Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Good Faith Vanishes

Oh shit not you again
So Dr. Huxtable may be a rapist, Governor Nixon declared a state of emergency before the grand jury decision about Ferguson even comes down, and President Obama is doing everything by executive order to get around our worthless Congress.

Some parts of California are sinking into the earth at the rate of a foot per year because so much ground water is being pumped out to irrigate heavy water feeding crops like almonds during the worst drought in centuries.

Farmers now routinely soak our GMO wheat and corn in glycophosphate poisons because they can, and corporate meat farms are breeding deadly treatment resistant diseases.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court looks for a way to back out of Obamacare even though it is helping millions of people, the Keystone pipeline is getting another thumbs up from the GOP even though it now snows in the deep south, some guys in the Mideast are nasty so we have to be at war with them for another gazillion years, and just about the whole world thinks America has lost its mind.

Well, it has.

When ordinary good faith vanishes, society falls apart. When no one trusts the other guy to basically do the right thing 80% of the time, everyone starts doing the wrong thing proactively, out of fear.

Americans are encouraged to spend a lot of time worrying about terrorism, but what about the terrorism promoted by our own media, our own politicians, our own corporate overlords?

Is it possible that we are encouraged to mistrust and even hate each other because it makes it easier for those already in power to control us through fear?

It's what's happening.

The collapse that started in 2008, the one that really started in the 1970s, that collapse has not stopped, it hasn't even slowed down that much.

It's like we are all just sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And then what?

Then you will need your neighbor but maybe he will shoot you.

Then you will need the police but they won't show up. Or they will, but they will shoot you.

Then we will all wish we did something when it was still possible to make a difference.

Do I sound a bit discouraged?

Well that's what chocolate is for. Did you know that, globally, we are running out of chocolate?

Happy Wednesday.

Shit.

It's only Tuesday.




Friday, November 7, 2014

A Pox on Both Your Houses



I'm not a scientist, but my opponent...
I just can't care about American politics anymore.

The process has become so farcical it is painful to watch: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum running around pummeling each other on a sinking shop, arguing about whether the deck chairs should be red or blue. Or purple.

I cried the first time I saw Titanic, not because Leonardo DiCaprio was so cute before he got all hairy and paunchy and middle-aged, but because I saw the film as this big sappy metaphor for what was happening to the United States.

Here we are, seventeen years later (is that even possible?), and the nose of the ship is pointing almost straight up, and most of us are floating around in the ice water thinking, "Wow, this is some serious bullshit," and what do we get from our fearless leaders?

Don't ask. It isn't funny anymore.

I did learn some good stuff this week though, stuff that might turn out to be helpful at some point. Like, did you know that you can make bread out of wood?

You can!

Start with a type of wood that doesn't have tannin in it, like beech. Most woods that are heavy in tannin are conifers, but I confess I am not well-versed (yet) in the best-tasting types of wood for bread making. I suppose it depends on what kind of bread you are making.

Anyway, chop the wood into the tiniest little slivers you possibly can, then boil it for a long time, then boil it again, then boil it again. Oh hell, boil it one more time.

Now, let it dry a bit, and then spread the chips on a baking sheet at bake at 275 degrees or so for a long time, like, until they are bone dry.

Take the baked woodchips out, let them cool, then pulverize them with a meat grinder, a food processor, a coffee grinder, or whatever you can lay your hands on until you have a fine powder, or at least a coarse meal.

Now, make your bread out of that.

You can also eat acorns, which are high in protein and not bad tasting if you know what to do with them. You have to either peel and boil them for 45 minutes, or soak them in fresh water for a week, changing the water every day.

That gets the tannin out, which is bitter and nasty. It also smokes out any bugs.

Once you've soaked your acorns you can toast them in the oven or grind them into meal and add them to your wood bread to give it some actual nutritional value.

And here's the important thing:

Once you've gone to the trouble of making bread out of wood and acorns so you don't fucking starve, share it with your neighbors, because you don't want to pull a Little Red Hen on everyone.

But your Congressperson?

That guy can go suck a rock.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Letting Go of Self-Hatred



Whoa, Graces got back!
Female bodies come in all sizes and shapes, and chances are good that if you have one, you probably think it is flawed and wish it was better.

In private, it likely goes farther than that, Maybe you think your thighs are hopelessly fat, your breasts too small or too large, your eyes too far apart or too close together, or your stomach is [fill-in-blank with any harsh criticism].

You may, at times, absolutely hate yourself for any number of reasons, some of them physical, others emotional or social.

Some days you dread the mirror.

The point is, you don't measure up and you'd better try harder.

This is a basic fact of life. It is almost what being female is.

The Perks of Female Self-Hatred

If you do hate yourself variously and a lot, take heart: Not only do you have plenty of company, but you are also supporting a huge sector of the American economy, and China's economy, and Pakistan's and Turkey's economy, and all sorts of other places that make shoes, clothes, underwear, etc.

