Where My Book Lives


This is where my book resides in a popular national chain bookstore. I saw it in its natural habitat for the first time on Saturday, and I was a little dismayed to find it in the recovery section, because I was hoping it would be in with the memoirs. Or on one of the featured tables. In time, perhaps. The picture is a bit fuzzy because I was rushing to take the picture before an employee politely informed me of the “no pictures” policy.

Guest Spot On Twin Cities Live

I was so pumped to get a call from my publicist today, telling me that Twin Cities Live would like to have me on their show! Monday, April 6th is the big day, KSTP (Channel 5 for the Minnesotans)@ 3PM. I certain you can somehow stream it if you want to watch and you’re not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. More details to come.

I’m superexcited, but also nervous. It’s live TV. That means no edits. And what am I going to wear?

www.twincitieslive.com

Library Journal (online) Memoir Addendum Review

Another good one! Although, I was an MFA student, not a PhD candidate, but whatever. I’m happy. 🙂

Johns, Nicole. Purge: Rehab Diaries. Seal, dist. by Publishers Group West. Apr. 2009. c.250p. ISBN 978-1-58005-274-0. $16.95.

In her twenties, Ph.D. candidate Johns had an eating disorder not otherwise specified, both purging and restricting food. Readers go inside the treatment center that saved her life, experiencing therapy and the field trips with the author. If you could handle Girl, Interrupted, you can handle this unflinching work rooted in feminist self-reflection.

I Know What You Tell Yourself

While I was in treatment, a residential counselor played the song “Tell Yourself” by Natalie Merchant for all of us. She said whenever she heard it, it made her think of us and what we struggled with daily, and that she wished she could make us see how beautiful, wonderful and intelligent we were. The song hit home for me (and well, I love Natalie Merchant) so I thought I’d post the lyrics and music video for you tonight. I used to listen to this song after I left treatment, while I drove the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul, trying to make sense of my experience with an eating disorder, and how to write about it.

Tell Yourself

I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself.

Look in the mirror, look in the mirror what does it show?

I hear you counting. I know you’re adding up the score.

I know, oh yes I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself.

Ever since Eden we’re built for pleasing everyone knows

And ever since Adam cracked his ribs and let us go I know

Oh yes I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself.

Who taught you how to lie so well and to believe in each and every word you say?

Who told you that nothing about you is alright

It’s just no use, it’s just no good you’ll never be O.K.?

Well I know, I know that wrong’s been done to you

“It’s such a tough world,” that’s what you say.

Well I know, I know it’s easier said than done

But that’s enough girl, give it away give it, give it all away.

Tell yourself that you’re not pretty, look at you, you’re beautiful.

Tell yourself that no one sees Plain Jane invisible to me, just tell yourself.

Tell yourself you’ll never be like the anorexic beauties in the magazines.

Just a bargain basement Barbie doll, no belle du jour, no femme fatale

Just tell yourself. Tell yourself there’s nothing worse than the pain inside and the way it hurts But tell yourself it’s nothing new cause everybody feels it too, they feel it too.

And there’s just no getting ’round the fact that you’re thirteen right now.

“>

Kirkus Reviews

Purge got its very first review from Kirkus Reviews! It’s a good one:

Johns, Nicole

PURGE: Rehab Diaries

A young writer recounts the trials and treatment of her eating disorder.

