On Hiatus

As you might’ve noticed, this blog (and me) have been on hiatus for awhile. I’m taking a break, mainly because I had a baby in October, and I’m trying to figure out the whole working mom thing. I have some ideas, and hope to work on writing and publishing again soon. Thanks for all your support. If you’re stopping by my website and hoping to connect, I still check my email regularly: nicolejjohns@gmail.com. I still love hearing from people who have read my book!

Cami Applequist’s Brilliant Post About the Ghettoization of Plus Size/Women’s Clothes

I love my friend Cami Applequist for many reasons. She was a fabulous roommate, she officiated our wedding, she’s hilarious, bright, kind, and a great person. Cami has been writing a lot of essays lately, and she posted an insightful, funny, and sad blog post about her experience as a plus-size woman looking for some new clothes at Macy’s. I cannot believe this is still happening in 2015. Here is the link: http://camiapplequist.blogspot.com/2015/05/macy-woman-please-head-to-tornado.html

You should also check out the rest of her blog, because it’s awesome.

Cami tweets @camiblog, and she’s been tweeting at Macy’s about her experience.

In Praise of Doing What Does Not Come Naturally

Yesterday I went for what might’ve been my last run until the spring thaw. It was a bit blustery at 36 degrees, but it felt so good! I ran a slow mile and then walked another mile, savoring how good it felt to run outside for what might be the last time in a long time. This morning we woke up to a few inches of ice and snow, and now I’m very glad I went for that run. Running has taught me a lot. I am not “good” at running. I am lucky if I run an 11-minute mile, and a few years ago, I would’ve taken this as a sign of failure, and I would’ve quit running, but now I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care if I’m good at something, as long as I enjoy it. I do enjoy running, quite a bit, so I’m going to keep doing it. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

When I run, I have no expectations that I will be fast, or that I will win a race, or complete a marathon. It’s not about speed or winning, or distance, it’s just about the running itself, being in the moment, and enjoying the run. I will admit that I love running when it’s cold out, because I feel like a bit of a bad ass with my gloves, fleece headband/ear warmer thing, and tights. That being said, I’ve found that I greatly prefer running when it’s cold to running when it’s warm.

Running has helped my writing, in that when I run, I think about all sorts of things, including writing. I mull over old ideas, and come up with new ideas. I work through difficulties. Running also gives me confidence, because even though it’s difficult and does not come naturally to me, I can still do it. While one mile might seem like nothing to a marathoner, to me, that mile is hard work and takes significant effort. I am proud of that one mile!

We are naturally drawn to what we are good at, which makes sense. I am terrible at math, so I have never wanted to be an accountant, and if I was an accountant, I would probably cost my firm a large amount of money, due to mathematical errors. So it’s good that I am not an accountant. The stakes are not quite as high with running though, and I believe running has helped me  develop patience that I have not had in the past. I am a more patient person and writer.

We should all step out of our proverbial comfort zones sometimes, take a risk, and perhaps do what does not come naturally.


I Ran My First 5K, and I Wrote About It for The Billfold

Back in late August, I ran the Milk Run 5K at the Minnesota State Fair, and I wrote about the costs associated with running my first 5K for The Billfold. I had a great time running the 5K, and I can’t wait to run it again next year, although my running has dropped off since I started a new job, and it’s getting darker much earlier these days. Still, I’m hoping to get in some nice autumn runs before winter hits Minnesota. I’ve included some pictures of the 5K below. Enjoy!

Also, I will be writing more about the state fair; I just haven’t quite gotten to it yet.

Here is a link to my article: The Cost of Running in my First 5K.

Crossing the finish line. You can tell I'm not a serious runner, because I slowed down to wave at the camera.

Crossing the finish line. You can tell I’m not a serious runner, because I slowed down to wave at the camera.

My official race t-shirt!

My official race t-shirt!

Post-race vanilla malt!

Post-race vanilla malt!

Summer 2014: Running, Reconnecting, and Reading

It has been a very long time since I last blogged, but I’m back again, at least for now. I’m having a wonderful summer, and I’m looking forward to autumn, and football season. This will be the first time in a long time that I will not be teaching, which is a bit of an adjustment, but I now have a bit more free time to work on some projects that I’ve wanted to start for quite awhile. It has been a lovely summer in Minneapolis, not too hot and humid, although the first part was quite rainy, but there weren’t too many bad storms, and no tornado warnings, which is odd for a Minnesota summer.

A beautiful summer day at the Westwood Hills Nature Center.

A beautiful summer day at the Westwood Hills Nature Center.

My biggest goal for the summer was to run the Minnesota State Fair Milk Run 5K. Next Sunday, I will be running it, and I am so excited! I trained by using the Couch to 5K program from Cool Running. I also used the (free!) c25k podcasts narrated by Robert Ullrey, although I stopped using them around week seven, and just switched over to using the fitness app on my iPod. As someone who has never been a runner, and who is not naturally athletic, I found the c25k approach helpful. It starts you out slow, but it gets you to where you want to be. I highly recommend it. I’m planning on writing about my 5K adventures in more detail in a separate blog, but taking up running this summer has been fun, especially since there are so many great trails to run on here in the Twin Cities.

