Monthly Archives: November 2009

Winter Doldrums and Health for Writers

It was snowing, today, in the high desert of New Mexico. The snow melted, leaving thick mucky mud in every direction. I had no desire whatsoever to brave the cold and wet outdoor world. I wanted to drink tea and coffee and hot toddies in my living room. I suppose winter does this to the soul; at least, I hope it’s simply winter and its doldrums.

Going outside is healthy, you see. The great outdoors offer many benefits to the writer, both mental and physical. Many years ago, I owned an old paperback version of Agatha Christie’s autobiography. The book has since disappeared, but I remember snatches of her delightful story, some of which, of course, were about her writing life. When Dame Agatha got stuck, she would venture out into the streets of London and walk and talk. Yes, she would talk through the dialogue–to herself–until she had figured out the sticky bits. While I’m sure passersby thought she was a dotty lady out for a stroll, what really matters is the literature that she was able to finesse in the outside world.

Writers, I believe, suffer from staring at their own walls too long. They are a narcissistic lot and, therefore, have a great need to take their problems, their frustrations, and their plots outdoors in order to to see that the world is a bigger place than their offices. Others exist on this martian planet we call earth: jack rabbits hip-hop through the brush, and swallows dart from the eaves, and, occasionally, people also traverse the rugged terrain of cities and deserts and mountains and meadows. Writers are not alone in the world, and the enormous sky above them should be enough to make them feel small and insignificant, right along with their trifling stories.

So, the outside world is good for working out problems of all sorts, textual and psychological. Physically, fresh air has its obvious benefits. Oxygen is good for us. We need it to breathe. We often forget, however, about the health benefits of sunshine. Yes, I know, it’s winter in the northern hemisphere! And I know doctors will foolishly tell us that the sun is bad for us! I will, despite any protests, wax poetic about the sun. I love the sun. I love to feel its rays burning my skin, and to feel the light entering my retinas and brightening my mind. It seems to stimulate serotonin, which makes me happy. It also seems to stimulate the pituitary gland. Undoubtedly, the sun’s shortwave rays do stimulate the production of vitamin D in skin, which is actually a hormone and not a vitamin. Vitamin D is called the happy vitamin for a reason. It kills the doldrums, caused by winter or life.

Obviously, I’m not qualified to give medical advice, but I will tell you what I do and don’t do in regard to the sun. I never wear sunscreen unless I’m going to be on a boat all day. Sunscreen is toxic and prevents the production of vitamin D. I always go outside during the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. During these middle daylight hours, full spectrum light is available. If the sun is further down on the horizon, its long wave rays will reach the earth, but it’s actually the shortwave rays that stimulate the production of vitamin D.

Now, I know that if I bare my skin at the height of noon in the middle of December, I’ll probably be out of luck, even living in a sunny place like New Mexico. Those of you who live even farther north run a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency than I do. Leaving the house is still important for the aforementioned reasons and, in the summer, vitamin D from sunlight can be added as part of the health-giving properties of the outside world. It’s my opinion that writers need to go for daily walks. They literally need to do this for their own well-being.

p.s. I take vitamin D3 supplements in the winter, plus a good quality cod liver oil. I try to make sure I’m getting around 4,000 international units a day. No, that isn’t a typo. I definitely didn’t meant to write 400. As recommended by some doctors, I simply multiply 35 times my body weight of 129 lbs, which is app. 4000–that’s how many international units of vitamin D I need to stay healthy and happy.

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Would you be healthy?

Most writers I know are pressed for time and, when they have a little of it, they spend it sitting in chairs. This is not a bad thing, if the chairs they are sitting in are facing their desks and/or computers. If so, hurrah! Hopefully, while sitting in these chairs, they will close out their internet browsers and open their document programs and begin typing away to ticking egg timers.

Accomplishment is good for the soul. Setting goals is a way to keep the brain sane. Unfortunately, sitting for long periods of time is not good for the body. It puts pressure on the tailbone and doesn’t do a whole lot for blood circulation. Add to that the neck that is often in a craned positing, and many writers will be attempting to rub the tension from their necks while simultaneously patting themselves on their backs for a job well done.

Movement is key. Notice I didn’t say exercise. Health professionals have conflicting opinions on what kind of exercise is good for the body: whether running wears away at the joints, whether exercise must raise the heart rate above normal for so many minutes, etc. The truth is difficult to arrive at because every person is different. Some can handle an hour’s worth of intense cardio, while others suffer heart attacks at the mere thought of intense exercise.

I prefer yoga, dance, Pilates exercises, and very mild cardiovascular workouts. If I’m stretched for time, I choose yoga because, in twenty minutes, I can stretch most of the muscles in my body, while strengthening my muscles at the same time. A half an hour of a sun salute routine with a few twists added is surprisingly satisfying if you’re addicted to the exercise-endorphin-release (see Yoga for Dummies if you want a simple routine). I also keep a handful of yoga/Pilates mix videos on hand that are no longer than thirty minutes each.

