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Last night, I dreamed that I watched my brother pull out his small intestine through his navel. I could barely bear to watch it, but I had to know whether he would collapse. He remained intact and gathered his guts up. I woke up.

Finally, I really understood how readers—especially those close to me—feel when they tell me that reading my book is a deeply uncomfortable experience.

Part of me has understood since I began to write it: I did not mean for the book to be pleasant. But after years of living the events and turning them into prose, I became divorced from the visceral experience of the work. I am no longer afraid of the things I have learned found harbored by this world.

Robin Williams has killed himself, and my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of implorations to call crisis lines for help or reach out to friends in times of suffering. I know that these messages are well-intentioned, and the information is important. I’ve called those crisis lines during a bipolar episode—they’re handy to help me bide my time while I wait for my antipsychotic medication to kick in, but a crisis line is not a solution. We like to think that the system will handle the problems of anyone who seeks help, and we like to think the hotlines will put out fires, but sometimes, what we hear silences us.

And anyone suffering from mental illness needs a support system of loved ones—but how many of us have needed that support at 4:40 a.m. and had nobody to call? How many of us have felt hesitant to reach out after we let ourselves be seen and felt judged or even punished for it?

Of course, be a friend to those in your life who suffer--but know that standing by is not enough. What we really need is for our workplaces, educational spaces, and social spaces to become safe places. I am so lucky that I have the luxury of being open about my bipolar disorder. Life was harder when I didn't feel that I could be. I went to work and school sick. A professor once refused to honor my doctor's note.

We do need crisis hotlines and empathetic loved ones to be there for us when we feel broken. But what we need more than anything is increased knowledge about the sources of our torment. My moods, for example, have dramatically improved since I cut out gluten, started taking 5-MTHF (I have a genetic variation that impairs my ability to use folic acid), started seeing an excellent therapist every week, and changed my life in other ways to support my health. I’ll never really know exactly how my brain was made into what it is. I hope for a world in which crisis aversion and prescription drugs do not form the core of our mental health treatment regimens.

When a well-loved famous person commits suicide, many people feel a sense of loss. Some people want to know what they can do for others who are suffering. Certainly, empathy must be the starting place. There is vague talk about the removing of stigma, and to me, that means, in a practical sense, having real and navigable policies in place that allow for the use of sick leave for mental health reasons—and the freedom for employees to use it without feeling discomfort. It also means avoiding using terms like “schizophrenic,” “bipolar” and “ADD” when we’re not referring to the conditions themselves, but behaviors that irritate us. It means having healthcare that honors our conditions as the medical conditions, sometimes debilitating, that they are, and allows us to alleviate our pain and work toward healing.

For individuals who want to help, it’s important not to make promises that can’t be kept when it comes to emotional availability for someone who needs a confidante and friend. Reaching out can feel like a great risk, even when invited, and nothing feels worse than being shut down by someone who has had enough. Be a friend, but make your boundaries clear and take care of yourself. The effects of being made to feel crazy, shut down, or alienated by a friend can be devastating for a sensitive and suffering person.

Tonight I am going to party with my friends as we celebrate my book release. My book has been unleashed upon the world. Anyone who wishes may see my guts. Watch as I pull them out of my tender belly. They are a thing to see.

 

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Almost seven years ago, I started working on a memoir, and now it’s one month away from publication. Some people liken the publication process to pregnancy and delivery but I cannot, because this book does not feel like a fetus. After all this time, I am without analogies. I have gone through the process of putting my lived experiences on the page, crafting them into something not quite like my actual memory, and revising the hell out of the work until the character on the page and the sentences that formed her were like a lace spread over my memory. This book is about my life, but it’s not my life. This narrator came from me, but she’s not the same as me.

That’s not to say that I put any untruths in the book. It’s all true, to the best of my knowledge, with a few minute details and many names changed out of consideration for people I needed to include but did not want to identify. My truths are unpleasant ones. 

I realized today that, because of my busy schedule over the next month, the next time I see many of my friends, my book will be available. I am less afraid than ever about people’s reactions to my story of bipolar disorder, sexual assault, promiscuity, binge drinking, and other things I don’t usually bring up in casual conversation. When I was younger, still smarting with the pain of newly inflicted traumas, and unsure of how to process my feelings, I would blurt out private pains to anyone who might listen--whether close friends or first-time Match.com dates. Later, I became so guarded I felt uncomfortable divulging the subject of my book to inquisitive acquaintances, because I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. Now, I'm figuring it all out and feeling good. I don’t know what it will feel like to know that my past is broadly known, though I’m the one who has made it known, unlike the spread of gossip in college.

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For the next month, I will be teaching, eating the best things, working on my pull-ups and squats, and not overtaxing my brain, if I can help it. I’ll see you on the other side.

