Autumn 2013 Recap (Part 1)

Autumn 2013 was quite busy, and I’m just now getting some time to catch up with my blog. I did a lot of traveling and speaking in addition to my usual teaching load, and I’m currently enjoying my January break. My first school visit was at Elkins Middle and High Schools in West Virginia (which I previously blogged about here:, then I headed to the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English (WCTE) conference in Madison, WI, to do a presentation on narrative writing and developmental English with two of my colleagues, which went very well.

I finished my fall semester travels by giving a presentation on eating disorders and recovery, and visiting a few classes at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette, and visiting a creative writing class at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I know I’ve written this before, but one of the best things to have come from publishing Purge: Rehab Diaries is that I get the chance to talk to schools and organizations about eating disorders and writing. I love doing this, and I am honored that I get the chance to do this. I had a great time at UW-Marinette and UW-Green Bay, and I enjoyed meeting the students and faculty there. They were quite welcoming and friendly.

Prince Charming came along with me on this trip (it was his birthday), and we drove up into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and also headed to Door County, WI. We also visited Lambeau Field! I’ve included some pictures from my travels below.

Near Marinette, WI

Near Marinette, WI

I was a cheesehead for two seconds at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI

I was a cheesehead for two seconds at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI


St. Odile's Church, near Thiery Daems, WI.

St. Odile’s Church, near Thiery Daems, WI.

Gills Rock, WI

Gills Rock, WI

Another fun part of the trip was that my friend Tara, who I met at the University of Minnesota MFA program, was the one who invited me to UW-Marinette and UW-Green Bay, and it was good to reconnect with her, and meet her family.  Prince Charming and I both really like Green Bay, and we hope to go back again soon.

This is getting to be a long blog post, so I will break it in two. More later…


University of Wisconsin-Marinette

I’m going to be talking about eating disorders and writing at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette next Thursday, October 24th. This event is free and open to the public, so feel free to stop by if you live in the area. I will be speaking at 11 a.m. in room M-117 on the Marinette campus. I have never been to Marinette or Green Bay, and I’m excited to visit!MNT-Author-Flyer

The Gym: Health vs. Weight Loss Culture

For a lot of people that have dealt with eating disorders, going to the gym can be complicated. Some people with eating disorders struggle with overexercising or using exercise as a purging mechanism, while other people might feel guilty for not going to the gym. Joining the YWCA in Minneapolis was an integral part of my recovery, and it was a highly positive experience, but then I moved to another part of town with no YWCA, and ever since then, I have struggled to find a gym that I like. I have tried the stripped-down, bare-bones gyms, and found them lacking in one thing I love: the pool. I don’t want to use the recreation center at school, and yet again there is no YWCA or YMCA near me, and I don’t live near my community recreation center either. What I do have where I live are lots of high-end, fancy gyms.

A couple years ago, B and I belonged to a fancy gym, but it was obscenely expensive, and parking was an issue, and we didn’t go very often, despite liking the water aerobics class, yoga class, and the exercise equipment in pristine condition. There is a branch of this same fancy gym close to where I work (which is cheaper and has ample parking), and I took the plunge and joined it last week, and my meeting with the membership consultant highlighted just how screwed up we are as a society about body image, weight, and health.

The membership consultant was a perfectly nice woman, but she assumed I wanted to join the gym so I could lose weight. According to the CDC BMI charts, I am at a perfectly normal weight for my height. I am neither overweight, nor underweight. I am right within range.

Basically, I don’t need to lose any weight.

I told the consultant I was joining the gym because I wanted to move my body, get some physical activity during the bitter Minnesota winter, and just feel good overall. I’m in it for health, not weight loss.

She then proceeded to tell me that I should get my body fat measured.

I told her I had absolutely zero interest in having my body fat measured, and she could not understand why I was not jumping at the chance to do so. Knowing my body fat percentage is not going to do anything helpful for me. She said that if I measured my body fat now, I could measure it in six months and see how much progress I had made. I reminded her I’m not interested in weight loss or other common “progress” metrics.

I am interested in something somewhat unquantifiable (by the usual metrics): feeling good.

One thing I am interested in is talking to a dietitian about my caloric needs, because I have no idea what they are, and what amount of protein, carbs, etc. I should be eating for optimal health. So, I am going to see a dietitian through the gym, and I’m curious as to whether she will be able to focus on something other than weight.

