Category Archives: Musing out loud

Things I see when I stop to look. Things I hear when I stop to listen. Things that make me take up a pen to write. And things I don’t want to keep to myself. “Musing out loud” is about life and death and many of the bits between.

Alone in the Cafeteria

Alone in the Cafeteria

Lonesome? Pull up a chair. This is for you.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You sit down. You open your brown paper bag hoping your mom didn’t go too heavy on the carrot sticks again. Next to the carrots and under the sandwich you find a brownie and a folded up note: I love you, sweetheart, it says.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You grow up and alone in the cafeteria changes clothes. Maybe it starts wearing hipper outfits. Maybe it starts only wearing clothes that won’t draw the eye. Or that always draw eyes. Maybe it only ever wears fancy suits. Maybe it would not be caught dead in a suit. Maybe it wears tents and mumus. Maybe it wears mini skirts that couldn’t be minier.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

Today you look around a potluck table. A lucky table it is, covered as it is with pots of this and plates of that, shamelessly eavesdropping on the laughing, the chatting, the music, and spying on the footsies, the winks, the tapping toes. Even though you just arrived, it likes you, this potluck table, and when it asks you to read something you wrote, you do. More, it says, laughing, read more.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You wake up early and find alone in the cafeteria camped out in your chest. You would kick it out but you know it would only come back tomorrow having changed its clothes. And since even in a new purple ruffle hopscotch bikini everyone knows alone in the cafeteria, today you say hello.

Anyone sitting here? it asks.

You are, you say, scooching over to make room.

(c) Heidi Fischbach, 2015

Between binging and deprivation, a sweet spot

[If you follow Heidi’s Table on Facebook, then you will recognize some of what follows from a recent post there. Topics of food and eating are —for better or for worse— very near and dear to me. Today I’d love to bring some fresh air to a topic which can sometimes be fraught.]

I’ve come a long way from the eating disordered habits of my teens and young twenties, but food, and eating in general, remains an area where I meet my edge.

A few weeks ago I binged on a pint of Coconut Bliss, a delicious frozen treat which, sure, doesn’t have dairy (something I don’t do well with) and, sure, doesn’t have refined sugar or corn syrup (which are the equivalent of crack-cocaine for me), but still: we are not talking healthy here. Agave, which is what it is sweetened with, is sugar no matter what label of good or of bad we slap on it. And it was a binge. I didn’t even kid myself when I bought it: my lover was out of town and I got it with the intent of going home and curling up on the couch to binge on Coconut Bliss and Orange is the New Black. All of which I did.

When it comes to eating well and cultivating a loving relationship with myself and with food, what comes to mind is what the parenting and step-parenting research has shown to be true for bringing up well-adjusted and balanced kids: authoritarian (rules- and judgment- and punishment-based) doesn’t work. Neither does permissive (everything and anything is OK). Both authoritarian and permissive styles can actually be quite harmful. And neither sees the actual child. (The authoritarian parent’s eyes can’t see the actual child what for all the rules and judgments in the way, while the permissive parent can’t find the child because, oh well, whatever! I don’t know… Do whatever you want, honey, it doesn’t matter… Both styles can leave the kid with a sense of not mattering much, not being seen, not to mention unclarity about their place in their family and by extension the bigger world.)

Authoritative is where it’s at. Authoritative is kind and loving and firm, wherein firmness is about loving limits. And when limits are crossed, which is a natural part of life and of growing up, then there are consequences rather than punishments.

In relation to my eating, a kind with loving limits approach might look like eating good-for-me things and preparing them in yummy ways, and from time to time eating foods that are just plain old feel-good treats (within healthy limits and provided they aren’t total crap). The feel-good-treats wouldn’t be for every day or maybe even for every week, but from time to time, yes. Maybe the loving limit for me next time with Coconut Bliss would be not buying it to eat alone, but to share with someone. Or making my own Coconut Milk-Strawberry-Banana-Frozen-Treat-That-I-Can’t-Find-A-Good-Name-For (but is only sweetened with frozen fruit) and having a big bowl of that while I watch the colorful drama of prison life unfold.

