1 Year, 100 Pounds: A Report Card of Sorts

Me at the Beginning: Hair washed,
earrings in place and a pan-fried disaster
This time, a year ago, I weighed 285. I’m not whining about this, and I’m certainly not bragging; I’m just stating a fact.  A year ago my extra weight brought my life crashing to a halt.  This seems like a good time to take stock.
If you had asked me, back then, if I could lose 100 pounds in a year, I would have cried and told you “No.” It takes energy to burn extra pounds off, and I didn’t have the “oomph” to clean my house or keep up at work, much less exercise. My house and yard needed cleaning and maintenance, my in-box was 7 inches thick, and  I was in the middle of the disaster area, exhausted and overwhelmed. Get my life and my world back on track?  I wasn’t sure how to begin!
That’s me on the left at 30 pounds down.
I can tell even if you can’t!
I couldn’t have made it through those first few months without the help of Weight Watchers.  They didn’t judge me, they taught me to consider what I ate, and they rejoiced over every ounce I dropped.  They’re still there today, full of helpful hints and encouragement and I look forward to seeing “my gals” at every meeting.  My writing teacher, Javacia, says we each need to find “our tribe” and when we do, love them hard.  Weight Watchers is my tribe, and I love Y’all.  You keep me focused.
Fitbit was my sister’s idea, just what you’d expect from an athletic, skinny woman.  (Actually, she’s perfect, but don’t tell her I said so!)  Fitbit gets me up and keeps me going, always looking out for ways to cram in more activity.  I cleaned my closets to increased my Fitbit steps.  I sanded and repainted my porch for the same reason.  Each activity improved my health and my world, and because Fitbit always zeroes out at midnight, I can never rest on my laurels.  Between Fitbit and WeightWatchers, I dropped the first 60 pounds.  By then, I was ready for bigger measures.
1-month post surgery:
2 chins still but
now a hint of a waist.
I don’t think weight-loss surgery is for everyone, but it’s been a wonder for me.  Over the years, I had overeaten so much, my stomach had stretched, and I never felt full, even though I chased food like it was going out of style.  Dr. Cameron Askew‘s gastric sleeve operation gives me a new lease on life, especially whenever we eat out.  Three bites and then I start getting full; five bites and I’m done.  I still have the curse of the emotional eater; the mindless drive to graze when I’m unhappy, but the surgery has done its work.  I’ve dropped enough pounds to tackle bigger projects like replanting the garden and cutting back the trees that grew up while my weight tied me down.
1 year later
Now, none of this has been “easy” weight loss so far, and the journey is far from done.  I can tell you what it’s like to lose 30 pounds, walk into a store and find nothing large enough to fit me; about waking up stiff and sore from yesterday’s workout to find the scale numbers went up, not down. I’ve outlasted at least two weight-loss plateaus. And it turns out I’ve got an ungodly allergy to poison oak. But on Tuesday, the reading on the scale was 184.5. One hundred pounds in a year.  All of the sudden, I wasn’t tired or itchy.
I still have fifty pounds to drop, bald spots on my lawn, and a second career that has yet to take off.  But I’d be lying if I said life isn’t better or I’m not a healthier or happier person. And, after everything’s been said and done, I’m thrilled about what can change in a year.