You also support the food industry (gluten-free fat-free sugar-free everything!) and help otherwise unremarkable people make money by writing diet books and diet cookbooks.

So you are definitely serving an important economic function with your unending inadequacy and self-hatred, but did you know that you are also helping to keep the social fabric knitted together? Every day, your self-hatred insures every thing and every body stays in the right place and does what society would like people to do so we can all get along and not cause problems for each other.

Probably you don't see it that way, but it's true.

Imagine how hard it would be for men to approach, much less intimidate, women who did not feel inadequate in some fundamental way. It would be a heck of a lot harder for many of them, and maybe the two sexes would never hook up and the population would die off and human beings would become extinct instead of overrunning every square inch of the planet.

That would be bad, I guess. I don't know.

You aren't getting any younger, Princess!
I'm of two minds about it these days, seriously.

Also, if women were strangers to self-hatred, they'd expect more money in the workplace, and they'd start more businesses of their own, portraying themselves as competent and intelligent instead of cooperative and deferential. They'd run for Congress and stuff.

Pretty soon everybody would be doing what they wanted and everybody would expect respect and decent treatment for it, and whooo haaa wouldn't that be a pisser?

We can't afford that kind of crap!

So you see, self-hatred, specifically female self-hatred, is an integral part of our social and economic fabric.

On a familial and person level female self-hatred also serves a protective purpose.

If you start out openly admitting your many flaws and shortcomings and your persistent shame at not being able to fully fix all of same, other women (and men) are less likely to slap you down, because you are already slapping yourself down.

Maybe the elder women in your family have even taught you this kind of self-hatred by routinely and from a very young age critiquing your manner of dress, your hair, and the way you paint your face (or don't), and also by reminding you that the pool of available men is finite and, "You aren't getting any younger."

Letting Go

The problem is, this required self-hatred is horse shit and on some level you have always known it,  deep down, but you probably comply to keep the peace, and over time that compliance becomes reflexive. Self-hatred becomes a habit. You barely think about it most of the time--it just hangs in the air about you like a lingering fart.

To let go of that warm, if stinky, blanket of self-loathing means letting go of the false humility that makes the world go round and makes insecure people like you. (Or pretend to like you.)

That's hard. But it can be done.

You don't have to go overboard and become a Libertarian, but you do have to let yourself fall out of the mainstream, fall out of hate with yourself, and realize you are just fine as you are.

Everything around you will keep screaming that you are not OK.

So it isn't easy.

Me, Me, Me

I've spent the last six weeks taking a beginning yoga class, and what it has done for me more than anything else is to make me realize my body is fine. It's a good body, it has served me well and keeps doing so, and I kind of like it.

Basically there is nothing wrong with my body, and there is nothing wrong with yours either.

I'm not getting any younger. That much is probably true. Right now I'm 61, and last year I was 60. The year before that I was 59, and no kidding, I am sensing a pattern here.

But men? God they are all over the place and always have been. They comprise half the population, at least, and even on my worst day I will catch one or more of them checking out my boobs.

It's not because, at 61, I am so smoking hot. It's because that's what men do. 

If I am lucky enough to make it to 95, it will still happen occasionally, because by the time men hit 95 checking out boobs has become such a habit that they still do it even though they can't remember why.

Yes, that's right, all that "sex yourself up and do it pronto or else you'll be left in the dust" was a big fucking waste of time (unless you enjoyed it) because men will check our your boobs even if you run into 7/11 in your pajama bottoms and a hoodie and zero makeup.

I am also OK psychologically. Yes I take medication for depression, just like many people my age take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure. I'm grateful for it.

I have not forgiven every single person who ever was violent or degrading toward me. I have not made any teary speeches on Oprah or Dr. Phil. I still think my brother is a fucking psychopathic douche bag and here's why: My brother is a fucking psychopathic douche bag.

I don't live in that thought. I live in my nice warm life now, surrounded by people who love me, a dog and a cat, and beautiful nature preserves and public parks up North here.

If anyone else has a problem with any of that, guess what? It's their problem. I hope they find a way to deal with it and move on. If not, oh well.

So that's where I am today, a little less self-hateful, a little happier.

The journey continues.









Thursday, October 16, 2014

Happy Thoughts: Ebola, MRSA, KPC and other Deadly Germs

Can't unopen the box.
OK, I'm not panicking about ebola. That would be stupid.

I do have some concerns about ebola though, so I'm going to dump them here instead of on FB.

If you live in the US, you are about as likely to get hit with a meteor right now as you are to contract ebola virus. If you do get it though, best not show up at your local ER and wait in line, because eventually it is going to be like a Keystone cops versus the media feeding frenzy and you have enough problems.

After all, you have ebola virus (hypothetically), remember? And in the US (or anywhere) that's a problem.

So what can you do that would address your concerns, especially the one about not dying by bleeding out of every orifice and losing one third of your body weight in a few days?

I don't have a fucking clue.

So I'm really hoping I never find myself in that situation.

