Reflections on AWP 23

After finishing my summer Stanford course in Short Stories, five of us decided to form a writing group and continue to share our writings with each other. Until last Wednesday, none of us had met in person. That changed when three of us attended AWP 23 (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Seattle, Wash. Angela had been a number of times before. Tracy and I signed up based on her recommendation.

Angela, Tracy, Sara at AWP

AWP meets once a year, always in a different city. It attracts writers, poets, students in MFA programs, teachers of Creative Writing, MFA programs, small publishers, and independent bookstores.

The Seattle Convention Center at Pine and Ninth St. is brand new or so I was told. There were 10,000 attendees (again so I was told.) The convention center has five floors and every meeting room and ballroom on every floor was full of presenters and an audience. The basement level was a Book Fair the size of a Costco store.

One floor, 4th, of the Seattle Convention Center

I had no expectations. It felt like an adventure. I was so glad not to be sick, to meet my Zoom writing friends, and to be surrounded by WORDS. With a few exceptions, the writers at AWP won’t be found on the NYTimes bestseller lists. These are writers pouring their hearts and passions out in manuscripts, so grateful to find a publisher and see their book in print. I’m guessing 99% of them will always need another job.

Many of these writers spoke on panels. One morning, I went to a presentation called “The Sentence is the Story” with five panelists, all teaching creative writing courses. Four panelists had fiction books published, and one, Matt Bell, has written a How-To called Refuse to be Done. My friend, Angela, had the book with her. She told me it has been so helpful and got it signed by the author who, like George Saunders, turns out to be a generous person, teacher, and colleague.

I went to another Presentation of five writers, all who had left the former Soviet Union: Totalitarian Traumas: A reading. Each woman read from published poetry or prose. Two of the women were of Ukrainian origin. I attended because my grandparents had fled Ukraine in 1909—long before the stories these women were telling but still….I found myself wanting to know more and more about Ukraine’s history. One of the women guided me to the stories of  Sholem Aleichem and his book Tevya and his Daughters. Those stories became the Broadway Show Fiddler on the Roof. The beauty and sadness of these poems and stories were deeply moving.

Five women from the former Soviet Union: Anna Fridlis, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry, Anna Halberstadt, Sasha Vasilyuk, Julia Dasbach (not in order)

Four teachers who teach both weeklong writing workshops and semester-long courses in MFA programs were asked to list the pros and cons of each in another event. I was struck by the thoughtfulness and care with which each of them considers a student or participant’s needs. On the panel was Samantha Chang, author of the  The Family Chao(2022), who I had met in Paris last summer when she came to the American Library to talk about her book. She is director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Charlotte Wyatt, Lan Samantha Chang, Mitchell S. Johnson

Each day, I attended three presentations. I then wandered the aisles of the Book Fair talking with the editors of various Journals and Reviews to learn what kind of submissions they are each looking for. By the end of the second day, my eyes felt like those colorful spinwheely things that we used to play with on the fourth of July. Every table was giving out pens, buttons, bags, or bookmarks. All were carefully labeled so that we’d remember the name of the booth we had stopped at. Me, with my need to accept any gift that is free, was laden down with all sorts of “stuff”. I was saved from buying many books because there is only so much I can carry back to Paris with me. On the last day, I bought two slim books on baseball published by Invisible Press. They were very happy to meet a baseball fan!

Sara playing mini-Ping Pong (is there such a thing?) with one of the editors of The Under Review

Poor (rainy and windy) weather was predicted for Seattle but we lucked out. It was cold but we managed to avoid rain when we were outside. Our AirBnB, which the three of us rented, was a quick fifteen-minute walk from the Convention Center. A great way to start the day and somewhere to run to when in complete overload.

Angela, Tracy, Sara

What is the likelihood that three women, thirty-eight, forty-nine, and seventy-five, who’ve met on Zoom, shared unpublished writings and poetry, and exchanged feedback meant to encourage better writing, would get along in person for four days? Pretty good it turns out. No high-maintenance personalities, lots of laughter, and much cheerleading to be braver in our writing and in our sharing of writings. They kindly let me control the kitchen in exchange for making delicious simple meals. Angela brought a storytelling game that prompted us to remember and share stories from the past. Always a good way to get a good story going and then put on paper. I was so enamored of this game that Angela gave it to me so that I could show it to my Paris writing group.

One of the Book Fair tables—courtesy of

And now I’m back in Oakland, California with wonderful memories of being with writing group members whom I completely trust to give me honest and critical feedback on my writing. And of being a part of a gathering of writers, would-be authors, and everything associated with getting a piece of writing from paper (or computer) to crossing the finish line – a book we can hold and cherish.

Collage made by Tracy summing up our four days.

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A bientôt,


Spring Training, Arizona

After being mostly housebound and sick for about 5 weeks, suffering in the coldest and wettest Bay Area winter in a long time, I have made it to Scottsdale, Arizona. I am staying with two wonderful friends that I met in Paris! The sun is out and the temperature is pure heaven: 70o Saturday, 71o yesterday, and 72o today. I cannot remember when I last saw those numbers on the weather app of my phone.

I flew Southwest Airlines from Oakland Airport Saturday morning. Somehow I’ve lost my TSA pre-flight status and had to stand in line for 45 minutes to get through security. When you are in a line for that long a time, you eventually start talking to people around you. No one could figure out why the long line on a Saturday morning. It seemed to me to be too early for Spring Break but who knows. People who fly SWA more than I do said it was unusual. People behind me were going to miss their flight and I urged them to walk ahead as if they knew what they were doing and get to their gate. They felt a bit bad. I asked ‘Would you let someone in your position through?’ They said ‘yes, of course.’ So off they went. At that point, I thought I had plenty of time. As it turned out I didn’t, and I also had to cut in front of some people to make it to the gate. Ah, the joys of flying.

