Category: Blog (Page 1 of 26)

Book Review: Out of the Pantry

by Linda Romano

In her memoir, Out of the Pantry[1], Ronni Robinson confronts how a childhood eating pleasure turned into a full out “compulsive eating disorder.”  As a latch-key child, Robinson found solace in biking home hurriedly from school to indulge in whatever variety of cookies her mother had tucked away in the kitchen drawer with a tall glass of cold milk. With an older brother at home, who mostly ignored her, she sat alone at the table, dipping cookie after cookie, “like a robot, losing all sense of what was going on around me … the shimmer of happiness seemed to float down.” Robinson’s willingness to share her journey from bingeing to recovery is inspirational and shows it is possible.

Different from anorexia or bulimia, compulsive overeating is similar to binge eating or emotional eating. Robinson writes, “It includes eating faster than usual, eating past the point of fullness, eating alone or in secret, and feeling guilty or upset after overeating, and/or feeling ‘taken over’ or ‘driven’ in respect to eating.” Robinson resonated with all of these traits when she heard it discussed on television, a few months shy of turning forty and with two young children. By then sneaking food, mostly sweets like cookies and pastries, had become an engrained, lifelong habit. But with a loving husband, Efrem, in her life, the habit was becoming exhausting to maintain without being caught or questioned.

She tried to avoid her husband at a work Christmas party, but he found her, for the second time, hovering around the cookie trays:

My compulsion was unmanageable. I can’t explain why, despite being full, I still wanted more. I was stuffed, and they didn’t taste as good, but I was driven to find that perfect bite, that perfect taste again. That perfect combination of chocolate and dough that tasted as good as those first few bites eluded me, but I kept trying. These cookies were like oxygen for anyone else. I literally didn’t think I could live without them.

While eating one, I heard Efrem’s voice from behind. ‘What are you doing?’ He’d caught me. Again. Startled me.

‘I was just having one more,’ I lied.

Robinson’s obsession with cookies began when she was a child. One day, when Robinson was in the seventh grade, she came home from school and the cookies were no longer in the drawer even though she knew her mother had bought them. Robinson alludes to the emotional distance that was building up between her and her mother; she envied her best friend Jen who lived down the street with a stay-at-home mom. “I could picture Jen and her mom making dinner together, standing shoulder to shoulder, wearing matching aprons.” Robinson does this well throughout the memoir—recalling glimpses of childhood scenes to connect the emotions that led to her eating disorder, how she longed for a happier family life. With the cookies subversively taken away, Robinson recognized her mother’s silent disapproval, not the overt anger, she observed, of her mother scolding her father when, just like her, he sat at the table and devoured “a whole bunch” of cookies. To avoid further conflict with her mother, Robinson used babysitting money to buy her own cookies and developed tactics to avoid being discovered. “I had to figure out how to hide the empty carton, I crumpled it up and back into the grocery bag … crumpled that up too … and buried it deep into the kitchen trash can.” Characteristics of her parents could have been further developed throughout these scenes since they are clearly the impetus to Robinson’s food addiction. They are almost as invisible to us in the writing as they were to Robinson in her life.

Robinson provides involved and detailed descriptions of her cookie fantasies and the elaborate strategies she uses to keep them hidden but hesitates to elaborate on her emotions. The only focus was “not to get caught.” We can all relate to the childhood pleasure of a Chips Ahoy, like Robinson describes, “I carefully ate the little chips out” and dipped them into milk “until the cookie got soggy and dissolved in my mouth.” And the Oreos, “fun because there was so much you could do with them … twisting one open and licking out the sweet white filling.” And who hasn’t snuck a cookie or two before dinner without their parents knowing? For Robinson though, it never stopped. Because her weight stayed relatively stable after college, bingeing privately could be compensated for by taking long runs and exercise. For her, eating was a pleasure and keeping it hidden was no different than possibly any other woman trying to maintain the public image of a perfect body. We develop compassion for Robinson from our own experiences, but it is difficult to connect with the shame or loneliness she felt. She acknowledges later, once she accepted the addiction, how she missed out on developing deeper friendships while being so “laser-focused on food.”

Robinson suggests the distant relationship with her mother led to her food addiction, although she admits, she never realized it at the time. “I was trained to just let things happen to me, to accept situations with little or no challenge.” She refers to the tension in her parents’ marriage, the arguments at dinner, and how her mother embodied a “don’t make waves behavior.” In her first marriage, before meeting Efrem, she realized the emotional abuse of her ex-husband was similar to her parents’ behavior. Many of her feelings are expressed through her food habits. After a fight with her first husband, she omits details about her anger and, instead, describes the trip to the market and the spoonsful of chocolate marshmallow ice cream in the parking lot. We can only imagine her loneliness.