Lots of people in West Africa have though, and half of them are dead now. If we are to believe anything we read in the press or see on TV (and that's a big if), that 50/50 survival rate might be getting worse: something more like 30/70.

As if we needed any more bad news.

Here are my thoughts:
  • Must the US really spend a squillion gazillion dollars blowing up terrorists halfway around the world for the rest of all eternity? Couldn't we put at least some of that big money into global public health? It's like we are shitting in our own nest and blithely slipping clothespins over our noses and carrying on as if it's someone else's problem.
  • If things get scary enough, even if the real threat from the disease is not huge, institutions get fucked up and start to shut down. Hospital workers walk off the job. People refuse to fly or go to restaurants or send their kids to school. Everyone starts suing everyone else. And it just goes downhill from there. So hopefully someone somewhere knows how to get a grip on things before any of that happens. That would be good if that could happen, quick.
  • Every year a certain percentage of Americans refuse to get flu shots that are basically free or very cheap. The flu kills over 20,000 people in the US each year, on average, but it can and has been much worse. The infamous 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak killed between 40 and 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in our own country.
  • The US is creating antibiotic resistant superbugs by feeding antibiotics to meat animals on factory farms. Two new killers: MRSA and KPC. MRSA has become so common kids get it now just from being around other kids. If it gets into their bloodstreams they die. KPC is usually fatal and if it breaks out in a hospital it is hell stopping it. In spite of this, factory farms continue to push meds into animals to get them to market faster and the FDA continues to meekly ask them to voluntarily stop it. They won't.
  • We can't treat ebola in US hospitals, give me a break. Not safely anyway. It's asinine to pretend we can. The pretense is an attempt to calm everyone down. Stop treating people like idiots, CDC, NIH, hospital administrators, and President Obama. Stop it. You're making it worse, eroding trust, confusing people.
  • Now that the Congress has decided to hold show boat hearings, the circus is in town. Be aware that the fear that can be drummed up from this point on is as bad, or worse, than the disease.
I am coming to the conclusion that Americans are, by and large, spoiled pussies. No one gave two shits about ebola until it came here. Africa? What is Africa? Can't see it from my house!

But now that we have a handful of cases here everyone is running around squealing like little children, mommy mommy mommy. 

Can we have some grown ups on board now?

Seriously, what will it take? 





Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Depression Epidemic and Me

This public domain art has nothing to do with depression.
Right now, most news cycles are feverishly reporting on the latest tidbits about ebola virus and enterovirus 68, but did you know that in 2012 16 million Americans had at least one major depressive episode?

A 'depressive episode' is not a sad day or a passing bad mood, but a kick-you-in-the-ass can't get out of bed want to die total shut down that lasts and lasts for weeks and weeks.

Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-four years of age. In fact, suicide rates in that category have tripled since the 1950s?


Running with this (since I have the stats in front of me), clinical depression is involved in two thirds of all suicides, and rates of both major depression and suicide have been rising in the US for years.

In spite of these facts, the US is rife with misinformation about both major depression and suicide. Both depression and suicide come with significant social stigma attached, and many people are uncomfortable discussing either one.

Worse, the politics surrounding mental health issues and big pharma, as well as popular bloviation and quackery on the internet lead many otherwise well-meaning people to support wrong and damaging ideas. 

One of the worst of these wrong ideas, IMO, is the belief that depression shows a lack of character or spiritual development or dietary knowledge (or, really you can fill in this blank with any damned thing you want and it will fly), and because of whatever, medication is bad. 

If you take meds you will hear that you are taking the easy way out. You are not fully feeling your feelings so you can not release them and heal, some will say. You are a pawn of big pharma, others will opine. You are weak and misinformed. You are being poisoned. 

And so on.

And the worst one of all: "I don't believe in medication."

To which I say, well, we know it exists. Seriously, I can show you some if you don't believe me.

One Size Does Not Fit All


Three days my ass.
Clinical depression comes in many forms and can occur with or without other disorders and/or physical illnesses. PTSD and depression often happen together, as do chronic illnesses and depression, substance abuse and depression, and and all kinds of other vexing problems and depression.

Medication is about as helpful as daily exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy for mild to moderate depression, and most cases of mild to moderate depression resolve eventually, one way or another, no matter what is done or not done.

I don't say this to diminish the suffering of people working through mild to moderate depression, I'm just pointing out what seems to happen according to the research.

But for about 15% of people who struggle with recurring depression, the condition does not improve on its own and the episodes get steadily more severe. Once you've had two major depressive episodes, the likelihood that you can 'heal yourself' by reframing your perceptions or running or whatever are small.

For people unlucky enough to be in that 15%, medication will likely be needed for life, just like insulin for diabetes, or diuretics for high blood pressure.

I happen to be part of that fifteen percent. The last time I went off my medication I ended up in the hospital for ten days.

It wasn't exactly like being at a spa, but it wasn't all shrieking, manacles, and lobotomies either.