I was with two baseball buddies that I have known from pre-Paris years when I was a season ticket holder for the Oakland Athletics. In those days, my ‘baseball family’, made up of people who sat in similar sections at the Ballpark, would go down to Phoenix for 4 days, a week, sometimes 2 weeks. We’d see baseball in the sunshine, meet many of the players, hike in the hills around Phoenix and Scottsdale, and have a glorious time. In 2015, the Oakland A’s moved from their Phoenix home at Papago Park to Hohokam park in Mesa. The Chicago Cubs had played there for years and been the most sold-out ballpark during Spring Training. They built themselves a beautiful new ballpark up the road still in Mesa.

Sara and Jeanni

My friends and I landed in Phoenix, picked up their rental car, and drove to Hohokam. My first Spring Training game in nine years. In those days, I would have brought many baseballs and baseball paraphenalia that I hoped to have autographed by the players. As I sat down in my seat, I looked over at the autograph seekers and couldn’t remember why the urgency to get the autographs. From my spot in section 107, it seemed too much energy to get up and fight my way to the front of a small crowd of people that included children, to get an autograph. Maybe I’d grown up a bit and was going to leave that stuff to the children. It was fun I must admit.

Stretching out at Spring Training

That game was my chance to watch the new rules that MLB has regulated for the majors so that the game will go faster, more runs will be scored, and the hope that it will bring fans back to Baseball. I’m not sure why it hasn’t occured to them to lower prices and that might bring fans back. My Spring Training ticket cost $35. For a family of four to go to a regular season game, it would cost $200 or more for good seats and that is without buying any food. Baseball used to be America’s pasttime. According to The SportingNews Blog:  The Most popular Sports in the United States 

  • American Football – 74.5% American football takes the crown when it comes to popularity, and this is the most-watched sport in the US. …
  • Basketball- 56.6% …
  • Baseball- 50.5% …
  • Boxing- 23.4% …
  • Ice Hockey- 22.1% …
  • Soccer- 21.6% …
  • Golf- 19.7%

So back to the new rules.  The time clock. Just as in basketball, baseball now has a digital clock that players and fans can see that counts down the seconds that the pitcher holds the ball. He has 15 seconds to throw the ball if the bases are empty, 20 seconds if a player is on base. If he goes over that number, the batter is given a ball. If the batter takes longer than 15 seconds to get himself ready, he gets a strike. The game did seem to go faster. The first three innings were over in thirty minutes. Then it slowed down.

No more shift. At all times, two players have to be on either side of second base. This is so the batting team has a chance for more runs.

Bases are bigger. From 15’“ across, they are now 18” and they are lower to the ground.

Pick offs. If a pitcher doesn’t pick off the player on first base (or any base) on his third try, the player is awarded an extra base. Pitchers used to attempt pick offs to stall the game for whatever reason. No more.

These games were clearly spring training for the umpires as well as the ballplayers. I saw an ump go up to a brand new pitcher and check his ball for substances. I asked my seatmate why he would do that at ST game. The answer was that the umps are doing everything they will need to do at a regular season game.

new seating area in the grassy area behind the outfield at Hohokam.

The game tied at 4-4 at the bottom of the ninth. Game over. Spring Training knows how to keep games shorter! What heaven sitting in sunshine for almost three hours. But being the first sun of the year for me, it was hard on my skin. I started itching and scratching. I had to wear a long sleeve blouse but still…..Sun and baseball!

A bientôt,


Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a South Korean series of sixteen episodes that is currently showing on Netflix. I have scrolled past it many times in the past four months but nothing about it made me think “I must watch this.” Then, when I was walking with a friend last week, she told me that I had to watch it. That it is a remarkable series. Without giving away too much, she just said that the heroine has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. She and her husband watched it and her husband had remarked on how perfect the actress’s movements are.

Poster for the show

I have the greatest respect for my friend’s recommendations so I watched the first episode that evening after dinner. I was just blown away and, as I am wont to do when I love something literary or on film, I did research. The main actress, Park Eun-bin, is a well-known and very popular actress in South Korea. She does not have Autism. My research said that the director, Yoo In-shik, wanted her and only her to play Attorney Woo. She was in production of another series, The Kings Affection, which just showed up on Netflix today, and so the filming of Extraordinary Attorney Woo was put off for one year!!!

Park Eun-bin who plays Wow Young-Woo

If you go looking for a short synopsis of this program, you will likely find this description: “Woo Young Woo is a young lawyer with Asperger’s syndrome. She boasts a high IQ, an impressive memory and a wonderfully creative thought process, but she struggles with everyday interactions.” Asperger’s is never mentioned in the show (I have watched nine episodes as of this writing). One article said that Woo Young Woo is a savant as well as autistic and that is very rare for autistic spectrum diagnoses. Perhaps 5% have both. 

The main cast of Extraordinary Attorney Woo.

Whatever!! The show is delightful, so well acted, and Koreans are the most gorgeous people on earth unless this is a very rare sample of the population. However, what has been so impactful for me is the direct way the show addresses Autism. How people treat autistic people, address discrimination in general. How people just assume that if you are handicapped, you are a second-class citizen. Each episode’s story line has someone who makes this assumption. So each episode not only has a story with a trial but also has a teaching element about it so that, after nine episodes, I’m very much aware of what it must be like to be autistic and move about in the regular world. 