Being kind and having loving limits around food is, in some ways, harder than both the rules- and punishment-based and the anything-goes approach. It’s not automatic for me. Kind and loving limits involve mindfulness and intention, neither of which I can practice without being present (rather than checked out) which involves turning toward rather than away from myself. And when a limit is crossed such as binging on a pint of Coconut Bliss, the consequence for binging could be simply the 2 + 2 = 4 kind of discomfort of feeling bloated and icky for the night and, depending on how often it happens, my pants getting tighter and, by extension, getting dressed becoming stressful. Whereas the judgment and punishment approach might sound rather mean: what the hell is wrong with you?! After all these years, still? Really?! Followed by, the next day, deprivation. And the anything-goes approach would probably not even call it a binge.

Teen-me’s and early-20’s-me’s habits around food involved a constant back and forth from judgment and punishment (diets, deprivation, and following a binge, purging) to anything-goes (binging and compulsive eating). The sweet spot of balance lies somewhere in the middle: I nourish myself with food that my body appreciates, I get to experiment and play around with making healthy foods that are also delicious, and I don’t punish myself when I do binge.

This all brings me to a bigger question, inquiry around which has become an underlying theme for me over the years. (Is it a coincidence that the qualities I list below are the very same things I want for my clients to receive when they visit Heidi’s Table?)

What is it that I am wanting, ultimately and immediately, from a binge?

Comfort. Preferably in the form of sweetness. Gooey and smooth is good.

And what is it that you want from that?

Aside from the obvious fact that sugar just tastes so freaking good? Hmm…it’s got something to do with home. With feeling at home.

What would that be like to feel deeply and truly at home?

Comfortable. Safe. Protected. Seen… Yes, seen. Allowed to be and worthy just as I am.

And how does that feel in your body, that kind of being seen?

It’s  brings a sigh of relief. Which is, come to think, another thing I always wanted from food, and particularly the sweet kind I favor to binge upon: relief.

Relief from what?

Relief from having to do it all myself, from feeling the weight of having to “make a living” on my shoulders, and relief from some huge disappointments I don’t know what to do with. Relief from anxiety and fear. I want a sense that something, someone, has my back. That I am not alone. That I am supported. Taken care of. All of that and also relief from having to figure anything out, or fix anything.

Whoa! That’s a tall order for a pint of Coconut Bliss! What would that be like in your body, this relief you are describing?

Oh, that brings another sigh. I’m relaxed. My breath is long and soft. My mind is calm.It’s about being able to rest. To fully let go. It’s like when you go to sit in a chair… You know how when a chair looks rickety or otherwise questionable, you know how when you go to sit in it (if even you do!) you can’t give the chair all of your weight but rather you hold back and are careful and tight—

Yes, I know what you mean—

Well, feeling totally supported is like sitting in the queen of all chairs, a chair that truly has your back. The queen of all chairs makes even the question of support obsolete. It’s a chair that you can plop every last bit of the good the bad and ugly of yourself into without even a thought —let alone a second thought— pertaining to support. That kind of chair.

I do not know that the next time my lover is out of town, or the next someone dies, or next time winter shuts us all in for weeks or months on end, or the next time someone I love puts their hand through a wall at the incomprehensible injustice and wrongness of the way things were, or are, or the next time I have an attack of insecurity about the ups and downs of being self-employed… I do not know that I will not then, once again, binge. But maybe just maybe I will pause first and ask:

Is this Coconut Bliss really the queen of all chairs or am I just pretending it is?

And then maybe just maybe I will find something or someone that can give me the kind of comfort, the kind of support, the kind of relief and sweetness that I will feel good about all night and when I wake the next morning.




Leonard Cohen, please don’t ever die.

I want to write about how I feel the tug of the other side, about how an awareness of not being, at least not in this form, sometimes makes my heart skip a beat. I wouldn’t call it fear, exactly, though maybe it’s fear’s distant cousin, or a half-brother. It’s a bit heartbreaky, the tug, and it reminds me of everything I love about being human, being in a body: “You mean I won’t get to feel the goosebumps of a kiss anymore?” it says, and, “you mean I won’t be able to feel the ocean’s tug in my chest anymore?” …


I flirted with death when I was young and very sad. But it was not my time and, really, I did not want to die. I just didn’t know how to live and I didn’t understand that it is only life that can teach you how… Funny that. But death knew better, and he just would not have me then. He handed me right back.

