hangry in Antigua

As my boyfriend and I walked down the cobblestone streets and alleys of the ancient capitol of Guatemala, a dusty, colorful and quaint remnant of Spanish colonialism, I grew quiet.  Everything around me faded as if the world beyond a five-foot diameter was an undefined white miasma.

Then I blurted out: “Just to let you know, I’m going to need to eat in the next five minutes.”

The ‘oh-shit’ look transformed his features as we embarked on a not so pleasant adventure to find the closest eatery that had: 1) food; 2) vegetarian options that wouldn’t cause vomiting or severe intestinal cramping; and 3) had a chance of being delicious and heathly.

Here’s the confession:  I am one of those people. You know the kind. The ones who go from 0 to scary in five minutes if they don’t receive immediate nourishment.

It’s embarassing, and causes its share of problems. As my boyfriend has pointed out, food is the source of 95% of our arguments.  Considering we don’t fight often, that’s  significant.

So what is it that drives me to become the explosive ice queen whenever I get hungry?  Or ‘hangry’ as some people call it.

As it turns out, there’s a science-backed answer in the giant morass of the great intergalactic library called the Internet.

That’s right … Science is on my side.  (And my physiology is to blame.)

Hungry is an emotion

Some things are happening in your body when you get hungry.  The concentration of glucose in your blood is depleting. Once it achieves a certain level (from 3.8 to 2.8 mmol/L), your brain, which survives on glucose, initiates a desparate cry for help.  A progressive SOS goes out to the pituitary gland, pancreas, and adrenal glands who in turn respond by releasing growth hormone, glucagon, and adrenaline and cortisol, respectively.  The body releases these hormones in stages.  Early stages are supposed to trigger glucogenesis, a process whereby the body converts amino acids into glucose so that your greedy, gluttonous brain doesn’t have to stop bingeing.  Adrenaline and cortisol come into play when the glucose levels further drop.

Being low on glucose is a bit like being drunk.  Muddled thoughts, slurred speech, and difficulty concentrating are some typical symptoms.  Being really low on glucose is dangerous, and can lead to seizures, coma and death.  Seriously.

The link between adrenal, cortisol and anger seems obvious, however it’s not the only thing driving this irrational behavioral response.  You know how genes provide the basis for our programming.  Well, the one controlling hunger also controls anger. Neuropeptide Y (benign name for such an implement of destruction) is found to be significantly elevated in the cerebral spinal fluid of some lucky individuals, together with a higher incidence of the Y1 receptor. [ASIDE: Neuropeptide Y, like many things in the body, has  different functions, and can induce various responses to diverse stimuli.  For example, it plays a role in obesity, aids in dealing with PTSD, enhances performance under stress, and may provide protection against alcoholism.]

Is anger ever a good thing? 

Evolutionarily speaking (because who doesn’t like gazing back on those knuckle dragging days with misty-eyed nostalgia) increased aggression while hungry probably served a very important biological function… like making sure you beat out the competition and didn’t die of starvation.

As it turns out, my irritating habit of losing my rationale mind when I get hungry may have been beneficial in some kind of yesteryear.  I imagine my ancient self racing across a muddy savannah, flecks of earth sailing through the air like miniature bombs against the smoke-filled sky.  Spear in hand.  Prey trying to escape me, but turning its sharp tusks at me once I finally corner it.


It’s no excuse, nor is it fair to my amazing friends and family to become she-hulk when my blood sugar drops.  How do I combat evolutionary biology?  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  Some basic tricks are always having a healthy snack on hand, no matter where on the planet I am.  Maintaining blood sugar levels requires a bit of vigilence, as well as a deeper knowledge of our own internal bio-rhythms.

Perhaps the main thing is to remember a moment of hanger is temporary, and to stay grateful for my boyfriend, who is so patience with me, and keeps an internal map of all the closest eateries.


The Gratitude Journal

Wind blows a cold edge
cutting and the rain splatters,
budding branches sway.

Bright flowers, scrumptious
dinners, chocolate dreams mean
nothing without you.

Through the dark or light,
a smile builds and reflects
a brightness within.

Hummingbird peers in.
There. The synchronicity
of the Universe.

Raven waits outside
and through my glass prison we
witness each other.

The Gratitude Journal

Writing to Meme by InkSpot's Blot
Writing to Meme, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

It’s been a little over a week since my last post. Some snotty little germ decided to trespass against my immune system and take me down. Since then I’ve had the dubious honor of taste testing no less than three different flavors of Nyquil. Green (most kindly described as absinthe-like), “cherry vanilla” (don’t bother waiting for the vanilla to hit you), and mixed berry. My favorite one? The one that knocks me out …

1. So in honor of bonding with my couch, bed, and local pharmacy, I am super grateful to be healthy. Having a cold is small beans compared to what other people have to face. I still bitch and complain about it. It is not pleasant when each swallow is like taking a cheese grater to the back of your throat. So, yay for health and healthy tissues.