To be clear this series is not about autism but about a young autistic woman trying to navigate a world that isn’t particularly kind to her. There are on-going stories of her parentage, another of a colleague who is determined to get rid of her, and there is a love interest. They all show that autistic people have a hard time not telling the truth, and they tend to be innocent. It’s fascinating watching her responses as these stories unfold while she is also a trial lawyer who works for a very large firm that may have its own moral problems. 

Too many pictures!!! But I love this drawing.

Yet, with all this information, I know that I can’t guarantee empathy when I next meet an autistic person. I was in a plane a couple of years ago flying from London or Paris to San Francisco. There was a couple with an autistic boy, who was on the extreme end of the spectrum, seated to my left. The boy, whose age I could never figure out, groaned, yelled, and banged the window at his seat throughout the entire flight. I was beside myself. I kept looking to the parents to do something but they did nothing. At one point, I got up and told the boy he had to be quiet, the people on the plane were trying to sleep. The parents got angry at me for interfering. By the time we’d landed and were standing in line for customs, I had had some rest and I was able to empathasize with the parents. I went up to them and apologised. They apologised to me. I realized they also must have been beside themselves and my interference only shone a light on it.

Will this show educate us on autism, on being kinder to people with disabilities? When writing about this show, the New York Times asked some autistic people, mostly Koreans, what they thought of the show. They got a mixed reaction. In other words, not all autistic people found it helpful. And the feel good element about it distressed some of them. They also noted the small percentage that also has savant abilities. Korean TV does seem to be on the forefront of trying to address discrimination. In 2012, there was a show called The Good Doctor addressing autism. It was dropped, but then picked up by a US company. With the same name, and starring an autistic doctor, it is now going into its 6th season.

I would love to know how many of you have seen Extraordinary Attorney Woo. And what you think about it? I always love your comments and read them all.

A bientôt,


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Housebound due to…..Nature.

I thought, silly me, that being in Oakland for the winter would be warmer than another Paris winter. Who knew? Cyclones, windstorms, endless rain, and flooding. Oh my!!! Storm drains that have had so little to do in the worst California drought ever turned out to be stuffed with leaves and debris. Water just circulates and then floods the intersections. ‘Fountains’ have appeared on the sides of many roads. Monday, Highway 13, which is close to me, had a tree fall across the southern driving direction and a multi-car accident in the northern direction. It was only one of seven road closures that day.

Needless to say, the advice on TV, on the radio, and in e-mails from the city, all advise ‘Stay at Home’. For those of us that actually follow directions, well, what does one do? You’d think we’d be well practiced in ‘sheltering at home’ after how many years of Covid? But I was under the illusion that it was easier here in Oakland than in a small Paris apartment. I never took into account RAIN! Not to be able to sit outside in the backyard or walk around my neighborhood where it is easy to put six feet between me and the nearest person. This has been extraordinary. I will say that I still am very lucky. I have not lost electricity or Wi-Fi and there have been no mudslides near me. We learned that Kevin Costner could not be at the Golden Globes Tuesday night to pick up his best actor award because of the severity of the weather in Santa Barbara/Montecito. The presenter was joking around about it but many people have had to evacuate from very expensive houses down there. So I’m sort of complaining but when compared to what could be….I’m actually happy that it has not been worse.

Mudslide near Santa Barbara

So what does one do in this new ‘Sheltering in Place’? It turns out there are a number of streaming services available in the US that we don’t get in France. One of them is Hulu. And one of the best shows on Hulu is called Only Murders in the Building with the wonderful Steve Martin and the hilarious Martin Short. They are joined by a young singer/actress I knew nothing about: Selena Gomez.  OMITM is a great show. Martin and Martin are seniors who love a True Crime Podcast. They meet each other in a café during a false fire alarm in their building in NYC. Into the café wanders Selena Gomez, hears them talking about the Podcast, and it turns out she is a huge fan also. During the false alarm, someone in the building is murdered and they quickly whip up the idea of having their own podcast called, you guessed it, Only Murders in the Building. Wonderful mayhem ensues. This is not slapstick. This is a witty vehicle that shows off the best of the two comedians. They work so well with each other or as I’ve heard actors say recently: They are wonderful dance partners. And anyone who has seen their Saturday Nite Live hostings in the month of December can tell that they are fond of each other. Hulu has two seasons of ten episodes each. Giving us the opportunity to watch two masters of comedy solving murders and making it thrilling.  Selena Gomez isn’t bad either and it is fun to see the generations mix. She claims these two ‘old men’ are her only friends.

I just recently discovered the author Richard Osman, a British screenwriter among his many talents, who has turned his attention to writing mysteries. The first book, The Thursday Murder Club, introduced the world to four seniors, known as pensioners in the UK, who solve murders! They started with cold cases, but by the third book in the series, things have escalated. These books are fun! They are exciting, addictive, and just plain fun! In a time when the world seems to be falling apart, this seems reminiscent of the 40s screwball comedies that were made during WWII when everyone needed a laugh, a smile, and a distraction from what was happening around them. That is what OMITB and the Thursday Murder Club members are doing for me. It’s not quite so bad staying at home with these folk as company.