I watched a lot of sit coms until I quit saying the wrong the things.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, remember these three tips:

1) You are not getting out in three days.

2) Stop asking when you are getting out because they will always say "three days" and you are not getting out in three days. In fact, you are not getting out until you stop asking when you are getting out, so stop that.

3) Eat the food, all of it, because they are writing all this shit down. (See #s 1 & 2).

The Sociology of Depression

Psychology, sociology, and medicine are always in a state of tension.

For instance, depression is at epidemic levels. However, maybe if society wasn't so harsh and fucked up, fewer people would develop depression that needs treatment.

Still, society can't be fixed through criticism and broccoli. Once your physiology has been messed up by constant trauma, it's been messed up and needs attention.

It's kind of like when a truck runs over your leg. You can go on a crusade against crappy truck driving, but you've still got that broken leg. If all the trucks in America apologize and change their ways, the leg still needs attention.

Medicine is like this too. MSF, the organization that is in Africa treating ebola, was once criticized for creating more new diseases by treating old ones. But that's what medicine does. It is always stamping down one bump in the rug just to get on to another.

When you are affected by recurring depression, or any medical/emotional condition, pragmatism works better than philosophy. If something works, keep it. If something doesn't work, move on.

This may sound comically simple-minded, but it does get down to that.

For me, medication, exercise, and a good support system work.

Philosophy, opinions, intellectual insights, and strongly held beliefs are not really helpful.

So I guess what I'm saying here is, if you are one of the many people in the world who "doesn't believe in medication," how nice for you.

But remember, should you ever find yourself in the nuthouse...

You are NOT getting out in three days.

Doesn't matter what you fucking do or don't believe in.

You're welcome.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hair and Horror: The Dark Underbelly of Postmenopausal Beauty

How I think I look with gray hair.
I'm 61.

If I live five more months I'll be 62.

And I still won't know what to do about my hair.

If you think that women just automatically get into this kind of thing with a passion, simply because we are women, think again.

I'm one of those girls who never learned to be a girl, and believe me, there are lots of us out here. My Mom was sick most of the time, and when she wasn't, she was pretty harsh. We were not close.

In fact, the elder women in my family all seemed to think that the best way to raise girls was to remind them constantly of how unattractive and fat they were, and then try to marry them off as quickly and as early as possible, as if the supply of marriageable men was extremely limited and rapidly disappearing, and we, as unattractive female sub-creatures, were already at a disadvantage.

I remember as a teenager standing in the bathroom, my mother in back of me flipping my hair around and sighing that I would likely never marry. (I've been married four times. I can't run to the supermarket without marrying somebody.) My grandmother used to constantly sigh, "Oh Pammy, you'd be so pretty if only you would do something with your hair."

The only thing that really tempered this never-ending criticism was having sisters and seeing them get the same treatment. We called it the Grundy girls 'ritual humiliation'. We knew we would get it at every holiday, before shopping with a female relative, and whenever we visited grandparents, and we learned to endure it.

I don't want to over dramatize it. It's not like they dragged us to a tent and sliced off our genitals. But it had a similar, if milder, effect.

So I grew up with 'issues' around this stuff, hated to shop for clothes, and especially hated going to beauty parlors (as we called them back in the horse and buggy days).

So here I am, 61, and I still have not much improved in this area.
How I really look with gray hair (I'm on the left).

Four years ago, I decided I didn't want to be a postmenopausal bottled redhead anymore. Little did I know how controversial this decision would turn out to be.

Immediately after announcing this decision. I was assailed by every over-40 employee at the big box retail store where I worked part-time. I must not do it, they said. I must not 'give up' they said. If I were to 'give up', how would it make them look, huh?

They informed me that the younger women were already running all over them and the one thing they couldn't abide was an older woman who just 'gave up' and looked her age.

Wow.

My husband didn't like the idea either, but he pretty much lets me do what I want.

I was pretty sick of splashing red hair dye all over our bathroom no matter how careful I was, and I didn't think this ritual made me look one whit younger or better, so the minute I was no longer employed in a retail capacity I started to let my hair grow out.

Right around this same time, the big chain hair place where I usually went for a cut hit the skids. I did not know this from watching the DOW, but rather from the aggressive behavior of the hair dresser who, always pushing 'product' on me as part of her job, was now practically beating me over the head with 'product'.

"Listen," I said finally, "I'll pay you extra in addition to the tip if you just stop bugging me about that stuff. I never use it and now I already have every hair product ever invented, just from coming here."

She informed me that ALL salons were owned by this same conglomerate, and anywhere I went I would be sold 'product', so I'd better just suck it up, because there was nowhere else to go.

Then, she cut a big bald spot into the back of my head where I couldn't see it.

My former hairdresser.
Now you may think (especially if you've read my other posts), that I must be some kind of bitch-on-wheels haircut customer, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I'm soft spoken, I never complain (except for this one time), and I always overtip.

So I thought, screw this. There has to be at least one self-employed hairdresser in Michigan who will give me a basic cut without browbeating me into shit I do not want.

