew what it means to be a mature woman.

Through the exercises at the end of each chapter and the chronological development of the chapters in Healing Your Hungry Heart, I did my best to give the reader a graduated pathway to develop her own personhood.  Once that is well on its way, she has no need for an eating disorder. She has much more effective ways of dealing with the complexities of an adult life.

(Part 2 of the Joanna Poppink interview will post on Friday, Dec. 13)

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If Apollo Were Alive Today: AK Patch Interview, Part Two

(To see Part 1 of the Interview)

"Passage at Delphi," now available on Amazon.com and through booksellers nationwide

“Passage at Delphi,” now available on Amazon.com and through booksellers nationwide

AK Patch’s new book Passage at Delphi is a page-turning historical adventure thriller that portals back two  professors into a defining time in Ancient Greek history – and also carries its arch-villain 2,500 years into the future … modern-day San Diego. That dual time travel element is one of many exciting twists in the 336-page novel, which is drawing 5-star reviews from publications like Midwest Book Review and Library Bookwatch, as well as readers on Amazon.com and Goodreads. Just in time for holiday shopping!

There’s another, deeper side to Passage at Delphi: the presence of the Greek God Apollo, who is the mastermind for the adventures and lessons Lauren and Zack Fletcher experience. In this version of hero training, Lauren proves herself a heroine during a time when women never achieved such status. But why? What is Apollo’s plan? What would he be like if he were alive today?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=616-CHQDbH8

These are a few of the intriguing questions behind the book. We had some more for Dr. Patch, to conclude our two-part interview with him.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: A part of the Ancient Greek historical record you used  effectively in Passage at Delphi was the concept of the oracle. You used it as your time travel trigger . Could you elaborate?

AK PATCH: I like the idea of using ancient oracles to transmit my characters between the past, present, and future. I see the site at Delphi as kind a mysterious religious site. A shop-owner in Athens actually did tell me that when he walks among the ruins, he senses a tingling and feels as if he is gliding over the ground. This may be a deep cultural connection with his heritage, or a lightening of oxygen content, but nevertheless, it is a place where many people over two thousand years invested their hopes and prayers. I had many conversations with an associate, Dr. Anthony Marciante, regarding the intricacies of time-travel and how that relates to the movement of characters across millennia.

WJ: The mastermind in this book, and others to come  in this series, is another Ancient Greek icon – Apollo, the god of prophecy (among other titles). You stretch beyond the classic description of Apollo to position him in the modern world, tasked with a solemn undertaking of utmost importance that works through Zack and Lauren. Why Apollo?

AP: I see Apollo as a teacher. Not only must Zack and Lauren struggle to survive, but they are also in a kind of classroom themselves. Many of our countrymen live a stable, comfortable life in the U.S. There are those that don’t, for which daily life is a battle. Lauren, but especially Zack, must struggle and suffer to learn. Apollo is fashioned after the Greek Stoic philosophers. He is a benevolent taskmaster. He doesn’t just want you to talk a good story; he wants your actions to back it up. Zack and Lauren must become warrior–citizens for democracy, to preserve our nation when times become perilous.

Apollo’s training is not over. He has seen the future, even lived it. Greek gods like heroes to carry out their will. People are not hardened by one experience. It takes time, so our heroes must endure and learn before they can be effectual in the great fight that awaits them. It is our fight too. Can we learn and act in time?

WJ: You’ve written Passage at Delphi for reasons far more significant than crafting a historical action thriller. What is the underlying issue that prompted you to create this novel?

Passage at Delphi author AK Patch, doing book research on location in Greece

Passage at Delphi author AK Patch, doing book research on location in Greece

AP: I’ll answer that with a question: What is the state of our democracy today?  It’s a subject best debated by political and constitutional experts, but from the point of view of a citizen, developing events are troubling. More and more, greed, arrogance, and corruption are the mainstays of our politics. Who do we believe? Who can we trust to maintain the secure and bountiful future of our country? Look at the ridiculous shutdown of the government and the way we nearly fell off the debt ceiling. Why? How can a few hundred people shut down a government that we, the people, pay for and are supposed to have representation in? The Athenians had a hand in destroying themselves, as did the Romans. Can we learn any good lessons from their triumphs and tragedies? In PASSAGE, our heroes are propelled into real-time history. They will struggle and suffer, but they will emerge tempered by their experiences and be more cognizant by what has been sacrificed by previous generations.

WJ: To that end, you’ve created a novel with non-stop action that will surely appeal to younger readers as well as older ones. How do Millennials figure into the overarching story ?

AP: There are times when people need to recognize the lessons of history and realize that their generation is the one that is likely to be called upon to save this great country. I see the Millennials as that generation, so the message of this and my other books points to them. We will undoubtedly change as a nation on the path of that struggle, but we have to hold onto our freedoms and not let them be compromised. Other generations will see this in the experiences of Zack and Lauren as they endure real-time what the ancient Greeks did in facing overwhelming odds, and yet, emerge victorious. This is about instead of saving the virtual world, saving the real world.

WJ: How and when did the writing bug first bite you?

AP: The earliest writing project I remember was a short story written in 5th or 6th grade, 1966 or so. The Cold War was prevalent and I crafted a story about a Russian spy hiding out in Charles Lindbergh’s plane when he flew solo from New York to Paris in the 1927. I wrote it the spy’s point of view. He described how Lindbergh had to stay awake and eat sandwiches, had to fly above the waves and was excited when they crossed over Ireland. The spy escaped in the celebration after the landing and was impressed by the bravery of Americans.

WJ: How did you keep it going during your long military career?

AP: During my 26-year career in the United States Navy and serving with the Marine Corps, I held unit positions that required some writing skills – personnel evaluations and reports. As a commanding officer of Marine Corps Medical Unit, we concentrated on physicals and combat casualty care, but it seemed like the evaluation and reports evolutions never ceased. Also, I spent a lot of time in Greece … which found its way into the center of my writing.

TO ORDER PASSAGE AT DELPHI

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