Is watching streaming services on a TV called watching TV? Other than watching The Golden Globes last night, I haven’t seen any mainstream channels. It’s good to have a large Smart TV that downloads apps and, for a hefty fee, one can be entertained around the clock. Here is another channel not available to me in France even with a good VPN. Turner Classic Movies (TCM—there is a version on French TV but it is not this wonderful classic channel where movies are presented by hosts who know their film history and can relate fascinating details that one would never know otherwise). I watched the 1974 That’s Entertainment, The Sting (1973)The Philadelphia Story (1940) , and the brilliant Inherit the Wind (1960) with Spencer Tracy over the four days of New Year’s weekend. Inherit the Wind is the story of the 1925 Scopes trial where the teaching of evolution by John Scopes was being prosecuted. It could be made today. Do we have a Clarence Darrow available who can go mano a mano with our present-day fundamentalists? All these classic movies hold up. They could have been made yesterday.

Tuesday night was the 80th Golden Globe ceremony. Until last year, when it didn’t air because it was learned there were no black members, it was always everyone’s favorite award ceremony. It is much more laid back, and fun with lots of faux pas that no one really cared about. Then George Floyd was killed and the US started to examine itself on racism. Some entities anyway. Tonight’s show tried to make up ground. The host, Jarrod Carmichael, opened with the line “You know why they asked me to host this show? Because I’m black.” He went on to talk about the elephant in the room in a low-key folksy way. I thought he was excellent. I haven’t read any reviews. Last night’s winners were a diverse group of people many of which would probably not have been honored if not for George Floyd. The two best movies were directed by white men. The Irish movie The Banshees of Inisherin won in the category of best musical or comedy. I haven’t seen the movie but I hear it is not uplifting at all so I’m wondering…. The story of Steven Spielberg’s childhood and his wild wonderful mother, The Fabelmans, won for best Drama. I haven’t seen that either. I can watch both of Apple TV + if I choose not to go to a theatre.

Swollen river near Santa Cruz

According to my iPhone, this California freak of nature will continue for six more days and maybe beyond. The average temperature is 52o. Much the same as in Paris though the temperature seems to be dropping there. So, to all you brilliant people who developed streaming services, and produce these amazing shows that distract from reality, I say thank you. I will survive yet another housebound adventure.

It’s not what or how you plan but how you respond to what actually happens. That’s what they tell me.

For more photos of the damage:

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A bientôt,


Happy New Year — from Oakland, Ca.

On December 29, 2022, I flew from Charles de Gaulle airport to San Francisco airport-a trip of 11.5 hours. When adding in getting to CDG, checking in and then waiting, arriving in SF, and getting myself from there to my home in Oakland, and, for fun, throwing in crossing nine time zones, it is a very long day. Sleep on airplanes is hit or miss. So give or take a few hours of snoozing, someone traveling from Paris to Oakland is usually awake for twenty-four hours. Wisdom on how to deal with jet lag suggests to try and adapt to your destination time zone as quickly as possible. I stayed awake until 8 pm PT which was 5 am the next day in Paris. Exactly 24 hours.

I’m not a fan of cold winters. Not in Paris, not anywhere. I had hoped that by being in Oakland for the winter, I might escape COLD. I was greeted by a huge storm over New Year’s weekend. Raining cats and dogs and very cold weather. It was warmer in Paris. Then on Wednesday, California went into a state of emergency as expectations grew of a ‘bomb cyclone’ hitting the Bay Area and other areas up and down California. There was flooding in the streets as storm drains that hadn’t had much use in these severe drought years were not able to cope with the amount of water falling torrentially from the sky. Winds reached 40-50 miles an hour blowing trees around. Unused to this kind of weather, people kept driving and were not preparing their homes for possible emergencies. I’m not sure of the total number of deaths but there were at least four drownings, and a two-year-old died when a huge tree limb fell on a mobile home. 

I was completely unprepared. Of four flashlights I have around the house, only one worked and it was feeble. I had no backup batteries. I could charge my mobile phone but I’d brought the wrong cord to charge my backup phone battery. I had been in Oakland for five days when I was walking around the outside of my house trying to gather everything as close to the house walls as possible, bringing anything that could fly into windows if picked up by a cyclone gust inside, and filling bottles of water. All for just in case. 

As it turned out, I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t lose electricity except for 30 seconds. Wi-Fi stayed on for the most part. The next morning I saw that the trash bins had been blown around and the top of my mailbox had somehow blown off. That seemed to be the extent of the damage. Now, two days later, the water is disappearing from the streets. I have a renewed energy to ‘adopt a storm drain’ as there is one right in front of the house that certainly needs cleaning and care. However, we are in for at least ten more days of rain.

You may well ask “Aren’t you happy? This may put a huge dent in the drought.” Maybe a small dent, maybe larger. Those in the know say days of light rain that can actually seep into the soil are so much better than these wild copious downpours. And, they remind us, until the snow melt starts in the Spring, no one knows how much better off the reservoirs will be. The happiest people, at the moment, are those that have planned skiing trips for this week and the next.

There is an old adage: We make plans, God laughs! Just another reminder that it isn’t the plans or lack of them that brings us peace or contentment but how we deal with the hand life deals us at any given moment. So I’ve been cooped up in the house which has made me homesick for Paris. On the other hand, I think jet lag has passed much quicker as I haven’t had to deal with “things to do and people to see.”

To Mask or not to mask….