I found one. I went there. I explained why.

It worked out well at first.

She didn't understand why I would quit coloring my hair either, but she respected my decision and she did a nice job cutting my hair.

So now I have light gray hair in front and dark gray in back and I'm reasonably OK with it.

But I've noticed my hairdresser--I'll call her Dawn because that's her name--although never bugging me about 'product', never stops talking.

Often, I would even go so far as to say usually, Dawn talks nonstop about some perceived slight someone or the other has dealt her just lately. There she is, waving very sharp scissors around my head, talking about the asshole of the week and why that person is a total dipshit.

This last time, the asshole of the week was a client who was complaining about the cost of a hair process she'd bought for her daughters. Dawn had even thrown in something for free, yet here was this woman complaining. Then, as if that wasn't outrageous enough, she quit coming back.

At this point, a shiver ran through me. Have I chosen the Hairdresser California? Can I check in anytime I like but never leave? How could I have missed that? OMG. Holy shit.

How is it that any woman enjoys getting her hair done? Why don't I like "Steel Magnolias" or "Fried Green Tomatoes." Am I fat?  Is my hair fat? What's wrong with me?

Now I'm thinking about coloring my hair again.

I'm thinking, pink.

Grey and pink.

But I don't know...

Where do you get your hair cut?


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Women & Crazy: Some Heretical Thoughts

Image of me courtesy XRay Delta Flickr CC
Want to know what's really crazy?

Arguing with people on the interwebs, that's what.

I've engaged in this insane practice more than I care to admit, even though I know how pointless it is. I know I'm not alone.

Still, it's not all negative.

You learn stuff on the interwebs, weird stuff you need to know. It's kind of like taking the pulse of the masses, such as we are, and we are not always making a heckuva lotta sense.

Here are some popular interweb memes that seem to me to be totally batshit:
  1. If you eat well, exercise, and feel all your feelings fully and completely, you will never get sick or have any emotional problems.  Rot and nonsense. This is something scared, selfish people tell themselves to avoid caring about others and/or to magically protect themselves. How about this: Trouble comes to all of us in time, so don't judge. Remember Jim Fixx? Yup. The unwelcome truth is, "Eat right, exercise daily, die anyway."
  2. Vaccines are a government/big pharma plot to control your mind/kill you/turn your children into naked blind molerats. Listen up dipshits: Vaccinate your fucking kids. Whooping cough and measles are coming back because of your stupidity. I was alive when these diseases and others, including polio, were still common. If you think vaccines are now more dangerous than infectious illnesses that target kids, you need to learn how to read. 
  3. Women who are violently raped need to forgive their rapists in order to heal. This works even better if it happens within days of the rape in a very public forum like the Dr. Phil show. If you choose to swallow this poisonous crap, be aware that ten years from now you may still wake in the middle of the night screaming. It happens. A lot. So stop beating up on women for it and start prosecuting rapists. How's that for a formula for healing?
  4. Medication is poison. If you take medication for depression or bipolar disease you need to suck it up and heal yourself. Uh, um, sure. Or... maybe some people ought to shut the fuck up and stop giving medical advice without a degree in medicine. 
  5. Feminists are frigid bitches. Why do you say that as if it's a bad thing? Maybe I'm not a frigid bitch, maybe you are just kind of crude, smelly, and unattractive. I'm not saying that's how it is, I'm just offering up some other options for consideration.
As you can probably see if you've gotten this far into this cranky post, it's been a slow news day. Nothing much going on except for ebola showing up in the US, America blowing stuff up in the Middle East (for a change), killer flu strains in over 30 states paralyzing children, and an armed robbery at my favorite nature preserve. 

So all I could write about was how dumb the internet is. It isn't my fault. Nothing else to discuss.

Did you know that it's a series of tubes?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The NFL & Our Culture of Violence




Warning: rant in progress
As the spectacle of domestic violence and the NFL plays out on televisions across America, I'm guessing I can't be the only person in this country who finds this drama a little bit sick.

Even Dr. Phil is in on it now; a sure sign that the circus is in town for real.

Here are my thoughts, such as they are:
  1. The NFL doesn't give a shit about domestic violence. The NFL cares about profit and fans. So far, no one, and I mean NO ONE thinks fans are going to stop going to games or watching NFL football because some of the players punch their wives in the face or hit their four-year-olds with sticks. If you are upset that some NFL players are as violent at home as they are on the field but you are still watching and/or going to games, shut up. 
  2. Football in America is all about violence. If you don't believe me, attend just one pee wee football game and watch the parents get into fist fights and foam at the mouth swearing on the sidelines, as their confused five-year-old boys toddle a ball up and down a big field, hoping to be admired and loved. If you happen to be one of those parents, shame on you.
  3. Don't tell me you don't know that high school and college football players are considered rarified, privileged creatures who can do no wrong even as they degrade and demean others off the field, commit atrocities and, well, do great wrong whenever they are so inclined. Not every player certainly, but how long have these young men been held up to the community as shining examples of perfect manhood, while year after year some of them rape and harm 'townies' and any female they consider to be a sub-creature, which, basically, is almost any female. These women are shuffled away by authorities and if they do press charges they are deemed sluts. Nice. As if engaging in violent gang sex doesn't demean men, only women. 
  4. How many football players come from the upper classes? A few. Some quarterbacks. But most of the muscle comes from the black community and the working class. These men are gladiators. We can call them football players if it makes us feel better, but if you can't see through this you are deluding yourself. We make sure they play on broken bones and torn ligaments. When later in life they end up with permanent, traumatic brain injury, we throw them away. We figure it's fair because some of them make a lot of money for a short time.
Sports doesn't have to be like this, but it is like this, and has been for a very long time. 