Midway through graduate school, 22-year-old Johns checked herself into the Wisconsin Eating Disorders Center, where she would spend 88 days trying to break the self-destructive regimen of restricting and purging that had plagued her since age 13. The memoir tracks her time at the EDC and the many harrowing experiences that led her there. Since she technically wasn’t underweight or morbidly obese, and still menstruated, the 130-pound Johns was diagnosed with EDNOS, or an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, what she terms an “island between anorexia and bulimia, a no-man’s-land that borrows from both diagnoses.” Years of limiting herself to 500 calories per day and compensating when her intake exceeded that by popping diet pills, chugging Diet Coke, purging and frantically exercising when overwhelmed all resulted in Johns developing multiple health problems, including severe heart irregularities. The author often narrates in present tense and occasionally second person to mimic the compulsive urgency of her fraught state of being: “There is no way out, so you binge on and purge an entire tube of Pillsbury rolls (half-cooked—you are too impatient to wait for them to bake), an entire box of chocolate Malt-O-Meal, a pint of Godiva ice cream, and a mug of chai tea.” Spare and unyielding, Johns’s prose distills the pain of her self-loathing while objectively charting the efforts of the center’s staff to help her and her fellow “Sisterhood of the Starving” curb and, hopefully, overcome such frenetic tendencies.

A revealing glimpse into the trauma wrought by eating disorders—especially important for the afflicted and those who care for them.

The First Copy

My publicist sent me the first copy of my book. It is absolutely lovely! It’s amazing to hold it in my hands. For so long it has been this intangible thing, and now it is real. Seal Press did an absolutely beautiful job with it. 🙂

In other news, I have word that my book is going to be reviewed in the March 1st issues of Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal (online memoir roundup). The Marie Claire interview went very well. Look for the May issue to be on shelves in late April.

Positive Comments In Recovery

I apologize for my lack of blogging lately. Trying to launch a book, plan a wedding and work 40 hours a week leaves for little time to blog! Something happened on Tuesday though, and I thought I’d share…

I have asthma, and last week was diagnosed with pneumonia, and on Tuesday I had to go to the ER. In the triage area, I was giving the nurse my medical history, hospitalizations etc. She asked about my history of heart problems (I no longer have them) and I told her about the PVCs, PACs and bradycardia I had while I was actively engaged in my eating disorder. She then went on to ask me how I was doing with the eating disorder stuff now, and I told her I was in recovery, and she asked me how I did that. I told her I spent 3 months in residential treatment and she congratulated me on recovery.

“You look fabulous! I can tell when people aren’t well-nourished and don’t take care of themselves, but you can tell you’re in recovery.”

It was awesome to hear that, although a bit ironic as I was so sick with pneumonia and asthma. A few years ago, I would’ve been suspicious of this nurse, and would’ve thought she was implying that I was fat, because in my disordered mind, well-nourished did not sound thin. But now I can see her compliment and congratulations for what they are, compliments and congratulations.

It’s a good feeling.

I have more things I want to blog about concerning people’s reaction to my ED history, as well as my disclosure of the writing and publication of Purge. So stay tuned!

Inspiration

I first read “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich in a college creative writing class. It grabbed my attention and I kept coming back to it. I taught it in my own creative writing classes, and it became an inspiration for me in writing Purge. It comforted me, and reminded me I was not alone. It also reminded me of my purpose in writing the book when things got hard. Throughout Purge there are excerpts of Rich’s poem, as I feel that I was diving into my own wreck in the writing and researching of my book. It served as a metaphor for the work I was doing.

Diving into the Wreck

by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Dedication

Dedication

For those who haven’t found their way out yet; and for those of us who have, and will always remember.

This is the dedication as it appears in Purge: Rehab Diaries. It’s a big part of why I started writing about my eating disorder and treatment experience. I did not write my book because I thought I had all the answers to recovery. Everyone’s experience with an eating disorder and with recovery is different, and I will be the first to admit there are no easy answers, although I consider myself recovered.

Some of the women I was in treatment with recovered, while others did not. Some women attempt to straddle the border of recovery and sickness, a foot on each side of the proverbial fence. Some women almost died. Whether or not we recovered, we will always remember the time in our lives in which we were eating-disordered, and of course the time we spent in treatment.

Currently, I am trying to make sense of my eating-disordered past, including treatment. It has taken me a long time to figure out how best to tell people I had been to treatment, and how to tell them I wrote a book about it. It’s a big leap of faith, telling people about my past. It’s something many of us struggle with. I have found, though, that most people take it well. They might be caught a bit off guard, but they are usually receptive.