A huge surprise is that 80% of the people I see are wearing masks. California is taking the rise of Covid very seriously. Medical buildings have never stopped requiring the wearing of masks. Now, it is mandatory in all government buildings. I went to the Library on Tuesday and didn’t bring a mask as I’m not in the habit. I was handed a mask as I walked in the door. In grocery stores, the majority of people are wearing masks and about 40% are ‘masking’ on the street. I have a strong feeling of relief, of safety. It’s pretty obvious to everyone that one can still get Covid even with all the shots including boosters. Just when you think you understand how it’s spreading, it changes. Some are getting it severely, and some just have a minor cold. I’m in the minority. I haven’t gotten Covid yet. I stocked up on home tests as my doctor says they are reliable. I wasn’t so sure anymore.

In Paris, in France, Covid doesn’t make the news much anymore. It’s easy to do research and see that it is on the rise there too. Macron has retirement age and pensions on his plate and I don’t think he is willing to take on Covid. It has become a way of life, and each person is to take care of themselves. During the last week that I was there, I noticed that more people were wearing masks in the metro. That means that 10% of the riders in one car might be masked—me included. I wasn’t taking any chances, not when I had a plane to catch on the 29th of December. I left CDG so early in the morning, there weren’t that many people around and it was easy to keep at least a two-foot distance in that covered walkway between showing your ticket and actually stepping onto the plane. I have been told that is where the majority of people catch Covid. My Kaiser doctor tells me that more people have the flu right now than have Covid. She also said there are a hundred varieties of flu going around. Our flu shot ‘protects’ is from the latest variant—maybe.

Welcome to 2023!!! I have watched the news for twenty minutes, long enough to know that the US of A is in for a very interesting and bumpy ride for the next two years. So, stay dry, stay warm, stay healthy, and I’ll see you next week.

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A bientôt,


Leave a comment

Dear Dan Harris (and the crew at Ten Percent Happier)

I have been using your wonderful app for almost three years, listening to your podcasts, and I’ve read both of your books. Because of you and your work, I meditate daily and have the most amazing crew of teachers at my fingertips. You have probably done more to make Vipassana/Mindfulness accessible to an entire nation than any one person in a long time. 

For the entire time that I have been using the Ten Percent Happier app, I have often felt distressed by the many discussions of sugar (in all its forms), sugar addicts, and how to attempt to live without sugar. A while ago, on one of your weekly challenges, your guest suggested using behavior modification as a way to create distance from sugar intake. I remember thinking that as knowledgeable as this person is, she didn’t know or understand the definition of addiction. Yet, they seem to understand alcoholism and drug addiction. I’m quite sure that this same person would not suggest treating alcoholism by having one beer a day. The other day I heard Jeff W. talk about chocolate as if it were the same as getting a splinter (my words, not his). Maybe for him, it is. A small annoyance but not much more than that. Also, maybe for him, a small taste of chocolate is a genuine pleasure. I want to make clear that I know that no one on your show thinks of themselves as the one true answer or that they are “recommending” a certain kind of treatment. I am talking about the chatter, the back and forth of questions and answers, and the inadvertent throwing in of a substance, that in a listener’s mind, could be the same as permission if they just meditated enough. 

These smart, educated people still seem to think that letting go of sugar has something to do with willpower. Yet, in all this time, I’ve never once heard anyone on Ten Percent refer to a glass of wine (straight sugar), a beer (grains), an oxycontin, or marijuana in the same way as they talk about sugar. There is respect for the danger that those substances have on a whole group of people that you don’t seem to have for sugar. Just as you have a substantial group of listeners who are recovering from alcoholism, you also have a substantial group of people who are recovering from sugar and food addiction. I am speaking for this group of people.

I, personally, have not had sugar or grains in fifteen years. When I hear Jeff or Dan talk about chocolate, I wince but I’m not tempted to kill myself. Then I think of other people newly off sugar, listening to people who they consider experts talk about sugar as if it weren’t a life and death deal, as if you can let go one day, binge, and go right back to abstaining the next day. Back in the 1980s, I went to a one-day retreat with Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock. One of the things we did that day was mindful eating. He had us put one raisin in our mouth and chew as slowly as possible. Many people got a great deal of pleasure out of this. Me, newly abstaining from sugar and hoping against hope that I wasn’t a sugar addict?, well it set off months of obsessive sugar thinking and binging. None of us knew any better at the time. But we do now. Jack would never have asked us to savor wine in our mouths without at least a warning that this is not appropriate for alcoholics. But I suspect, knowing Jack, he wouldn’t even take that chance. No one would. We know too much about alcoholism. Now we know about sugar addiction.

I’m not suggesting that everyone who listens to your podcasts and meditations reacts to sugar the way I do. Any more than all listeners of your show are alcoholics. Yet, you seem to respect that talking about alcohol in less than a serious way could easily trigger and harm a substantial group of your listeners, so you don’t do it.

I think you need to consider the impact that you have on your listeners when you talk about sugar. Sugar and grains are the same ingredients that are in alcohol. Why wouldn’t you give sugar the same respect you give liquid sugar and grains?

Dear Dan Harris et al, there are a ton of us out in the listening world who love you and what you are doing with Ten Percent; that you have expanded from the basics of meditation, to the teachings of Buddhist concepts, to offerings of western psychology. Why don’t you talk to us, the experts on sugar addiction? We are sugar addicts in recovery. We aren’t guessing, we aren’t opinionating, and we aren’t putting forth possible behavioral solutions unless we have personal experience. We’ve been to hell and we’ve come back. Many of us use the combination of twelve steps, meditation, and therapy to NEVER forget where we’ve been and could easily go back to. 