Don't get me wrong. I watch football and sometimes I even enjoy it. But I don't nurse the delusion that I am watching squads of heroes. 

I know what sports in America is, I've seen it up close and personal most of my life, being related by birth to a 'sports hero' and local legend. It never has been what some people want to believe it is, and it seems to me that a better approach than screaming and crying when your heroes let you down is grow up a bit and see the world for what it is. 

Not that the world has to be what it is. 

We don't have to raise boys by knocking them around and bullying them into 'toughness'. We don't have to make it clear to them that the boys who matter most, the boys who are admired most, are the boys who can be mean as hell and pretend to be nice. As a culture we could instead demand good sportsmanship, kind behavior, scholarship, and accountability, but we don't. 

We want our guns. We want our macho saviors. We want to know that, as a nation, we can bomb into oblivion any country that shows us disrespect no matter how ineffective that strategy proves to be. If we have to watch a black man on TV, we want to see him mow down a squad of other black men, not give a Presidential speech, not host Cosmos. 

Every day we convey to our young men that might makes right and violence earns respect, demanding conformity and shaming anyone who falls short. 

As long as we glorify violence, we will get violence. 

The violence in the NFL is a mirror. There is nothing 'in there' that isn't out here in equal if not greater numbers. And if we really cared about that, we'd change it.

But we won't.

You know it. I know it. 

So let's stop pretending. It's disrespectful to the women who absorb the blows. 


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why Do Men Rape?

Answer:

Men rape because they can.

What?  You were expecting some sort of complex psychological analysis maybe? Mother issues? Violence in the home? Sociopathy and its many permutations?

Nope, it's just easy to get away with, and lots of men get away with it every year.

According to the CDC, about 1.3 million rapes happen in the U.S. every year. The FBI estimate of 300,000 per year uses a much narrower definition of rape that excludes violent sexual acts that are not forced intercourse (use your imagination, I'm sure you'll figure it out).

Both numbers are bad, and both organizations recognize that over half of all rapes are never reported.

I got to thinking about this in the wake of all the hoopla about domestic violence and football, after the release of the endlessly replayed clip of football player Ray Rice punching his wife in the face and dragging her unconscious body off of an elevator.

The NFL doesn't really care about this. The NFL cares about getting embarrassed by it or losing money over it, sure, but violence against women? No, that's part of sports culture and everyone implicitly 'gets' that.

So it was weird to see the NFL on the defensive this week, crying crocodile tears over something they not only don't care about, they actively foster. It was almost as weird as seeing Jerry Sandusky cry crocodile tears about the love and concern he had for all the boys he'd been sexually violating for, what? A couple of decades? Gee whiz, it weren't like that, honest, he said. He loved those boys, he said.

Bullshit.

I cry bullshit on all of this because you know what? Several studies have linked rape and domestic violence to macho subcultures which objectify women and see sex as a contact sport, a conquest, an entitlement that real men take when they need it, no apologies necessary. (See for instance, Lisak & Miler 2002; Foubert, Newberry, & Tatum 2007; and Loh, Gidycz, Lobo & Luthra 2005.)

But do you really need studies to confirm what we already know about sports culture?

Activist and survivor Theresa Flores founded her S.O.A.P. campaign as a way to reach out to the adolescent girls sold in motel rooms in cities hosting major sporting events. A bar of soap goes inside every room if the motel owner agrees. On the soap is a hotline number a girl can call to get help.

Flores survived such an adolescence, and this simple attempt to turn the situation around has put her in a certain amount of danger. But she keeps at it.

You might wonder, how is that underage girls can be trafficked around sporting events and this woman from Detroit knows about it but the police don't?

That's a good question, and it's not unlike the question of how the NFL didn't know that Ray Rice was in the habit of punching his wife in the face.

We all turn a blind eye to atrocity. To a certain degree, we have to just to get through each day. But our women and girls are too valuable, too important to be wasted and disrespected in the name of a game that props up men with weak sexual identities.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy sports. I watch football.

I just believe it is possible to play and watch sports without hurting women. In fact, in grade school and high school sports are promoted as a way to 'build character' in boys and young men. We should hold our young, and older men to a much higher standard.