The Mystery of the Mystery Lady

Sorry if you’ve missed updates of this blog for the past week or two.  The combination of seasonal affective depression, a back injury and poison oak knocked me out for a bit.  Hope you enjoy the return!
Civilization’s changed a lot in the last hundred years. (That’s an understatement, wouldn’t you say?) We’ve gone from flimsy, barely airborne planes to walking on the moon and probes exploring the solar system; wooden wall phones for the well-to-do to computer smartphones attached to practically everyone; tiny circles of close friends and family to global communities.  With all of that change, a lot of formerly private life have become increasingly public.  I’m not sure if Elizabeth MacKintosh would have liked the world today.  As a mystery writer, she was better than average, but the best enigma she ever created was her life.
You say you’ve never heard of Elizabeth MacKintosh?  Tell you the truth, I hadn’t much either until I ran into J. M Henderson’s Josephine Tey: A Life.  And that is the name mystery lovers recognize.  Josephine Tey, the creator of the Alan Grant mysteries and Brat Farrar.  The lady who entertained us by breaking the rules laid out by other mystery writers.  The author who included insights into girls colleges and “the life theatrical” in some of her books but never explained how she got the knowledge.  The answer is, they came from other, undisclosed parts of her life.
As Elizabeth MacKintosh, she trained at a girl’s college and taught in England until her mother’s death and her sisters’ marriages returned her to Scotland.  To Inverness, she remained ever after Miss MacKintosh, her father’s housekeeper and one of those women who lost a sweetheart in “The War.”  Under this cover, Elizabeth began to publish under the name Gordon Daviot: first stories, then plays.
In Miss Pym Disposes, the title character has accidentally become a best-selling authoress.  Gordon Daviot’s hit play, Richard of Bordeaux brought the same level of success and consternation to its author.  The money from it paid for the occasional bit independence from Scotland and her father’s home, but now Gordon Daviot was supposed to be a writer of historical plays.  So Gordon continued to write for the stage, a dozen plays over the next quarter century.  And with a new pseudonym, Josephine Tey began to publish well-known mysteries at the same time.
How compartmentalized did Elizabeth MacKintosh’s life get?  During the last year of her life, she was terribly ill but never released the news. Her death came as a shock to the celebrated actors who didn’t know “Gordon” was sick, and the Josephine Tey fans who (at least) got one more “Alan Grant” story: The Singing Sands, found in her papers and published posthumously.
Henderson’s biography helps flesh out some of the details hinted at in her subject’s work and the research adds some sorely needed context, but in the end, we only learn what Miss MacKintosh experienced during her life, not what she thought or how she felt about it.  Those impressions were not available to the public under any name.  They remain the private property of Elizabeth MacKintosh  / Gordon Daviot  / Josephine Tey.  And maybe, that’s as it should be.

Murder Amongst the Scribblers

One of the things fiction readers love is something Stephen King described as “pulling aside the curtain”.  Grisham fans get a peek at the lives of lawyers because that’s the world their author had known before he picked up a pen.  Val McDermid and Patricia Cornwell delight devotees with their stories of police and forensic detection because, as former crime journalists, they knew the turf.  But it takes someone like Josephine Tey to pull aside the curtain on that most nefarious tribe – the writers – and give readers an eyeball into the world of professional scribblers.  To Love and Be Wise may be sixty-seven years old but when it comes to describing the workings of a writer’s community, this story feels like a vat of fresh, hot, gossip.

The plot is simple: Leslie Searle, an American photographer, has gone missing.  Since Leslie Searle is a celebrated photographer, no one is surprised he was staying at Salcott St. Mary, an English-Village-turned-Artist-Colony, when he disappeared. What is striking is how this unassuming, interesting, attractive young man managed to upset every creative mind within its borders!

It isn’t enough for Toby Tullis, that imperious and pompous playwright, that the young and attractive Mr. Searle isn’t familiar with his (Toby’s) work or his house. Even worse, Searle’s not impressed when they were mentioned! Silas Weekly, that third-rate imitator of D. H. Lawrence, might loathe Searle on principle (Weekly hates anything not ugly or covered in muck) and Serge Ratoff might despise him as a “middle-west Lucifer” but even harmless, sweet, romance writer, Lavinia Fitch feels disturbed by Leslie Searle’s presence. In the middle of dictating her latest best-selling Harlequin story (Think the late Barbara Cartland) Lavinia wonders if Searle isn’t perhaps, a little mad. Still, Walter Whitmore is the writer with the “Most Likely Suspect” award. That chronicler of rural English life was the last person actually seen with Searle, seen having an argument with the photographer. Now Searle is missing, everyone has a motive, and Scotland Yard is moving in.
Alan Grant, Josephine Tey’s fictional detective, travels to this village that’s a British cross between Martha’s Vinyard and Yaddo to figure out which writer put the poison pen to Searle.  We follow Grant through his interviews and get a “behind-the-scenes” gander at the spots where writers work or malinger. It doesn’t matter that these authors are fictional characters themselves.  There’s a ring of truth in all of their scenes.
There should be.  When Josephine Tey published To Love and Be Wise, she’d been a successful author and playwright for more than two decades.  She knew the literary and theatrical worlds as well as the major players in them.  And, by all accounts, she liked to keep them at a distance.  Art, as work, needs to be taken seriously but it’s hard to look at some artists for long without laughing. Without ever giving the game away, or leaving herself open to libel, Tey makes it clear she understands this world and how silly its inhabitants can be.
So, if you are in the late dregs of winter and longing for warmth and sunlight, imagine yourself in Salcott St Mary.  Come watch the artists at play. You’ll have fun. Just stay away from the river, especially if you’ve irritated one of the locals. We wouldn’t want you to disappear.