Please give sugar, all that white stuff, grains, liquid and hard ingredients of alcohol, the respect it deserves. As you, Dan Harris, have said many times, “sugar is poison”. When was the last time you had to use behavior modification to convince someone that it is not healthy to put cyanide in their tea? 

Just askin’

With gratitude for your app and how you have devoted your life to our betterment. Can you take the next step? I realize this is just my opinion but having lived with food and sugar addiction for all of my life, I do feel strongly about it.

Thank you for reading,

Sara Somers

Author: Saving Sara; A Memoir of Food Addition (SheWritesPress 2020). Psychotherapist in California for thirty-five years before moving to Paris.

Food Junkies Podcast: 

and many other interviews I’d be happy to provide if interested. Out My Window: My Life in Paris

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Watching the World Cup and knowing next to nothing about Soccer/Fûtbol

I have lived in Paris for nine years as of Nov. 5th. Before that time I had not really paid attention to Fûtbol for more than a couple of hours. Many people have mistaken me for a sports fan. This is because I’m crazy about baseball. In California, I was an Oakland A’s season ticket holder and went to 50-55 home games a season (plus one or two road trips). I knew (still know) statistics backward and forwards and loved talking baseball anytime I could.

This does not make me a sports fan. I dislike American football. The concept of grown men charging each other, getting concussions, and entire campuses spawning criminal activity is beyond my comprehension. Basketball is too fast. It requires 100% focus for the entire game. I’ll leave the Olympics out for now. What I love about baseball is that it is like a dance, a ballet. It is teamwork. It is blue skies and a summer day. It is sitting with your baseball family and shutting out the world.

Here in France, there is Fûtbol, Rugby, and Tennis. Tennis I could watch in the States but don’t. Rugby, I still think of as an English game that I’ve never taken to—although it does make more sense than American football. Then there is the world’s most popular game known by many names depending on where you live: soccer, fûtbol, le fût, etc. Les Bleus (France) are one game away from being repeat champions of the World Cup 2022.

After all this time, (and maybe missing baseball), I finally wanted to know what is going on down on the field. I found Soccer for Dummies in my virtual library. Beyond the obvious, that the team with the most goals wins, I’ve learned that there are eleven players on the field. One is the goalie. The other ten are the ones talked about: defense, midfielders, and forward. Watching a game, I couldn’t have told you who was who until I watched Morocco vs France. For the whole month leading up to the semi-final, Morocco had let one goal in. Their defense is incredible. They seemed like worker ants buzzing around the enemy blocking all means of entrance, defending their goalie and their net. It was a thing of beauty. I realized that soccer is also like a dance. I could like this game. Kylian Mbappé, the twenty-three-year-old star of Les Bleus, moves with such grace. While others fall and feign agony, Mbappé never does that. Mbappé, once a midfielder and now a forward can go on the attack scoring goals. These players never stop moving for ninety minutes with a time-out at half-time. Ask an outfielder for the Oakland A’s if he could not stop moving and running for ninety minutes. Well, I don’t know what he would say but I know what he should say.

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On Sunday night, 4 pmCET. THIS WAS INCORRECT IN ORIGINAL POSTING. France will play Argentina for the World Cup Championship. There is a true superstar playing for Argentina who also happens to play for Paris Saint-Germain for a living. Lionel Messi. I gather this will be his swan song World Cup and many are saying he should be given all the awards: Best Player, most goals. There are others besides Messi and Mbappé who are teammates during the year and it must take a true professional to play next to a teammate who just took the World Cup away from your country. In trying to understand what to expect and why someone is great, I read this in the Guardian about Lionel Messi “A major part of the problem is knowing where Messi will spring up. He will almost certainly be part of a front two, alongside Julián Álvarez. But he drifts on the periphery of the game, suddenly appearing, perhaps centrally, perhaps on the right, perhaps deep, perhaps high up. At various times, he will flit into the zones for which Theo Hernandez, Aurélien Tchouaméni, and Adrien Rabiot (or Youssouf Fofana) are responsible. But how you stop somebody such as Messi, who can confound a player as good as Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol with his dribbling, or split a defense with a preposterous pass that nobody else could have seen, let alone executed, as he did against the Netherlands? It may not be possible by tactical means.”

Then I read this about Kylian Mbappé: Just as the first question for any side facing Argentina is how to stop Messi, so the first question any side facing France must ask is how to stop Kylian Mbappé. As with Messi, there is a sense that once he gets the ball, he can do almost anything, as his two goals against Poland demonstrated. But Mbappé, brilliant as he is, is a more conventional talent than Messi. His pace is his greatest asset, so one option is to sit deep against him and deny him space to run into, as Kyle Walker did in the quarter-final.

But what Morocco showed in the semi is that Mbappé can be transformed into a (temporary) weakness. Achraf Hakimi took Mbappé on, surging down the right to link up with Hakim Ziyech. Only after Marcus Thuram had been introduced and Mbappé moved to the middle was that avenue closed down. Mbappé rarely tracked Hakimi and that left Hernandez, not the most natural defender, exposed. Argentina’s Nahuel Molina is not an attacking right-back in the manner of Hakimi, but he was the recipient of Messi’s brilliant pass against the Netherlands; he can get forward. It’s a gamble, and it’s understandable why full-backs would be wary of deserting Mbappé, but at least at times it’s probably worth calling his bluff and trying to create overloads against Hernandez”

I will not be able, in this game at least, to be able to see someone run, think through his options, and perform at the skill level of these two. But I will be able to appreciate that I am watching greatness.