My Body Is a Book of Rules will be available on August 12, 2014. It is now available for pre-order.

The book launch party at Richard Hugo House on August 14 will be free and open to the public. For details and a full events calendar, visit the upcoming events page.

 

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Book trailer #1 for My Body Is a Book of Rules. Video by Steve Barker.

Visit Vimeo for the full-size video.

Stay tuned--more videos are coming soon!

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My first book, My Body Is a Book of Rules, is now available for pre-order. It's a book in which I align the strictures of my Catholic school education with Cosmopolitan’s mandates for womanhood, view memories through the distorting lens of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and contrast my bipolar highs and lows with those of Britney Spears and Kurt Cobain—and 224 pages' worth of other things. Plenty of details about the book, including an excerpt, are available on this site. Check out the top menu to navigate.

In her list of "12 Memoirs That Will Get You Through Anything" for Cosmopolitan.com, Julie Buntin wrote, "Washuta’s story is written in an unconventional collage of diary entries, short essays, GChats, Cosmo quizzes (That’s right!), and even imagined doctor’s notes. The result is an ultra-modern take on contemporary femininity, mental illness, and identity."

The book will be available from booksellers nationwide August 12. For now, if you'd like to pre-order the book and help get pre-publication momentum going, you can place a pre-order with Red Hen Press, Amazon, or your favorite independent bookseller (just call and make a request if the book doesn't appear online yet). Pre-orders are incredibly important in the life of a book (see this great post for details).

If you pre-order your book from your bookseller of choice, you can still get your copy signed at one of my post-publication events.

Thank you so much for your support! I hope to see you soon and read to you from my book.

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Nickolay Lamm’s recent crowdfunding campaign to fund his production of an “Average Barbie” doll named Lammily received overwhelming support: 13,621 backers pledged $501,384, far exceeding Lamm’s goal of $95,000.

In July 2013, Lamm remarked upon the heightened body dissatisfaction, unhealthy eating behaviors, and desire to achieve a slim body to which Barbie may contribute. Through the use of CDC statistics of the average 19-year-old woman in America, Lamm created 3D-printed models of what he called “a normal woman.”

I grew up with a hundred Barbies and as many body image issues, but I’m not going to try to concoct causation from correlation. Since the age of fifteen, I’ve been on one dietary improvement kick or food makeover after another in an effort to kill the belly fat I can’t recall ever not having but have always known I was supposed to battle.

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For the past fifteen months, I've been working on the memoir that I've been calling my "second book," though the term seems increasingly absurd as time passes and the mass of text on my hard drive seems to be shaped less like a book and more like the rejected notes of a non-matriculated college student dabbling in three degrees. As a creative person, I have been creative about the definition of "working on." I've collected scores of books and articles on topics as wide-ranging as lactose intolerance, Ireland's Great Famine, phantom limbs, the Atkins Diet, food hoarding among squirrels and ants, Indian blood quantum, the effects of Seventeen magazine upon body image in teen girls, and the thrifty phenotype hypothesis, to name a few. I've organized my research in Scrivener. I've arranged books on shelves in my apartment. I've thought about my project endlessly and written too many synopses and outlines.

All of this material dwarfs the material I've actually drafted for the book. I have loads of lame excuses: I'm busy teaching; I'm focused on getting the first book out into the world; I can't get a handle on where to start; I'm too busy to waste time failing. When I embarked upon the project, I had a clear sense of its aims and scope. I could describe it and craft a lean grant proposal; now, when people ask me what it's about, my elevator pitch has devolved from a brief stop in "maybe food, and desire, and war, and famine?" to "I really couldn't tell you but I found thirty journal articles on hoarding today."
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Upon leaving my apartment this afternoon, I saw this index card perched atop the call box outside the front door. The question seems to be posed in the spirit of the New Year and the new focus it can bring. If I asked your friends what you loved, would they know the truth?

I don't know who left the card, but I considered the question as I headed out to meet my writing groupmates Catherine Slaton and Claire Jackson for our weekly James Franco Day meeting. As far as the "what" of my love is concerned (as opposed to the "who"), writing is the bloody, beating heart, and yes, index card, my friends know the truth about the intensity of my love for this work, the way it hits the pain and pleasure receptors like my massage therapist's hand so deep in my shoulder I think she might snap my arm off.
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On Friday, I took the day off work. It was my annual "personal holiday," a day the University of Washington allows me to use as I please. "What are you celebrating for your personal holiday?" my boyfriend Steve asked me. We had just watched This Is the End, a movie starring James Franco and his friends. "James Franco, of course," I said. I'm not a particularly big Franco fan—I just haven't seen most of his movies and missed his General Hospital run—but I loved Freaks and Geeks, recently watched James Franco's "important" performance (that's self-described) as Alien in Spring Breakers and then saw his performance as the James Franco who sleeps with noise cancelling headphones and an eye mask while the apocalypse happens outside his home in This Is the End. I had seen the Comedy Central Roast filled with references to Franco's off-kilter pursuit of art anywhere and everywhere. So, sure, my personal holiday would be a celebration of the life and work of James Franco.