Life is a kind, if exigent, teacher. And maybe death is her biggest, grandest lesson of all… After all, we don’t know what comes after. Not really, not for all the guessing in the world. Sure, we can make claims and say we know. But can we really? And ironically, the louder I hear someone claim certainty, the less I believe them, even while I understand the wanting of certainty.

Sometimes there’s a sense of urgency to the tug, a touch of despair about not having done what needs doing, said what needs saying, given what only I could give… Not that I am special, but more that there will never be another constellation of thoughts and cells like this… (Doesn’t everyone have a something so theirs, something the opportunity for which will be gone once they’re gone?)

“Why this talk of death,” you ask, “why now?”

Oh, I don’t know, really. I have a birthday coming up this week, maybe it’s that. I am aware of no longer being young, even though I’m not yet old. I’m in the middle here, somewhere, yet feeling the pull of the later acts like I didn’t in my 20’s or 30’s… Really, I have no idea where I am on my lifeline —for all I know it could all end tomorrow— but I do know that death comes to mind every time I see or hear something beautiful. Like Leonard Cohen’s new album, “Old Ideas,” which sounds to me like the best stuff of the hymns I grew up on —harmony, melody, and soothing repetition— minus pulpit, pews and sermonizing.

Something wakes me in the middle of the night. I want you to listen, it says. I turn over, pretending I didn’t hear. I have better things to do, I think, like sleep, for one.

It, on the other hand, does not have better things to do! I want you to listen, it says again. I turn on my iPhone and do my restless checking thing. It doesn’t help.

I lie in the dark doing my best. I realize that it would have spoken to me during daylight hours, if it knew I’d listen, but the world is louder then and it’s harder to make out the sounds of silence. Plus, in spite of having no TV, in spite of watching no news (except fake comedy news that tells me all I need to know and makes me laugh) my days are too full of busy, of argument, of retorts, rebuttals, information and distraction. There is so much trying to talk people into or out of… everywhere I turn. So much advice-giving, so much advocacy for the devil… far too much advocacy for the devil. So much bullshit.

Shhhhh, it says, shhhhh… It’s a calming shhhh, not a shooshing shhhh.

I sigh.

I lie in the stillness that is Somerville, Massachusetts at 4 in the morning, grateful for my flannel sheets. It shows me how most minds —including, of course, mine— are made up and that minds that are made up can’t listen. It’s just not possible. It shows me how mostly we assume we know, and from that loud place we give advice and blah blah opinions. And that when we think we know, we notice so little, stuck as we are in broken-record ways of seeing and interpreting things.

It has me there. It knows that I love noticing things, that I get off on spying on the ordinary magic that is always everywhere.

I say, but what about my spinning? I can’t listen because there’s too much spinning and I don’t know how not to spin. By spinning I mean my endless distract-y, avoid-y habits, and anxious thoughts.

Ah my love, it says, spinning is just your way of trying to be someone else, someplace else, someway other.

Nuh-uh, I say, spinning is my way of getting some relief.

Ah, it says, how’s it working for you?

I sigh, tired. I was arguing again.

Shhhh, it says. It is the voice of kindness —there, there— and it knows I’m doing my best. I see how tired you are. I see how much you want to listen. I see you visiting The Pause every morning, and most nights before bed.

I say nothing. I feel the tugging on my chest again. My throat feels thick. I want to cry because I see and feel everything it is showing me, and I see how all of it —ALL!— is just all of us doing our best with what we know, with what we have, with where we are. And it all kind of breaks my heart.

Sometimes I look at people on the bus and imagine their thoughts. If all of our thoughts were one day to scroll across a billboard in the sky, we’d each panic thinking they were ours, our own, being made public… So similar, all of us. Solomon was right: nothing new under the sun. And yet:

Doesn’t every last one of us have our own particular taste and smell? Our particular and delightful turn of phrase? Aren’t we all so same, so different, so both?