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A bientôt,



Walking the Talk

(To my readers: this is longer than my usual blog but well worth your reading!)

Mathieu Yème is the oldest son of my friend, Barbara. I’m writing about him today because he is a remarkable man and I’m going to ask you to help him out this Christmas season. 

Mathieu was born in Paris and raised, bilingual, in the Burgundy area of France. He studied engineering in France and Brazil and holds a degree in Engineering. He also speaks five languages! Until a few years ago, he worked in Aachen, Germany as a well-respected engineer with projects all over the EU (pre-Brexit). He took a year off with the blessings of his workplace (who paid him a stipend), and traveled the world with his then girlfriend. They would stay in countries long enough to work somewhere, usually as volunteers, learn the culture, how they grew food and sustained their lives. You can read about their amazing trip at

With all this information knocking around inside of him, Mathieu decided to do what many of us would love to do but don’t have the courage.

He quit his job to be a better citizen on our planet.

Mathieu Yème

After some self-questioning about how to best use all that he has learned, he landed in the Périgord-Limousin region of France.  He bought land with nine other like-minded people. They are growing food without using machines, without chemicals, and with huge love.

Although this is a collective, there are individual projects that each person is responsible for. Mathieu has decided to concentrate on berries, to build a business that could possibly begin to support them. 

Why berries? Because berries are delicious and who doesn’t love berries?

The following is an interview with Mathieu. He has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to get started on planting this Winter. If he can raise enough funds, he can buy the shrubs and get them in the ground by February. Mathieu is a committed, dedicated and humble man. If he says he will do something, he will do it. I hope that you will consider a Christmas gift to him and his collective. His success could inspire more people to do what they are doing and wouldn’t that be wonderful for our planet? Go to:

(Mathieu has written in French and English. If you are an English speaker, scroll past the French. There are several sections explaining the project in detail).

In return, you will benefit when the berries come to fruition. Pun intended! Mathieu says when you are in France, you are always welcome to visit them and get a tour.

The land waiting for the shrubs!!

These are Mathieu’s words. I have only edited for grammar and conciseness.

1–Why is your berry project important in our society today?
I think it is important because my project is part of a bigger collective endeavour. Ten of us bought a common piece of land. We cooperate together to lead good lives in our territory. To do so, we acknowledge that speaking about ethics and values is important, embodying our values to make it happen for real is essential. Since example is often the best teacher, we perhaps need more true stories to push us to action. We want to share that story with you one day. A story of cooperation, abundance, autonomy and resilience, good life, sharing…

2–You used to work as an engineer.  How has engineering informed your decision to devote your life to “working without machines, with living soil, on small surfaces and with a lot of love”

I want to work without machines because machines harm the soil. I want to take care of the soil because the soil takes care of our plants and therefore of us. As I also want to take care of myself, I will focus on smaller surfaces to limit the damage. Smaller and slower solutions fit my values and vision better.
I guess my inspiration came more from my permaculture training, travels, and several experiences on farms than my engineering training. For sure, engineering helps me do the math, understand the pros and cons and thus decide rationally what solution is a priori technically best within a given context. But brain work is not sufficient. My inspiration comes from my guts and my heart. Brain, guts and heart agree on working without machines, with living soil and with a lot of love.
Last but not least, it also makes the berries grow healthier and taste better.

3–Is this similar to what the hippies did back in the 70s when they lived on communes and lived off the land? How is it different?
Good question and hard for me to say, since I was not there back in the 70s. Nevertheless, my project and our collective initiatives do not appear from nowhere. I am sure the hippies inspired us in a way. Communes inspire us. As a matter fact the ten of us met through an association named “la Commune Imaginée du Bandiat” ( Many real stories inspired us all.
What might be similar is the collective action and the dreams for a free and brighter future.
What is different is this context/ I want to hope. I think our society also needs hope. To be perfectly honest, as far as I am concerned, it is not easy nowadays to be 100% optimistic when it comes to our collective future. Ecological destruction, social injustice, biodiversity collapse, resource depletion and related increasing scarcity, tensions on energy supply, authoritarianism and war… The list goes on and I do not want to give up on hope. We feel a compelling urge for action and for change.

4–Why did you choose berries to begin your new model of making the existing one obsolete?
I chose berries, not so much to make the older model obsolete but because I still have a foot in the current model. In the current social model, money plays a substantial role. I will cultivate berries to generate income. I want to share this income to support our collective initiatives and concretely participate in the dynamics of our local economy. In return, our local economy -economy in a broad sense- allows us to depend less and less on money. When money plays a secondary role in the definition of our material conditions of existence, we depend less and less on the current model, we make it obsolete.

5–What is the most important thing that you want your investors and friends to know about you and this project?
I want you to know that it is possible to say “STOP”. When I quit my job, I knew I wanted to meet others, find land, and grow towards more autonomy, resilience, reconnection, regeneration, and federation. Everywhere, people of good will inspire us to love and act, to prefer care and cooperation to hate and competition. And yes, we can do it so let’s do it. 

6–Are you using any existing models either in France or the US as examples to guide you?
The forest inspires me a lot. Permaculture inspires me a lot; it is so wide, so complex. Farms and the collectives I visited all over the world and had the opportunity to do volunteer work for, also inspired me a lot. The next inspirations will come from careful observation and interaction with the land.

7--Why should people who don’t know you give you money?
If you have money, you can spend it. When you spend money, you also make a decision, a decision that influences the world we live in. If you feel we have values in common and you also hope for a brighter future, I offer you the opportunity to support a grassroots project that embodies our values to progressively realise our dreams. You can humbly choose to make dreams come true.