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Yes, that's me, on Halloween 2008. As a Native woman, I'm not proud of my night in costume. As Halloween approached, I began to see links to pieces encouraging readers to think carefully before choosing a Tribal Trouble or Reservation Royalty costume. I thought, as I do from time to time, especially around Halloween, of a mistake I made five years ago, one I hoped nobody remembered: I dressed up as a "Naughty Native" to make some sort of subversive point, but the point was lost.

The more uncomfortable a memory makes me feel, and the more I want to forget it, the more certain I become that it may be rich subject matter for an essay. I wrote about it, and the essay appeared at Salon.
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I recently sat down with Rauan Klassnik of HTMLGIANT for an interview as part of the Seattle Author Spotlight Series. We talked about good memoir, bad memoir, Indian identity, Pennsylvania's Coal Region, and why I'm not too young to write a memoir. Also, there is a picture of me from college, wearing a hamburger costume. Read on...

If you're in the Seattle area, please come out to one of my upcoming readings:
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I've recently grown to love Drunk History. There's nothing like the narration of a filter-free lush on the brink of a blackout to underscore the absurdity of Our Nation's History, the kind that becomes fables in our young heads as soon as we're old enough to memorize facts from textbooks. Drunk History is a Comedy Central series that presents drunken storytellers—comedians and other personalities—recounting historic events, with which historical reenactments are paired.

I was curious to see what Drunk History would do with the story of Lewis and Clark's journey in the recent "Nashville" episode, which aired on August 27. As a lecturer of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, I teach classes on literature and film, most recently a class on the representations of Native characters in the Twilight Saga.
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It's warm and humid in Seattle, the tail end of summer, the crazy time for kombucha production. The hotter the weather, the faster the dense blobs of bacteria and yeast eat the sugar and tea in the surrounding liquid. In the summer, the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) makes kombucha faster than I can drink it, faster than I can replenish the jars with sweet tea.

My kombucha is, in my opinion, just about the best around.  I'm biased, of course, but I have been perfecting my method with every batch.
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For the past several months, I've been a part of the planning committee for an exciting event, “The Living Breath of Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ”: Indigenous Ways of Knowing Cultural Food Practices and Ecological Knowledge Symposium, coming up on May 1-2 at the University of Washington. We've been working hard to bring together the participants and registrants, figure out what to feed two hundred people without breaking the bank or going off-mission (no sandwiches!), and planning seating arrangements for the over-capacity crowd. Huge props to my fellow committee members, Charlotte Coté, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and Dian Million.

Most of you who read this won't be joining us for the event, but it's important for me to announce that it will be taking place. I know that some readers of this blog are members of the ancestral health community, as some of my posts focus on paleo diet or ancestral health topics. In North America, where many members of the paleo community are located, many indigenous peoples continue to employ traditional dietary and medicinal practices, tailored to environment and the human relationship with it, that have served them for thousands of years. This is detailed, living knowledge.
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Spring is happening in a big way here in Seattle: Oregon grape is blooming everywhere, flower beds are showing their perennial colors, and the deciduous trees are waking up. I spent the winter working hard on my current writing project, a memoir I'm calling Starvation Mode,while working on odds and ends related to my forthcoming memoir, My Body Is a Book of Rules.

During winter quarter, I audited a class through the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, the department for which I'm an adviser and part-time lecturer. The class, "Northwest Native Peoples and the Flora of the Pacific Northwest," was incredible in igniting my research. Here is the full description for this dynamic course, taught by Cynthia Updegrave:


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I was tagged by Peter Mountford, author of A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism and the forthcoming The Dismal Science, to respond to ten questions about what I'm working on. Peter is a Richard Hugo House writer-in-residence and teacher, and my writing has benefited tremendously from his excellent advice and instruction over the past few years. Below, I've tagged two other writers to answer the call and describe their projects.

What is your working title of your book (or story)?
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Update (3/14/13): Thanks very much to commenters Denise, John, and Jeremy (see comments section below) for sharing what they've learned by looking into this issue. In an email from Costco, Denise was told that "The organic ground beef is NOT 100% grass fed and is not labeled as such. The majority of the animals that are utilized for the program are exclusively grass fed but some of the animals are finished on organic grain. This is true and consistent throughout the US." Check out the comments for details.