All of that and more keeps tugging at me.

I turn toward it and whisper, not yet, please, not yet. I am speaking not so much about myself but about people I don’t want taken away. Leonard Cohen, for one. I have cried many a premature tear for the day he is no longer here.

(What can I say, I can be maudlin, OK? One day he was trending on twitter and my heart made what I thought was a full stop, but turned out to just be an end-of-paragraph return. He’d ‘only’ won a big prize, after all. Thank goodness and yay! But, oh my. The heart-stoppage.)

Maurice Sendak, for another. Mary Oliver, for sure. People, all of them, who don’t argue. People who say it like it is, no matter what anyone else says. People who show us their wrinkles, their hearts, their beautiful minds, without photoshop. Such courageous people, they. These are the people I gather round me when I am lonesome as hell for someone to listen in the middle of the night.

I touch people. Every day, I touch people and every day their bodies teach me to listen. I hear the beauty, the fragility, the finitude of life in our bodies. It moves me every time. I touch our scars. I touch the ways our way of holding our pain, our joy, our laughter, our sorrow has become particularized in our bodies. I touch where that pattern lives in someone’s shoulder. I touch pains in the neck and pains in the ass. I touch the knot that holds all the whys of how you can’t sleep at night. I touch what your body started flinching about so long ago. I touch what you say without a second thought and I touch what you don’t ever say but wish with all your heart you could. I listen with my hands.

Bodies don’t bullshit. They know they will end. They have no time to waste.

The other day a client who’s been coming to me every week for about a month told me that he’s been doing the stretches I showed him and that his shoulder and low back had been feeling much better. I nodded, I listened. But, he went on, there were still pains and aches that hadn’t gone away… I said yes. He asked why and what could he or I do about it… Good and obvious question, no?

I took a moment and then I told him that some things in the body aren’t about the bad mattress, or the wrong pillow, or the crappy desk chair. I told him that some aches in the shoulder couldn’t be stretched away even if we stretched our pecs in a door frame for hours… I don’t always go here with my clients, but I could tell he was with me, so I went on:

Our bodies have a way of expressing for us things that otherwise don’t get voice, things that have no other way of coming out.


Yes, things like how we were actually upset about that thing so and so said, even though we smiled and told ourselves it didn’t matter… Maybe our body is expressing that thing we want in our heart of hearts to do, or say, but tell ourselves we shouldn’t. Maybe our body is expressing the despair we don’t want to feel over ever righting that big regret… Maybe it’s about the way we swallow our words, our feelings, for fear of what people will think. Or maybe it’s about how we always joke and become witty when in our heart of hearts we know it makes for a wall between us and the world, the very same world we want to put our arms around… Maybe.

He got it, I could tell, and then he asked, in his slow and sweetly broken English, but couldn’t my body find nicer way of telling me those things?

I laughed. We both did. It was a knowing and rueful laugh.

Sometimes I want to stand in the middle of the road and let every single last piece of bullshit clothing fall away. To say: “This. Is Who. I am.” I want you to see. I don’t want to hide. And yet, I do. Not as much as in my 20’s when I flirted with death, but still.

It’s 4 in the morning. The world is quiet. And finally I am listening enough to hear. What’s been tugging wants a pen. I get up and find it one. My hand begins to move as if taking dictation. Something wants saying, something wants hearing. Hello, I’m listening.

Thank you, I hear it say, thank you.

It’s almost 6 now. Maybe I will sleep a bit more for having listened, and for having said things wanting saying… Nothing special kinds of things, as you can see, except that I wasn’t saying them and they were breaking my heart just a bit.

My neighbor’s kettle will soon whistle and she will soon clatter the pan that she makes her breakfast in. When I hear her, if I hear her around this time in the morning, it gives me odd comfort. I know a bit about her and hold it in a sweet place in my heart. If something happened to her, I’d care, and, for sure I’d miss the sound of her kettle when I wake early.

After all, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” Mary Oliver said that bit of loveliness in her poem, The Summer Day. Sometimes I carry her words with me like a marble in my mouth.

Heidi’s Table

2464 Massachusetts Ave. #405
Cambridge, MA 02140


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