Will the NFL (and the rest of the U.S.) clean it up?

I don't think so. Not willingly.

But I can hope for a day when Mrs. Rice knows that a kiss is a kiss and a punch in the face is a punch in the face, and so do the rest of us.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Forgiveness Gone Wrong

Damaged inner child wolf
Anyone with a Facebook account knows that the way to heal any kind of family problem, social problem, or mental or emotional disorder is to practice forgiveness.

I've seen at least a dozen meaningful, moving forgiveness platitudes posted on the FB this week alone.

But what does forgiveness really mean?

Before I get into that, let me tell you a story about what it doesn't mean.

Back in the 90s, when I was an adjunct college teacher (roughly the equivalent of a McDonald's employee except you don't have to say "Would you like fries with that?") I was invited to attend a one-day retreat offered by the Women's Studies Department.

A Native American medicinal healer was going to be there. So was a famous Eastern European self-proclaimed feminist witch.

Since my academic mentor had strongly suggested I attend, I did.

It was a pleasant experience for the most part. We made some stuff out of clay. We did some meditative exercises.

Then, as we sat down together to eat a noon meal, the conversation wandered over to forgiveness, the super megavitamin of all non-traditional healing. Everyone seemed to feel pretty damned forgiving and lamented the fact that more people weren't as evolved as them.

At this point I was ready to leave but to do so at that moment would have been impolite so I kept chewing and not talking, hoping this would all end mercifully soon.

Someone brought up Hitler. Would you forgive Hitler?

Now here was a meaty New Age hypothetical if ever there was one (which there never was, just in case you were wondering).

After a bit of reflection it turned out everyone at the table would have forgiven Hitler. One person knew Hitler had had a crappy childhood. Another had read about his conflicted feelings about his Jewish ancestry. Still another suggested that if you can't forgive Hitler you can't forgive anyone.

At this point, against my academic self-interest (such as it was) I cried bullshit.

No one at that table had been in a death camp. No one was Jewish. It was no one's business there to forgive Hitler, because Hitler had not wronged any of them, except to maybe offend their ethereal sensibilities.

Everyone now turned their attention to helping me raise myself to a higher level of consciousness so I could forgive Hitler and heal the world, at which point I said, "Get off of me."

Weirdly, the Eastern European self-proclaimed feminist witch came to my defense, shutting everyone else up immediately.

"No, she's right," she said. "Hitler is in a different category. It's not a good topic."

By the way she was glaring at me, I knew she had no softness toward me as a person (later confirmed through a friend and also my mentor). I mean, I know a Madame Blavatsky bullshitter wannabe when I see one, having that kind of ancestry myself on my mother's side, and having seen one.

I didn't really care that she didn't like me.

So the fact that she stuck up for me in this crowd was a bit of a surprise.

Here's the thing: Human beings are capable of great atrocity. We all can access a darkness that is so deep it feels supernatural, whether or not it really is. The best you can do in such instances is turn away, laugh, focus on loving yourself and others.

Forgiveness?

It was a 'given', beforehand, that Hitler, having aligned himself with this Darkness would cause suffering and death beyond imagining. If we, imagining ourselves safe from harm and looking back at this transcendent evil feel moved to embrace the damaged child inside of a dangerous man who no longer exists in the flesh, does that help anyone?

Does it heal what happened?

No. It just feeds our own egos, which, by the way, are already way too good at giving us bad advice.

Sometimes, when faced with such Darkness, if you can summon the strength to turn away and heal yourself, and go on to live and love, that is enough. That, in fact, is amazing and heroic.

May you never have to experience this truth firsthand.

Many have, however.

You probably know more than few, and yet you don't know, because they remain silent.

I try to remember this, although I'm not always successful. Sometimes you open your mouth and your brain falls out.

Now that, as a person who has lost my mind many times, is something I can forgive.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Racist, Post-Racist, Hyper-Racist, Why We Can't All Just Get Along?

Courtesy Gregg Richards, Flickr CC
First of all, we can all just get along.

But we often don't.

Whenever the topic of race comes up, most people take it very personally and get defensive and/or accusatory. I'm not a racist, you are. We are all the same race so stop it, there is no such thing as race. Please stop talking. Black people are racist too. Everybody is racist. This is not about race.

And so on.

All the defense mechanisms get trotted out and then the volume goes up and then the room goes silent or things get ugly.

It's not so much what we say as what we carefully don't say that builds tension.

Open your mouth and all the tension burbles up like sludge in an over-full septic tank.

I've thought for some time that racism is damaging because it is systematic and pervasive, because it touches everyone in some horrible, deforming way, because it ignites violence and stokes hate without ever really showing itself in a way everyone can agree on.

The reason we argue about race is because it is so ingrained in American culture, so big and so diffuse and integrated in how we all think and perceive, that we have trouble seeing it clearly, even when it is hurting everyone.

Most white people think that if they are not burning crosses or beating up people with dark skin or using the 'n' word (really, really dislike that phrase 'the n word'), that means they are not racist. Most white people and black people think that people who do use the 'n' word ARE racist.