Look at my new running shoes!

Look at my new running shoes!

I’ve also reconnected with some old friends this summer, from when I was in grad school, and it’s been really good to reconnect with people who knew me when I was at a very different stage of my life. I’ve also been trying to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather and long days of sunshine while I can. It is perhaps a cliche, but living in Minnesota year-round makes you appreciate the relatively short summer.

Cherry in the Spoon at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Cherry in the Spoon at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

In terms of reading, I’ve been all over the place, but I’ve dug into David Foster Wallace’s essays (I still can’t get through Infinite Jest though), and I’ve been making my way through Willa Cather’s prairie trilogy as well. I’ve also been enjoying the archives over at they New Yorker, since they’re currently free (that’s not going to last long though, so read up while you can).

Brady and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary in May! It does not seem like it’s been five years since we were married. I also turned 33, and my friends Cami and Coco surprised me with a delicious cake.

Birthday cake!

Birthday cake!

As you can see, it has been a good summer so far. I’m working on writing articles about my running experiences, and the Minnesota State Fair, both of which I will be blogging about soon!


Rental History Essay on The Billfold

An essay I wrote about some of the places I have lived is up on one of my favorite sites, The Billfold. Check it out: http://thebillfold.com/2014/04/the-rust-belt-a-biodynamic-farm-and-other-places-ive-lived/

This is my first piece of internet writing to be published (other than blogging), and I’m excited!

Recovery Is Not A Linear Event

In early March, I traveled to Dickinson College to talk about eating disorders and recovery as part of their Love Your Body Week, and ever since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to define “recovery” and “recovered” (which I will be discussing in a later blog) as well as how there are some myths surrounding eating disorder recovery. Often, we think about eating disorders, treatment, and recovery like this:

develop an eating disorder–>seek treatment–>recover

And while that may be how it works for some individuals with an eating disorder, my experience, and the experience of many people I know who have recovered from an eating disorder looks more like this:

develop eating disorder–>seek treatment–>struggle with the eating disorder–>relapse–>seek further treatment–>…

The idea that treatment, and I’m talking broadly here about any type of treatment (therapy, outpatient, partial, residential, inpatient) immediately cures someone of an eating disorder is a myth. We need to work to dispel this myth, because it sets up unrealistic expectations, and adds additional stress to the individual who is trying to recover, as well as their support system (friends, family, etc.). I would venture that for most people, recovery is not a linear event. While this is anecdotal evidence, almost everyone I know that has been to residential treatment has struggled to some extent when they were discharged, even if they had the support of a treatment team, partial or outpatient program.

Struggling is normal, and I think it’s actually a good sign. Struggling means you’re fighting, and not just giving into the eating disorder. After I left treatment, I had a lot of ambivalence, and while I wanted recovery, my eating disorder urges were still quite strong. At times, I did very well in managing to fight off my eating disorder urges, and at other times I did not do very well, and I know now that this is somewhat normal. I was stuck in a black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking pattern, which is fairly common for people with eating disorders. It was hard for me to accept that I did not have to be perfect at recovery, and that there would be good days and bad days, and that eventually the good days would outnumber the bad days.

Early recovery is hard, and every day it feels like you’re doing battle with eating disorder urges, but eventually, it does get easier. It’s important to remember, though, that recovery is not a linear process, and that is okay. There is no perfect or right way to recover from an eating disorder. In my next blog, I’m going to be addressing relapses, as I think that ties in with this idea, and while we usually see relapses as bad, I like to think of them as a learning opportunity.


“The Biggest Loser” Controversy

I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile, but I’m just now getting a chance to sit down and write about “The Biggest Loser” contestant weight loss controversy, and while I will touch on the frenzy surrounding Rachel Frederickson’s weight loss, I don’t want to lose sight of the bigger issues at hand. Shows like “The Biggest Loser” are symptomatic of our collective societal issues surrounding food, exercise, and body image. How we talk about the bodies of contestants on shows like this fascinates me. Right now, Frederickson’s body is under the scrutiny of the public eye, and people are concerned about her rapid weight loss and low body weight. Once again, it has become all about the weight, and a woman’s body. Some people think she looks great now, and other people think she looks like she has an eating disorder. The only person who truly knows what is going on is Frederickson herself, but we love to speculate. Why is that? Why, in 2014, are we still so obsessed with women’s bodies? If you think about it, what do we know about Frederickson, other than that she was once obese, and has now lost a lot of weight? We have once again separated the woman (person) from her body. Textbook objectification.

I have no idea if Frederickson has an eating disorder or not, and it’s frankly none of my business. My hope is that she is happy and healthy. If she is struggling with an eating disorder, my hope is that the staff of “The Biggest Loser” helps her seek treatment.