With individual therapy and supportive groups like Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Robinson discovered that overeating created a sense of fullness in order to “numb out” uncomfortable feelings. Like other addiction programs, like the Twelve Steps used in Alcoholics Anonymous , the important first step is to “admit the powerlessness over food and that life has become unmanageable.” It is important to get past “the pink cloud of abstinence,” Robinson warns. This is the vague term used in the OA community of having the mental willpower to no longer food binge, but without confronting the root cause of the behavior. For some people, mental willpower is enough to quit, but for most, it is easy to slip back into temptation. Robinson stresses the importance of being honest about past behaviors and sharing the truth with others. Her memoir is personal and provides a guide to resist the physical and mental control of an overeating disorder without obsessive calorie counting.

Robinson currently speaks publicly about eating disorders and emotionally abusive relationships and serves as an administrator on the Facebook page Overcoming Food Nonsense.

Linda Romano grew up on the south side of Chicago and currently lives in California’s Silicon Valley working as an engineer. She received a PhD in Materials Science at the University of Illinois and is presently pursuing an MFA in Nonfiction at the UC Riverside Palm Desert Program. She is working on a memoir about her upbringing and life as an engineer while raising two children. Her favorite pastime is enjoying the outdoors, especially on a bicycle.

The Search for Happiness

By Cliff Saunders

Want to be happier?
Welcome birds to your
vast coral bed of remembrance.

You are assured of getting
your compass of moles,
your weekly copy of available space.

Give your heart a little bit
of soul, a pivotal spin
on the altar of your mountain porch.

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Sweet Nothings

By Cliff Saunders

There is no brotherhood of smiling wizards,
no mantra against the bells of teen spirit.

No mystery here—stones celebrate with song
how they shape the world into mountains

and waterfalls, their voices full of gracefulness
and elegance. We ought to let them dream

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Into the Afterlife

By Cliff Saunders

What happens when you die?
I think you’ll open at last
into the pain of oceans,
into memory and its horizon,

into music, music, music.
I can’t tell you when the lilies
will be glorious, when red flags
will be singing over the edge

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Book Review: Slouching Towards Los Angeles: Living and Writing by Joan Didion’s Light

by Leni Leanne Phillips

Slouching Towards Los Angeles: Living and Writing by Joan Didion’s Light is a collection of twenty-five essays, edited by Steffie Nelson, exploring the myriad ways in which Joan Didion has influenced and shaped contemporary writers. What is most fascinating about this anthology is that each writer’s story is so distinctive. “Each author finds a unique entry point,” Nelson writes in her introduction. That is to be expected to some extent, of course, but I found the breadth and depth of these differences are what give the anthology its heart. Didion is famously inscrutable, yet she seems to have given each of these writers whatever they needed and were ready to receive. Nelson writes in her introduction that Didion “held California up like a diamond, revealing each facet (and flaw) ….” This anthology does the same for Didion, functioning as a pentacosagon prism through which we are invited to see Didion in all her colors.

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Decade Old Elegy: Personal Dream

by Sean Cho A.

and you wake. You’re in the passenger’s seat
now here’s the first choice:
look forward or
look left
what you chose says a lot
about trust. Let’s say you look left.
The man driving looks like your father.

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Book Review: Parakeet

by Ioannis Argiris

The opening of Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino starts off as a wild dream state for Luna, a young bride-to-be. Her dead grandmother manifests as a parakeet in a hallucinogenic vision and urges Luna to reconcile with her brother before her wedding day. We meet Luna at a dilapidated hotel on Long Island, trying on her wedding dress, as her grandmother inquires about family and traditions. But when Luna brushes off her grandmother’s request that she make amends with her brother, her grandmother—the parakeet—defacates on the wedding dress, forcing Luna to plunge into an unusual journey. The novel delivers an honest connection to family, through the lens of the theater, that makes for a great read.

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Already Dead Things

by Stacy Bierlein

Outdoor education was a thing the parents liked. Kids should know how things grow, they said. Children want to take care of things, we agreed, to be individually responsible. If the cabbage actually survived we took it to a local food bank. This time, though, the rabbits got in.

Was something wrong with the soil? a little girl wanted to know.

No, I said, the rabbits were hungry.

I didn’t explain that they probably came down from the cemetery at the top of the hill, displaced by a digging of graves. In our perfectly constructed greenhouse everything that should have been green was dead. The Lahiris had endowed the new greenhouse. Two of their sons were alums and five of their grandchildren were here. It all should have been very nice but I had forty kids in there with me, my second graders and Ms. Frothmeyer’s first graders, staring into empty planters, scattered soil, absence. It was pathetic.

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Book Review: Two Menus

By Andréa Ferrell Gannon

Rachel DeWoskin is a five-time novelist and memoirist. Two Menus is her debut poetry collection which, despite being billed as poetry, does not escape a certain delicious fictionness, like here: “The night Des tore her hair out, it was literal. / White sheets beneath her lit the hospital,” or here: “Today, school again in the wrong / boots, dress Kari S. writes along / my locker ‘bitch.’ She still / leaves me notes: ‘I hope you die – I will.”

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By Guna Moran

A rock can only be made smaller
By beating and hitting
Can never be made larger

Rocks are generally homeless
They lay everywhere

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