8–What have I not asked you that you would really like people to know?
Your questions are really good! Under other circumstances, I would take a longer time to answer such questions. I did my best to keep my answers as short as I could. Obviously, what led me to answering your questions today is a long process, several years of exploration. If people want to know more, I would be more than happy to dive into more details!
Meanwhile, please know that you are more than welcome in our green Périgord-Limousin.

If, after you have read this and the crowdfunding site which is full of information, you would like to know more about Mathieu or contact him, please write me in the comments and I will forward on to him. Meanwhile, let’s help make his dreams come true.There will be delicious berries in our future!


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A bientôt,


A Thanksgiving Story

You sent a ‘Save the date’ notice to all the guests-mostly Americans and some other cultures-two weeks in advance.

You explained why the celebration has to happen on the weekend not on Thursday since everyone works on Thursday in France.

You went to the special butcher and ordered the turkey, asking again, as you do every year, that all the innards need to be out and, for a little extra money, could they start the roasting for you.

You arranged to pick up the turkey the morning of your Thanksgiving feast, so you’d have at least three hours to finish the cooking.

You sent out e-mails far and wide asking where to find cranberries in Paris.

You wrote a lovely invitation with the history of Thanksgiving, then explained how it is a myth, yet it is most Americans’ favorite holiday.

You requested that each person think of something to share that they feel especially grateful for.

You borrowed chairs from the neighbors feeling a bit guilty that you were having a party and not inviting them.

You then wrote a note reminding the neighbors of the American holiday Thanksgiving and thanked them for contributing to it.

You went to the local Fruits Primeurs and bought up two kilos of green beans and a massive amount of potatoes, wondering again why sweet potatoes had never made it to France.

You pulled out all your Thanksgiving decorations and your pumpkin pie spice that you bring back each year from California.

You put together the ingredients for pumpkin pie and stored in the refrigerator.

You set your table early as it made you smile every time you walked by it.

You instructed your cat that she is not allowed to jump on the table or play with any of the decorations.

You sighed as your cat stared at you with that look that said “Don’t tell me what to do.”

You wrote e-cards to all your friends far and wide wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving.

You set the delivery time for the e-cards for the morning of Thanksgiving.

You went to sleep knowing everything would be perfect.

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A bientôt,


The Smells of Paris

I’m surprised to learn, after sniffing up a storm today, closing my eyes, and hoping the olfactory part of my mind would wander down some ancient pathways, that I have no real smell memory, not even one that reminds me of ‘home’.  I have three smells that take me back to earlier years. Someone taking the first puff on a cigarette.  There was nothing like that smell to me and it was non-reproducible. I can picture a friend (different friends throughout my smoking career) lighting up, taking a deep inhale, and blowing out the smoke.  All or much of it landing on my nose.   Today I try to move away from cigarettes.  Don’t really want the memory pull.

Then there is being outside on a walk and, suddenly out of nowhere, smelling marijuana.  Usually, I never see where it’s coming from. But the smell takes me back to the most romantic of my memories of my hippie years when everything was in front of me, and I had left all the bad, all the painful back at home. I easily picture in my mind, friends sitting around in a circle.  Sometimes we are talking.  Sometimes we are listening to music. But always, it was friendly, and it was an invitation for my brain to take a break from whatever the day had held.

And lastly, there is just-baked bread. Since weight has always been problematic, I don’t have great associations with that smell as delicious and heavenly as it is.  Since I’ve been in Paris and no longer worry about my weight (though I never eat bread), I’ve learned to just appreciate the smell, how aromatic it is. There is a boulangerie on the corner of my street and if I’m up and out early enough, I walk by and can inhale the staff of life while watching the cooks who have been up since 3:30 am take a break leaning up against the wall of the shop smoking cigarettes.

I must be an auditory memory person. I can hear the first three bars of “EaterPurple People ”, and I’m back in my youth, nine years old, lying in my twin bed with measles. A transistor radio propped on a chair in front of me where I first discovered Hy Lit on WIBG, Philadelphia.  

I can hear the first note of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and I’m in a VW bus with four other people riding up the west coast of Italy singing at the top of my lungs.  I’m returning to Florence where I had spent my senior year abroad and I was buzzing with excitement. 

I can hear three strums of ‘Silver Dagger’ from Joan Baez’s first album and I’m sitting on the floor at Christmas, down in the rec room, my parents, uncle and aunt, and Peggy all sitting there.  I have a guitar and I’m playing a song I wrote. We’re at the far end of the room next to the doors that open up onto the backyard. I’m wearing my dark hair parted in the middle and trying to look as much like Joan Baez as I possibly can.

These are visceral feelings I have no control over. I recently listened to the Beatles on Spotify. Here Comes the Sun started the playlist. I was instantaneously overwhelmed with memories of being young, of being hopeful, of just wanting to have fun, and not worrying about money, family, or health. I had to sit down and take deep breaths and just let the feelings roll through me. It all feels so long ago—literally another time, a different person that was there.

Would I go back there? Not on your life? What hits me is always the best of those times.  Music was absolutely the best of the best. I lost myself in music.  I listened to rock ‘n roll around the clock.  I don’t know when it stopped but it stopped. And now it’s like sparkling sand that flows through my fingers.  I can’t hold onto the feelings, nor do I want to. But I do love that I have a magic key that takes me straight back and I get to relive a tiny part of the past.

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A bientôt, 


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