What is interesting to me about “The Biggest Loser” is that the show takes obese (often morbidly obese) individuals who often appear to have dysfunctional relationships with food, exercise, and their bodies, and puts them on restrictive diets and launches them into insane exercise regimens. This seems like a plan that’s destined to fail. The trainers aren’t working with contestants to help them learn to eat a nutritious, healthy diet or to work out in moderation. Instead, they are propagating all-or-nothing thinking. For most people, it’s not possible (and most likely not healthy) to spend six hours a day at the gym. I remember one episode I watched in which one of the trainers said the contestants should be eating 1500 calories a day while they are working out six hours a day. That kind of caloric restriction combined with heavy exercise seems like a set-up for bingeing, and eventually a restriction-binge cycle.

What would happen if “The Biggest Loser” took a more moderate approach and aimed for healthy weight loss by teaching the contestants about how to properly nourish their bodies via a well-balanced and adequate meal plan? What if they aimed for a moderate amount of exercise per day, like one hour per day, without the trainers screaming in the contestants’ faces and trying to give them “therapy”? What if they had actual, licensed mental health professionals available for consultation?

It would not make for very exciting television, is my guess.

When I go to colleges and high schools, I often talk about how we need to rethink our relationships with food, exercise, and our bodies. Shows like “The Biggest Loser” encourage people to assign negative connotations to food, when in reality, food is simply fuel for our bodies. It is neither good nor bad. Likewise, shows like this promote the idea that exercise has to be all-or-nothing, and that hardcore exercise is the way to weight loss. And, these types of shows send a message that our bodies are not acceptable if they are obese or overweight. They promote the insidious idea that the number on the scale or size of our pants is indicative of our worth as a person.

What bothers me the most about “The Biggest Loser” is the attempt to humiliate the contestants and shame them about their body size. Shaming is never an effective way to help anyone, with anything, yet the contestants on “The Biggest Loser” are weighed in sports bras and spandex pants, and throughout the show, they are belittled and made to feel less-than because of their bodies. How is that helpful? I know that the contestants have free will and are participating of their own volition, but they are made to feel like the show is their last chance for weight loss. I think there just has to be a better way. Also, the idea that this is a weight loss contest is disgusting. While the factors for developing an eating disorder are not clear-cut, it seems like common sense that if someone had any type of predisposition to developing an eating disorder, this type of contest would likely trigger eating-disordered behavior. In addition, if a contestant is dealing with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) this type of regimen is not addressing the underlying mental health concerns of that contestant. This could be viewed as swapping one form of disordered eating for another form of disordered eating.

My hope is that NBC cancels this show. It demeans the contestants, and it propagates destructive myths and ideas about food, exercise, obesity, and weight loss.

NEDAwareness Week 2014 Thoughts & Seal Press Giveaway

This week is the 2014 NEDAwareness Week, and this year’s theme is “I Had No Idea.” I think this is an excellent choice for a theme, as there a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, and a lot of people have no idea what it is like to have an eating disorder, how to support someone with an eating disorder, or how to seek help. When I was traveling to and from my last speaking engagement at Lynchburg College, I had a total of four flights, and on each of those flights, I met someone who was either struggling with an eating disorder themselves, or had a loved one who was struggling with an eating disorder. I think we often forget that eating disorders affect not only the individual, but that they are also a community issue, and so it is important to educate the community about the realities of eating disorders, and also to dispel common myths and misconceptions. I think at this point, most everyone is aware of eating disorders, and now we need to move toward educating our communities about how to help individuals that are dealing with eating disorders, while also reinforcing the idea that caring for someone with an eating disorder is often challenging, and that caregivers need support as well. In addition, we need to shatter myths such as eating disorders are only serious if a person is emaciated, anorexics never eat, etc.

The NEDA website has a ton of great information and resources, but I especially like their NEDAwareness website: http://nedawareness.org.

In honor of NEDAwareness Week, my publisher, Seal Press, is doing a giveaway of some Seal Press titles, including Purge: Rehab Diaries. And, the winner also gets a tote bag to tote around all of those books!



Creative Thresholds

My friend Melissa, who I met at the Prague Summer Program back in 2005, edits an online arts journal, Creative Thresholds. I am honored to have my poetry appear in the current issue. I love the image that my poems are paired with.

Check it out: http://creativethresholds.com/2014/02/13/liminal/

I wrote “The Trouble with Bridges” and “Rush Hour” shortly after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, when I was spending a lot of time commuting in the Twin Cities, practically parked on overpasses and bridges. While commuting, I had a lot of time to just sit and think (sometimes traffic can be a blessing in disguise?) about life in general, and how much my life has changed, especially since I moved to the Twin Cities in 2003. I wrote “Liminal” in a coffee shop in Minneapolis on one of those dark, impenetrable Upper Midwestern January nights. I love the word “liminal” and the idea of “liminality.” “Poetry Village” is an old poem whose genesis was from an assignment in the MFA program. I don’t remember the exact assignment, but I thought it would be fun to personify language.