2. Along the same strain, I am grateful for a deep, restorative, uninterrupted night of sleep. There’s nothing like spending a night in bed, shaking the walls with my cough of doom while I wonder if I’m keeping my neighbors up and if all cough drops are expediting an unfortunate path to dentures.

3. I’m grateful for Fire and Blood. What is this thing of which I speak? My YA fantasy fiction novel. It has been my friend and nemesis for years. Just recently I’ve started seeing it, and through it, myself, much differently. From spiky, alien plant with eyes in place of skin, it’s bloomed into fury color, dancing through the spectrum, equal measures of delicacy and strength. Vulnerability and courage.

4. I am grateful for the chance to learn. This weekend I went to my first SDSU Writers’ Conference. The conference design was precise, and delivered the perfect mix of opportunity and inspiration. The industry professionals there were honest, positive, and kind. I didn’t end the weekend with a book deal, but with something I feel is much more valuable. I feel energized to move forward in my quest. I am motivated. I am capable.

5. I’m grateful for birthdays. As my Mom says, the alternative rather sucks.

PS> This is an old photo from an amazing weekend in Switzerland.  Such a strange experience to writer with the aqua blue glacial water glinting in the distance, the mountains (real mountains) cradling us in their weathered palms, and the LOOSE cows getting curious about what this two-legged creature was doing on their neatly trimmed grass.

The Gratitude Journal

Meme's Hangers by InkSpot's Blot
Meme’s Hangers, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

I’m feeling kind of strange this morning. We’ll see if this theme works out or if it flops and gasps its way out of a half-baked existence. Here we go:

1. I am grateful for verbs. Wait. Are we talking grade school grammar here? Sort of, and yes, I am serious. So why verbs? This piece of oral and written communication “encodes” action. Sure, it also conveys states of being, but the context I’m mostly interested in in this case is action. Think of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet spends the entire first half of the play locked in the stifling space of the infinitive. To be or not to be. To do, or not. His existence has not yet been conjugated into action; therefore he languishes. I’m all for meditating. Critical thinking is a necessary component of life, and many of us should do it far more often. For others, however, they are forever lost in thought (Guilty). Never move to act. To attain a goal, we must act. To fix a problem, we must face it, and act. There is no living life without doing.

2. I am grateful for nouns. Oh dear. The stretch has begun. What is so special about nouns, and how can they possibly correlate to something concrete in life? Well, that’s the great thing. These little guys are the signposts. With them, we label and identify. Extrapolating for this case, nouns represent moving from the abstract to the concrete. They signify that most precious act of coming into knowledge. Escaping from vagueness and uncertainty into that hard-edged space of specificity.

3. I am grateful for adjectives. They make the world beautiful. They help us see all the qualities and characteristics that a simple noun, poor thing, cannot convey. It is not enough to know something. We have to feel it, too. His (pronoun) smile (noun). His tender smile. His sweet smile. Forced, beaming, galactic. His empty smile.

4. I am grateful for punctuation. My life experiences have been written with ellipses (unfinished), periods (finished), commas (evolving), semi-colons (stepping), the em dash (a epiphany, a sudden change) and more. Sometimes, my life has been punctuated exactly where it needs to be. In other cases, I have put the wrong marks in the wrong place, or let them be put there. Regardless, punctuation is an important signal. The word comes from the Latin “punctuare”, to bring to a point. It signals transition, whether it be turning the page or closing the book. I think I would be lost and floating without it.

5. I am grateful for conjunctions. Conjunctions might be as beautiful as adjectives. They represent the binding agent in my life. A conjunction links two phrases (clauses, etc) together. Simple, subtle and often considered marginal, yet the impact of a conjunction can be immense.

For what are you grateful?

ps, about the photo. My grandmother made these. Originally, she was going to be mentioned more explicitly in this post. She is still there, between the lines and buried in the generalizations. As are other people and elements in my life.

The Gratitude Journal

Sometimes gratitude doesn’t come easy. Especially when a little dark cloud is stalking you and trying to spit on your head. Even though my heart isn’t 100% in it, I’m still going to go for the weekly tradition of describing five things for which I am thankful. Maybe this dash of forced optimism will lighten the gloom, or force me to turn on the light.

1. I am grateful for the people who love me. I don’t always do the right things, and sometimes, loathe though I am to admit it, I’m not as strong as I pretend to be. And I need. This small group of dedicated souls accepts me as I am, offers me support when I need it, and cheers me on when I doubt myself. They give hugs, and pull out the truth, one splinter at a time. They know me, and don’t give up on me.

