Jew-limia (Rhymes with Bulimia)

Since I outed myself as writing a book, a few people have asked me what it’s about. I have a notorious relationship with the “about” word – one of my favorite quotes about writing is from the poet Heather McHugh, who said, “Poetry is not about about.” But the fact is, it has to be about something, and I have to be willing to confront what that something is.

Yesterday, I heard myself telling someone, “It’s about finding my voice – and using it.” Other days, I think it’s about my Om-Shalom, East-West, Jewish-Buddhist journey. Oh, and motherhood. And practice. And self-acceptance, redefining achievement, making a life.

Yesterday afternoon, after a weekend crammed full of visits and parties, I crashed. My mind kept trying to pull me into the “why?” place and the “should” place – why am I feeling this way, I should do such and such differently. I made a conscious attempt to stay in my body instead. I just sat in a chair at the kitchen table describing to Greg the energy I was feeling, the yucky, roiling around, full of birthday cake, overdrawn energy. That alone helped. He went out for a run and I made dinner while the girls splashed and fought and played in the bathtub.

When he got back around 5:30, it was officially nighttime and Aviva and Pearl were in their pj’s eating dinner. “Want to go power it out?” he asked. I haven’t been running since my hernia surgery, but I have been walking, and walking more than running is historically where I have connected with my power, my sense of stride or swagger, my whole arms-swinging, foot-pounding, angel-talking body. Greg asking the question got me out the door, even though I had just eaten a huge bowl of pasta and was feeling sluggish.

I practiced just letting my body be full as I sped up the dirt path across the street and then down the hospital steps and up the hospital steps and down and up and down again, then through campus and neighborhoods and campus again to the dark track and even darker bike path, by which point I was crying, talking out loud, raging at people who have died, realizing what I’ve learned from them, coming to some conclusions, and then letting those go too.

And at one point, I had this thought: I am writing a book about bulimia. It felt like a bummer to admit it, but at least on some level it’s undeniable.

It’s true and it isn’t the whole truth, but it’s the part of the truth that feels ugly, the part that’s the most hidden, shameful, unattractive, difficult. The part I’m the least inclined to say out loud. I want the book to be about other things, shinier things. But at this point, I think the book is trying to tell ME what it’s about, rather than the other way around. There’s more to write, and I’m finding that I’m going there, writing new things, trying to write from the gut and not the head.

And then, there was this stroke of brilliance. Jew-limia. This was a Greg-ism early this morning as I was describing some of this to him. I first heard it as “Giulimia” and immediately pictured Rudolph Giuliani as bulimic, which struck me as funny. But then I understood. It’s ugly, yes. It’s over, we get that. But the aftershocks – all these years later finding my voice and using it – are inseparable from the experience of binging and purging as a teenager, of staying small, of keeping things in and not knowing how to get them out in a way that could be powerful rather than self-destructive.

All of this is inseparable from my journey spiritually, my journey as a mama, as a life coach. It is all one journey. Sure, I could sit here and say that I don’t know what this has to do with being Jewish (besides for the fun word play), but is that true? Do I really not know? Or is saying “I don’t know” just false modesty or avoidance?

The only way past is through. And here’s the thing: this is serious stuff. So many women are disappearing themselves, denying their huge spirits, feeling powerless. It is not okay. This may sound like a cliche, but if telling the truth about my experience and making some sense of it in the larger context of my life’s journey can help even one person, then it will have been worth it to risk being so exposed.

So for today, here’s to Jew-limia, to honoring all the parts of our journeys, ourselves, to owning what we know to be true. Here’s to writing my heart out, and pounding the pavement, and looking right at the ugliness, and raging at the ones who left us, and letting our pulse rates get out of hand with the blood that is coursing through our veins. Here’s to opening hearts and mouths and letting the words, the sounds and the fury, come pouring out. Here’s to being alive.

Image: Silent Scream by Chitra Arunasalam

8 thoughts on “Jew-limia (Rhymes with Bulimia)

  1. The Other Laura says:

    Jena, I always always learn something here. I’ve used that “poetry is not about about” a thousand times, such a convenient dodge.

    What I am writing these days is about loss, what is gone forever and what you can coax back.


  2. Janice says:

    The book! I feel like you just told me you’re pregnant – and in a way you are. You are bringing something into the world that is beautiful, scary, life-altering…and I can’t wait to meet it. You are strong and courageous and inspiring, my dear friend!


  3. Kate Smith says:

    There’s something that really resonates for me in this concept of “Jew-limia”. I’m not yet certain what it is concisely, but the thoughts that come up for me are from my past in a Jewish family.

    My mother’s mother -who was anorexic and bulimic- was born in NY, first generation born here from Russia, poorer than poor. She eventually made a small fortune with my grandfather of similar roots. She used to say “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. And believe me, rich is better!”

    My sister too struggled with anorexia as a teenager. And I cut myself.

    None of these things are unique to Judaism, and yet there’s something about the culture of Jewish relations and homemaking that is prickling my mind in relation to those various forms of self inflicted violence.

    Maybe it will come to me later.


  4. Lisa says:

    Oh, what a powerful post!

    I am re-reading your last two paragraphs especially.

    Your statement of “so many women are disappearing themselves…” stopped me in my tracks.

    I wish you much comfort, wisdom, safety, and healing on your writing journey.


  5. GailNHB says:

    The last paragraph is hitting me hard these days, Jena. Letting it all out: anger and noise and ugliness – and myself too. How do I let it out without scaring everybody to death? Maybe a little fear wouldn’t be such a bad thing…


    PS. That piece on power was the foundation of my talk with my therapist tonight… how do I find and express and embrace my own fierce power??? Thank you so much, yet again…



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