It’s disheartening to see that this is where we are, as a society. I keep thinking about how I might have felt about the membership consultant’s assumption that I wanted to lose weight if I was not fully in recovery. How would I have felt if someone had said that to me right after I got out treatment? It might’ve been an obstacle in my recovery.

Not to mention, it’s just crappy salesperson-ship!

I have to wonder if this emphasis on weight is also a way for gyms to make more money in that they can sell more services (personal training, boot camp, weight loss group, etc.) if the new member is passively shamed about their body size, whatever size that may be. I think it’s readily apparent that I am a normal-weight person, but if the membership consultant can plant the idea in my head that I need to lose weight, then maybe I will sign up for weight loss-related services which will increase gym revenue (and perhaps increase the consultant’s commission, if they work on commission).

This is all highly disappointing and somewhat depressing, but I am going to remain a member of this gym, because I like their facility, the location is convenient, and they basically have what I need. Still, their sales tactics and behavior are awful, and I wish I had a better selection of gyms around me, and most importantly, I wish our culture wasn’t so focused on weight.


My Trip To Elkins, WV

Last week I was in Elkins, WV talking to middle school and high school students about eating disorders, how to develop a healthy body, and how to help someone with an eating disorder. I greatly enjoyed my visit to Elkins; the students asked smart, thoughtful questions, and every single person I met in the state of West Virginia was friendly and welcoming. I stayed at the Graceland Inn & Conference Center ( on the Davis & Elkins College campus, and I also ate dinner there on Thursday night. I had the grilled cheese and tomato basil soup, and it was delicious!

One thing I really miss about living in the east is how outgoing people are there. The servers at Graceland went out of their way to talk to me, and they were genuinely nice, friendly people. In the room where I ate dinner, there was a campus ministry meeting being held, and the campus chaplain chatted a bit with me, and when I went to pay my bill, I found that he had paid it for me. Because of his kindness to me, I’m going to pay it forward for someone else. I found this kind of friendliness and hospitality to be the norm while I was in West Virginia.

Another thing I miss about the east: mountains! I flew into Pittsburgh and drove to Elkins, and the drive down I-79 was gorgeous. Pennsylvania and West Virginia seem to have gotten a lot of rain this year, and mountains and hills were quite lush. It was beautiful, and it made me so happy to see mountains and hills (we don’t have much in the way of mountains and hills in MN!).

Here is a picture I took as the sun was setting behind Graceland:



While this isn’t the best picture, you can see the mountains in the distance, and how green it is there. I also really liked the stone fence.

My presentations at the high school and the middle went really well. This is the first time I spoke to high school and middle school groups (I’ve mostly spoken at colleges and treatment centers) and I was a bit apprehensive before I flew out, but I was so excited, and I felt confident on the day of the presentations, and for the first time ever, I did not experience any public speaking anxiety! I feel like I’ve finally overcome the public speaking anxiety. I had a sort of epiphany where I realized that I know what I’m doing, I’m good at what I do, and I’m prepared for this. I thoroughly enjoyed giving my presentations and answering questions. My hope is that it helped the young women of Elkins.

After the presentations, I went out to lunch with an AP Literature class, which was fun. The students were bright and talkative, and I learned a lot about Elkins and the surrounding area. We went to a restaurant called C.J. Maggie’s ( where I had a quesadilla and a big cup of sweet tea. I LOVE sweet tea, and except for McDonald’s, I don’t know of anyplace that sells it in Minnesota.

When lunch was over, I started the drive up to Pennsylvania. I spent Friday afternoon-Sunday morning hanging out with my grandma and my aunt. We had a good time, and we hit up some of my favorite places including Dunkin’ Donuts (the closest one to me is in the Wisconsin Dells!), Rizzo’s, which is my favorite Italian place, and we went to the mall so I could get a women’s fitted Troy Polamalu jersey. We spent a lot of time going for walks and just catching up, and I unexpectedly ran into some of my cousins, and a family friend. It was a good visit. 🙂

I am an anxious flyer, and I had some rough flights on the way in, and even though I was a bit of a wreck when I landed in Pittsburgh, I had the wherewithal to take a picture of the Franco Harris statue in the airport (which is right beside a statue of George Washington–only in Pittsburgh):



It was a great trip for a number of reasons, and I hope that someday I can go back to West Virginia because I had such a good time there. The AP students were talking about something called Forest Fest, and another festival that celebrates Appalachian heritage, and that sounds like something I’d like.