More often than not, they tell me their own stories about eating disorders, alcoholism, addiction or sexual assault, or they tell me about their best friend who almost died of anorexia, or their partner who they suspect has a troubled past.

I wrote Purge in part to help people, to show them they aren’t alone, and that there is hope. I tell my story because it reflects the stories of so many others, and in the end, our stories all affect each other.

No matter where I end up in life, I will always remember the women who I spent the summer of 2004 with, and I will wonder where they are. Some of them are unable to tell their stories because they are enveloped in sickness, and while I don’t intend to speak for anyone but myself, I feel that (parts of) their (general) stories should be shared, because during that summer, our stories were intertwined.

How Purge Came To Be (A Brief Overview)

People usually don’t ask me about the story behind Purge; they’re usually more interested in when it’s going to be published, who the publisher is, can they get it on amazon, etc. I think the story behind Purge is important, though. I did not sit down one day and decide to write a memoir.

I started writing about treatment when I was in treatment.

A brief overview: I spent 88 days in an anonymous residential treatment facility in the Upper Midwest during the summer of 2004. My diagnosis ranged from anorexia, binge/purge subtype (this was actually inaccurate) to eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). At other points in time I was diagnosed with bulimia and depression. I was 22 turning 23 during the time I was in treatment.

Purge began as journal entries. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I would experience and bear witness to in treatment. Some of my journal writing was cathartic, but some of it was to simply record what was happening around me. When I left treatment I pored over my journal entries, pictures and documents from treatment and realized that together, they formed a cohesive narrative. Less than a month after my discharge, I was back at the University of Minnesota MFA program, taking a nonfiction workshop, and I found that all I could write about was treatment. The words literally flowed from my fingers.

At first, I wrote 20 pages of diary-like entries. Gradually, I lengthened these and placed them in some semblance of chronological order. Next, I started incorporating documents, such as insurance statements, meal plans, therapy assignments etc, as they complemented my writing and added a new dimension to my manuscript. Throughout the fall and spring of 2004/2005 I wrote and wrote. This was not always easy. Writing about my experience with eating disorders and treatment is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In fact, next to recovering from my eating disorder, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I spent a lot of time driving around the Twin Cities, listening to cds and thinking about writing. I pumped my friends and the women I was with in treatment for information. My manuscript grew into a thesis. I spent a lot of time in various coffee shops that let me run exorbitant tabs (thanks Blue Moon, A Fine Grind, Purple Onion and Espresso Expose). I spent a lot of time in therapy and sending angsty-emails to my thesis advisor on Sunday afternoons.

During the spring of 2005, I applied for the Prague Summer Program Eda Kriseova Fellowship (using Purge), and I won! I spent a month in Prague during the summer of 2005, where I explored the Czech Republic and Poland, and continued to work on Purge. Spending the summer in Eastern Europe definitely beat eating disorder treatment. I had an amazing time in Prague, and it solidified my belief that I had the power to overcome my eating disorder. Once I won the PSP Fellowship, something changed inside me and I lost any ambivalence I may have had about recovery. I knew that I had reached the point where I no longer saw any benefit to engaging in my eating disorder. I didn’t want to waste my time in Prague engaging in eating disorder behaviors.

I spent fall and spring of 2005/2006 working on my thesis. After I graduated from the MFA program, I spent a month in northern Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center, where I spent a lot of time reading books, sunbathing and swimming in the Gihon River, drinking cheap beer around nightly bonfires as well as working on writing a query letter and beginning the search for an agent. I also wrote the prologue and epilogue to Purge.

I found Agent Barbara (Irene Goodman Literary Agency). Other than my thesis advisers, Julie Schumacher and Patricia Weaver Francisco, I think Agent Barbara has been the biggest champion of Purge. She hooked me up with my publisher, Seal Press.

I have been in recovery since 2005, and part of why I wrote Purge was to help others who are struggling with an eating disorder as well as to dispel some common myths surrounding eating disorders (more on this later).