2. I am grateful for catharsis. Catharsis comes in many forms and may very well be underrated. There is physical activity: running, swimming, biking, hiking, whatever lets you release. There is singing, smashing, painting. There is talking and writing and dancing. There is crying. I’ve done three of these things today.

3. I am grateful for examples. This one is rather awkward and requires explanation. I was born with a certain set tools. Through my life experiences, I have modified those tools, and maybe added to them, or subtracted from them. However, my tool box is not necessarily adequate for the various things I must face. For example, I might do well at certain types of communication, and very poorly at others. Or I might not even think to communicate something because it’s simply outside my experience. Enter “the example”. This is when you see or hear about someone doing in a way that’s innovative to you. In a way you had never thought about before. And maybe these examples can be applied to my own life.


4. I’m grateful for This American Life. They produce amazing, thought-provoking, gripping shows. I learn a little a bit more about what it means to be human with each one. For better or worse.

5. I am grateful for 29th Street. It’s been my place to heal. To reflect. To make realizations, and hopefully make some progress towards something greater. I feel like it’s my cocoon through a long, painful chrysalis.

What are you grateful for?

The Gratitude Journal, A New Year

Jan 1, 2012 by InkSpot's Blot
Jan 1, 2012, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Welcome, 2012. I’ll try to treat you well. I confess, I might call you by another’s name. It’s not because I don’t care. Old habits die hard, so the infamous “they” say. I can guarantee that you will be my present for a while. Maybe even my future. Let’s try this: Can I be grateful for things that haven’t happened yet?

1. I’m grateful for the new friends and connections I’ll make this year. Friends come to know you. They laugh and cry with you. Share the sparkling moments, and inspire you. They help you be most honest with yourself, more kind.

2. I am grateful for the adventures I will have this year. On the page, in the heart. On the road, and through the lens. Why adventure? Why is this so important and critical to me? It is a thing of wonder. New and surprising, so it seems, but in these places that are not home, we often uncover familiar threads and strains. The landscapes may be stark, serene, iconic or alien. Each offers a filter through which we understand a different aspect of ourselves. Touch that spark of enlightenment, even if the moment is a dark one.

3. I am grateful for creativity. For the fact that my understanding of it, my application of it will evolve. Less like a bolt of lightening, and more like a switch that turns on each day. A finger flips it, mechanical act. Practiced and routine.

4. I am grateful for magic, for leading with the heart. I’m grateful for finding joy in the simple things, the sweet things. And here, this is the lightening, the delicate shred of light, the butterfly. It is the moment that can never be recovered. That can only be embraced with your all in that instance. And then it’s gone.

5. I am grateful, for yesterday. Yes. But mostly for today. And for tomorrow.

The Gratitude Journal

Color and Cloud by InkSpot's Blot
Color and Cloud, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

1. I am grateful for sunsets. And sunrises, too. Sure, there are the stunning colors that breathe fire into the sky. Sometimes you can see the whole spectrum reaching into or up from the horizon. Violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and a flirtation of red. Aside from the amazing sight, aside from the sense of time, there is the sense of movement. Of going from one state to another. Transformation. Transmogrification. As much as things can be explained, how much more or less are they when they are also felt?

2. I am grateful for openness—of the body, mind and heart. Coming to the mat in yoga, after being away from it for a while, I can feel the restriction in my knees and hamstrings, hips and shoulders. The beginning of a class/session starts out so awkward, constrained and refusing to release. Slowly, the binding loosens; the body becomes more fluid.

An open mind is even more of a challenge. It seems we spend our entire lives building the tract to which we fasten our minds. There is a certain way of doing, seeing, being. A singular fixed point that strains against any challenge to it. Refusing. But openness here, flexibility of sight enables a more thorough examination of the human condition. Creates the opportunity for understanding, which is not the same thing as agreeing, cowing, etc. It merely allows more data points for building a more accurate or better model. It helps us grow, develop, change and become.

3. I am grateful for endorphins. How else is it possible to feel so good after a punishing workout? Or to get so cranky that you haven’t had one in a few days? The body’s natural medicine cabinet. Endogenously produced opiates. You don’t need elicit substances. Just a well-lived life.

4. To follow on the last one, I am grateful for my running gear. My new tights are awesome and make the early morning runs bearable (it can be 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which I just can’t handle on bare uninsulated skin). The new jacket is equally awesome, and provides some VERY efficient insulation. The shoes have been great (admittedly they’ve seen better days). Having the right gear makes this activity as comfortable as it can be.

5. I am grateful for the chance to be a better person each day, each hour, with each choice I make.

What’s in your gratitude journal?