My next speaking engagement is at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette, with a class visit at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and I’m looking forward to that trip now! I love that I get to talk to students about eating disorders, writing, etc. It’s such a privilege, and it’s just so cool, and so much fun, and such an honor. This is by far the best thing to come out of having published Purge: Rehab Diaries.


Upcoming Speaking Engagement: University of Wisconsin-Marinette

I’m going to be at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette on Thursday, October 24th. I’ll be giving a lecture on eating disorders, recovery, and writing, and I will probably also be visiting classes. I’ll be posting more specific details at a later date. I love visiting colleges, and I’m especially excited about this visit because I have never been to Marinette or Green Bay (and I’ve only been to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan once), and I will get to see one of my colleagues from the MFA program.

It’s shaping up to be a busy fall semester! I will likely be posting more information about appearances and events in the next couple of months.

Guns, Women, Writing

I haven’t written anything about this for awhile, but I’m still working on a writing project about learning how to shoot, gun culture, women and guns, and other things I can’t seem to quite categorize or pin down. The project has grown larger in scope than I originally intended, and it’s somewhat nebulous. I’ve been scouring the library holdings where I teach for books about guns, and I sometimes wonder if the research librarian has red-flagged my library account, as I’ve been running searches like this: “women and guns” “gun violence” etc. It’s made for some interesting summer reading.

One of my writer friends, Rachel Kramer Bussel, told me about a documentary called A Girl and A Gun and I’m really excited to watch it. I wish it was coming to a theater near Minneapolis, but it looks like I’ll have to download it on itunes.

This morning on The Hairpin I came across an interview with Cathryne Czubek, who created the documentary. After reading the interview, now I really want to watch the documentary.

In the interview, Czubek talks about how she shot a gun for the first time alongside a 10-year-old girl, and how some of these girls took up skeet shooting as a way to bond with their fathers. In the process of learning how to shoot, I have found that my interest in guns has resulted in bonding with some of my male (and female!) family members, and family friends. When I was home in Pennsylvania last summer, I shot a pistol, rifle, and shotgun with my best friend from home, J, and her dad. I have known both J and her dad my entire life, but shooting clays with them was a bonding experience, unlike any other we’ve had. I could tell that J’s dad enjoyed teaching us the mechanics of how the shotgun worked, giving us pointers on how to aim, and just spending time with us, teaching us about something he loves to do. Every time J or I hit a clay, her dad let out a whoop of genuine excitement.

In Pennsylvania, I shot a variety of guns with one of my uncles, and that too was a bonding experience. This uncle likes to hunt, and now that I am interested in hunting and shooting, we have a lot to talk about. My uncle coached me on how to shoot my dad’s old thirty-ought-six, and as I was shooting, I remember thinking how cool it was that I was shooting my dad’s old gun, and that my uncle was coaching me on how to shoot it. There we were, in the woods, shooting targets, old beer cans, and water jugs, and it was so much fun. My dad’s gun was heavy and had a significant recoil that left me with bruises dotting my shoulder, but I’d gladly shoot it again.

Likewise, on that Pennsylvania trip another friend from home invited me up to her back 40 and her brother coached me on how to shoot all kinds of guns. He had set up a number of targets, including but not limited to: a water heater, some boxes, actual targets, soda bottles and beer cans, and a toilet. I shot a toilet with an AR-15, while wearing a WWII helmet, just because I could. There’s a lot more to this story, but you’ll have to wait until I publish the book to read about it.

In my personal experience, the people in my life have been quite generous in mentoring me as I learn about guns. They have been excited about teaching me what they know, and when I set out to begin this project, I hadn’t foreseen how it would strengthen my relationships with them. It has also strengthened my relationship with my husband, as we both enjoy shooting, although he prefers shooting handguns, while I prefer shooting shotguns. Last summer, when we were up in north-central Minnesota, our friend D taught us how to load and shoot a shotgun, and my husband and I shot clays for hours under the unrelenting Minnesota sun. It was a fabulous day.