When I signed up for my Costco membership, I was thrilled to see that my local store carried 100% grass-fed ground beef at a price considerably lower than the co-op at which I usually buy meat. I recently noticed that, in the section where I had normally picked up the packages of grass-fed beef, Costco was now offering "Organic Ground Beef." This beef is USDA Organic, with no added antibiotics or growth hormones, but nowhere on the package does it say anything about grass-fed, so I must assume that the cows are not grass-fed. (*see update below)

I contacted Costco via their website to express my disappointment and ask whether there was any possibility that the 100% grass-fed ground beef might return to stores. I received this reply:

We appreciate you taking the time to email Costco Wholesale.
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I used to eat at restaurants of all kinds, fairly frequently, without much consideration of food quality or agreeability. If I was splurging on a restaurant meal, I'd let loose nutritionally—that was my reasoning. Once I was diagnosed with celiac disease and had to eliminate gluten from my diet, I started eating out less often, and then almost stopped completely when I realized that going out without getting sick was too much of a hassle to be enjoyable.

Now, there are only a few restaurants I trust and love. Blue Moon Burgers tops the list.
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I am working on a new book, a memoir about growing up loving Cap'n Crunch straight from the box and Top Ramen with extra bouillon; about two years of antibiotics that left my gut defenseless against raiding parties of "bad bacteria" that would stake out spots in my villi for a decade; about deciding my gallbladder could just get snipped out because I was in college and over it and couldn't stand the nausea when it stopped functioning; about needing that gallbladder for every fat-containing meal after surgery and dedicating a page in my Martha Stewart scrapbook to how much I missed it; about going vegan because Skinny Bitch told me that veganism was the answer and "Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat" (11) and "Don't be a fat pig anymore" (184) and recommended the daily affirmation, "Every day in every way my ass is getting smaller" (190). The new book will be touch on the South Beach Diet and the Okinawa Diet and Ultrametabolism and paleo and the diets I make up in my notebooks to rationalize my habits. It will be about psych med weight gain and the unfortunate side effects that show up years after the commencement of treatment. It will definitely be about the cruelty, and appropriateness, of celiac disease striking someone who grew up rejecting every food but macaroni. After all that, I will write about where to look for answers.

But first, I had to finish revising my first book. A couple weeks ago, at around one in the morning, after many days of eating pretty much nothing but Costco salted caramels from an endless plastic container and sweet potato chips, I finished revisions on My Body Is a Book of Rules. I had received excellent, substantive comments from three readers and took a crazy week to overhaul the book. I became a sasquatch, hulking around the apartment and scaring my cat at four in the morning while contemplating sleep. I have finished my memoir before, but this time, I really finished it, printed it out, and mailed it to my editor at Red Hen Press for editorial input. I will make changes based on this review, but I call this draft “finished” because for the first time, I would be comfortable publishing it as it stands. I am done with it; it is my personal finishing. I say that every time. Hopefully this will be one of the last times I say it.
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A response to Mark Sisson's August 21 post, Gender Differences in Fat Metabolism


I'm more body-conscious than ever, but less self-conscious, self-assessing, or self-hating than I've been in the past. I've lost about forty pounds in the last year and a half, and I used to be unhappy with my shape, but when I think of myself and my physicality, my looks have little to do with my frustrations anymore. I lost the weight I set out to lose. I look good.

Still, things aren't quite right. Although I am 5'6", I have the long, skinny legs of a great blue heron, so long in proportion to my torso that I must carefully modify my squats to keep from toppling over in the middle of the gym (it happens); my hips are angular and unpadded, no butt to speak of; I keep my fat around the waist, less now, but still present, a cauldron full of so many ingredients: lack of sleep, a mix of stressors, hormonal imbalance, genetics, unknowns, all leading to fat storage. The area often bloats up to an alarming size, a sign of some distress my doctor works to fix, but I am still puffy and internally rebellious.

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In a few weeks—short weeks, very short—I'll be sending an intermediate draft of my memoir manuscript to my publisher, Red Hen Press. After five years of trying to make the pieces of this thing fit together, I think it's finally there. A few trusted readers are taking a look right now, and they'll help me smooth out the edges before sending it off for input from my editor. Through the help of my writing group, I got the memoir from slightly overwhelming in its messiness to a thing I think about with love, a thing that makes me want to go to the bookstore because I can't wait until I see my book there.

For now, though, I have to finish smoothing out the edges. Between teaching the summer intensive quarter and the revision, I don't have time for much else, certainly not cooking. Breakfasts are weird: today, roasted salmon over arugula, just arugula (the kind that comes in the plastic container), maybe some olive oil and vinegar. I used to hate salad, but now I eat it when I'm not even hungry but know I really need to eat. I don't care what's for breakfast as long as it energizes me, doesn't makes me sick, and allows me to go back to my laptop rather than babysitting my food while it cooks. When it's dinnertime, salmon gets dressed up herbs from the garden, one extra step that I have time for in the evening.
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