Yoga can be problematic for writers due to the risk of carpal tunnel. I hope that you are already aware of ways to avoid this problem. If not, then here are the general guidelines: place a rolled hand towel under your wrists to prop them up while typing, take a regular dose of fish oil, and keep your body fed with a steady supply of B vitamins. I prefer EmergenC powder because my body absorbs it well; plus, eating an apple a day along with a nice green salad will provide you with most of your B-complex. However, carpal tunnel may already be a problem. In that case, do all of the above and use a yoga block to avoid placing pressure on the wrists.

I may have claimed to prefer yoga, Pilates, and dance, but honestly, I think walking is by far the best exercise for a writer. And that brings me to the next on my list of health articles, so I will have to get back to you on that as soon as I can.

Here is an addendum: Manzanares St. Cafe was not exactly on the “meet the artist” tour that I described the other day, even if my name and my father’s name was on the list. Oh, well, so nobody went there to meet me, and I didn’t sell any cards. I did, however, write a new, better query letter while drinking my coffee there. For the record, the cafe makes a lovely pumpkin soup that warmed me up. And I will have another chance to sell cards at the Luminarias on the Plaza event, which is another local artist/tour venue. My time will come (that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway).

p.s. Just to reflect my hope as a writer, I posted an image of luminarias.

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Is she dead, Jim? No, her breath fogs the mirror . . .


I know I created this big set-up for several articles on health, but, ironically, my family has been dealing with a medical emergency this week. All week, at the end of each day, I decided that sleep was more important than blogging. Last evening, my husband and I put the children to bed and left our teenage daughter in charge and went out for coffee. Even though my Friday has been crazy, I do feel revived from the date last night. So, here are two tips, not just for writers, but also for the general population: no matter what is going on around you, get some sleep! If you’re married, go out on a date, even if it’s just for tea and coffee or beer and wine. Thank you for your patience. Hopefully, I will fulfill my promise of teaching writers to be healthy, wealthy, and wise tomorrow.

My one disclaimer is this: I have no medical training. Cooking wholesome food and studying natural health has been my obsession (no, no, it’s a hobby, I swear) for approximately sixteen years.

Here’s another addendum: my poems, together with my father’s paintings, are hanging on the walls of the Manzanares St. Cafe. The cafe is on the Bosque del Apache tour. Let me explain. Starting on Thursday, thousands of people have flocked to Socorro New Mexico for the Festival of the Cranes. Most of the event takes place at the bird refuge at the Bosque, but there is also a tour in town. Tomorrow, many people will be (hopefully) flocking to the coffeehouse, as well, and I will be there selling cards and/or booklets with my dad’s art and my poems. This is frightening because I’ve never thought much of my own poetry. So, please, wish me well.

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Is she dead, Jim? No, her breath fogs the mirror . . .


I know I created this big set-up for several articles on health, but, ironically, my family has been dealing with a medical emergency this week. All week, at the end of each day, I decided that sleep was more important than blogging. Last evening, my husband and I put the children to bed and left our teenage daughter in charge and went out for coffee. Even though my Friday has been crazy, I do feel revived from the date last night. So, here are two tips, not just for writers, but also for the general population: no matter what is going on around you, get some sleep! If you’re married, go out on a date, even if it’s just for tea and coffee or beer and wine. Thank you for your patience. Hopefully, I will fulfill my promise of teaching writers to be healthy, wealthy, and wise tomorrow.

My one disclaimer is this: I have no medical training. Cooking wholesome food and studying natural health has been my obsession (no, no, it’s a hobby, I swear) for approximately sixteen years.

Here’s another addendum: my poems, together with my father’s paintings, are hanging on the walls of the Manzanares St. Cafe. The cafe is on the Bosque del Apache tour. Let me explain. Starting on Thursday, thousands of people have flocked to Socorro New Mexico for the Festival of the Cranes. Most of the event takes place at the bird refuge at the Bosque, but there is also a tour in town. Tomorrow, many people will be (hopefully) flocking to the coffeehouse, as well, and I will be there selling cards and/or booklets with my dad’s art and my poems. This is frightening because I’ve never thought much of my own poetry. So, please, wish me well.

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Writers: could they, would they be Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?

Writers are, in general, an unhealthy lot. Their health issues range from the mild (back pain) to the more severe (cancer). These ailments are caused by the nature of the intellectual life: They

a) sit frequently with their necks craned forward.
b) do this sitting indoors.
c) internalize everything.

Some time ago, I read a statistical analysis of writers and their average life span as compared to the population at large. Although I can’t find the original study that I read (it was a while back), I did find several articles about the study. Here is a link to a New York Times article. While writers tend to have shorter than average life spans, there is also a hierarchy of doom amongst different types of writers. Nonfiction writers live the longest, and poor, sad poets live the shortest and most tragic lives.

Due to the hierarchy, I would guess that C is the strongest component in ill health for writers. Poets are far more likely than nonfiction writers to suffer from worry, doubt, angst, and narcissism. For that reason, I’m going to write a series of articles on health, beginning with A and culminating in the most important, C.

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