The bonding and relationship strengthening and building was not something I had foreseen in the early days of my gun project, but it has been good, and it got me to thinking about my gun experience in a different way. Why am I so interested in shooting? Obviously I am interested in how women and guns go together, and how they’re portrayed in popular culture, and guns as a feminist issue. But there’s more to it than that, I think. Learning how to shoot, and researching this project has been a way for me to connect with the rural Pennsylvania of my youth, and also a way to connect with my friends and family there, now that I live in suburban Minnesota, which seems about as far away from my childhood experience as possible. So maybe in a way I am like those 10-year-old girls in Maine who are skeet shooting in part to bond with their dads. Instead I am a 32-year-old woman learning how to shoot as a way to get back to a certain time and place, and to bond in a new way with important people in my life. Maybe it’s also a way to acknowledge part of who I am, and where I am from. I’ve been living in suburban Minnesota since 2003, and that’s 13 years, but I spent the first 22 years of my life in rural Pennsylvania, and my experiences there obviously played a large role in shaping who I am today.

While I am enjoying the process of this writing project, there is a bit of sadness to it. The person who might’ve been the most excited about it, and who would’ve loved to mentor me on how to shoot is gone. I like to imagine that if there is a heaven, per my Catholic upbringing (and I have no idea what I believe on that subject, and that is a whole separate blog post), that this person is looking down from the clouds and is as excited about this project as I am. I would’ve loved to have shot with this person, and I think they would’ve loved shooting with me. I think about them every time I shoot, and when I’m doing research.

One of my favorite essays involving guns is “Shooting Dad” by Sarah Vowell. It can be found in essay collection Take the Cannoli. It’s about much more than just guns, including father/daughter relationships and politics. The last paragraph of this essay is just phenomenal (talk about ending with a bang!).

As you can see, I’ve been thinking about all of this quite a bit. Guns, Women, Writing. There is lots more to come…


Upcoming Speaking Engagement: Elkins, West Virginia

I am working on logistics for some speaking engagements next academic year, and I can now share with you that I will be headed to Elkins, WV on Friday, September 13th to talk about eating disorders, body image, and recovery with middle and high school students. I am especially excited about this trip because it’s not far from where I grew up in rural, western Pennsylvania (which means I get to stop in and visit some family as well) and because I will be addressing middle and high school students, and most of the time eating disorder awareness (I don’t really like that term, but I haven’t been able to come up with a better one yet) focuses mainly on college-age women, which I think is a mistake. It’s just as important to talk to pre-teens and teenagers about how to cultivate a positive body image, how to seek help for an eating disorder, etc. as it is to talk to adults about these things.

Having the opportunity to speak to people of all ages about eating disorders, recovery, writing, etc. is one of the best things to have come from publishing Purge: Rehab Diaries. I am honored that people invite me to schools to speak about these issues, and it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s a privilege. I have met so many wonderful people in the process of publishing my book, and I’m looking forward to meeting even more  wonderful people this coming school year.


It’s summer, and the academic year has ended, which means I have a lot more free time on my hands. I’m going to be blogging again, and not just about books, writing, and psychology (although I will likely be blogging about those things as well). I’m working on some writing projects this summer, as well as planning out courses for next year, reading for fun, traveling, and working on scheduling speaking engagements for next year as well. I’ll be posting some updates soon, and letting you know what I’ve been up to this year, as well as what I will be up to next year.

I don’t always post everything on my blog, but you can follow me on twitter: @nicolejjohns, facebook:, and I’m on google+ and goodreads.

NYT Article About “Fat Talk”

The New York Times published an article about “fat talk” that I thought I’d share. I will fully admit that I sometimes participate in “fat talk” although I have gotten much better about not automatically diving into the conversation. Usually I feel pressured into engaging in this kind of conversation, like it’s expected of me. Often, for me, if someone says something negative about their body, I will try and make them feel better by saying something negative about my body, which is completely counterproductive. But, it’s like we’ve been conditioned to converse about our bodies in this manner. I’m trying to be more conscious of this, and I’m trying to stop.

Here is a link to the article:

The Atlantic Article On Thinspo, Fitspo, and Social Media

I found this article in The Atlantic interesting because it addresses the idea of “thinspo” and “fitspo” and the fine line between wanting to lose weight for healthy reasons, and wanting to lose weight for unhealthy reasons (or because of an eating disorder). It also deals with the idea of censoring certain phrases and images on social media, which seems counterproductive to me. Unfortunately, there will always be “pro-anorexia” and “pro-bulimia” phrases, images, websites, etc. on the internet, and censoring these phrases and images will not eradicate them, as they will just pop up elsewhere.