None of that has anything to do with how racist any one person is or isn't IMO, and I would go so far as to say that I almost don't care about the degree of racism any one person exhibits. Who am I? God? No, I'm just a person living in the U.S., as skewed and infected as anyone else.

Also, I know that focusing on whether or not any single given person is racist is a trap. It starts a conversation that goes nowhere, pumps up tempers, and increases resentment.

But that doesn't mean we can't talk about racism.

We can talk about racism as an institution, a social construct that once justified slavery and now justifies lots of other horrible things, an American disease, and so forth.

The reason I am thinking all these thoughts is because after I wrote my last post about Mr. Anderson, I received some criticism for calling my brother a racist but not showing how he became one.

I realized a couple of things: 1) I did not show how my brother became a racist, I only hinted at where it all started, and 2) Nothing good ever happens after you call anybody a racist, even if that person is wearing a white hood and man-dress, even if that person is a violent psychopath seething with (barely) repressed hatred of anyone different from himself.

After this conversation and accurate yet uncomfortable critique of my blog post, I went to bed and had nonstop nightmares about my brother stabbing me, punching me, hurting me, and so on, and when I woke up the next day I was regretting my personal story-corp experiment.

But I'm not giving up.

The thing is, if you stand up to a bully, no matter what the situation, there will be consequences. Nightmares are the least of those consequences.

So seriously, truly, I 'get' why this country wants to avoid the topic of racism at all costs.

But sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That's all I'm doing here.

I don't know where I'm going. But I'll know when I get there.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mr. Anderson, Janitor Super-Negro

Courtesy Andres Musta Flickr CC
My brother is a little more than a year younger than me, but most people still think he is older because he is 6'4" and was a high school sports celebrity.

He's a big guy. He's my only brother.

He's a psychopath and a racist.

I say this, not out of bitterness or resentment, but as a simple statement of fact.

Oh sure, I've had my bitter, resentful spasms through the years. But that's a different essay.

Back in the early 1960s, while my brother was still a psychopath-in-training and had not yet become a full-fledged racist miscreant, he was just a scrawny kid who liked to jump out from behind things to scare his sister (me), and who drew the same Easter Bunny over and over again for way longer than was appropriate or necessary.

He drew my mother a bunny one Easter and she liked it and pinned it on the refrigerator. When neighbor women would stop by for coffee she'd point it out, and they'd make nice noises.

But then, he drew dozens more Easter Bunnies. He drew a Thanksgiving East Bunny, a Christmas Easter Bunny, a Valentine Easter Bunny, a Mother's Day Easter bunny, and so on and so forth... It got so it was beyond awkward. We all could see something was wrong, and my parents, already badly hobbled in the sanity department themselves, had no idea what to do about it.

Ignore it maybe. Smash it.

In my parents' defense I should mention that this happened way before child psychologists even existed, and lofty notions of instilling 'self-esteem' in children were so alien as to sound heretical. This happened back in the day, when children were supposed to keep quiet and mind their elders, and infractions brought a whipping "for your own good".

Spare the rod and pretty soon you have too damn many rods. Might as well beat your kids.

Not to judge that reality either way. It was what it was.

Anyway, one evening my father, my mother, my brother, and me were sitting at supper together, and my father, by way of making conversation, asked my brother what he wanted to be when he grew up. (He didn't ask me. I was a girl.)

My brother brightened and answered immediately,

"Mr. Anderson!"

I was surprised that my brother actually gave a credible answer instead of choosing, oh, Superman, Zorro, or the Easter Bunny, and I totally 'got' why he chose Mr. Anderson.

Mr. Anderson was one of only two male employees in the entire school. (The other was the science teacher, who wore a crewcut and was kind of scary.)

Whenever anything went wrong, Mr. Anderson came and quietly fixed it. If a kid puked, bled, or peed on the school linoleum, Mr. Anderson came with a coffee can filled with something that looked like eraser shavings, sprinkled it on the disgusting bodily fluid, then swept it up in a dustpan, like magic.

Mr. Anderson was quiet, kind, helpful, and always nearby. He said little and helped much. He showed kids that men are kind, responsible people who take care of messes no one else wants to touch. Men respect women, especially teachers, and help kids.

At six years of age, my brother responded to this, including and maybe especially the magic eraser shavings.

How my father was able to remember that Mr. Anderson was the black grade school janitor I can't imagine, but remember he did, and at hearing my brother's answer his face went three shades whiter, then bright red.

My mother ventured into the thick, charged silence as tentatively as a mouse sniffing about for a cat.

"You can be anything sweetie. You can be an astronaut, a fire fighter, even President!"

I think my father said something about my brother not understanding until he was older. I really don't remember what my father said in response. I do remember the tension, the fear. I saw a beating in my brother's immediate future, and since I was already waiting for that I lost my appetite. I knew the Easter Bunny production line would not shut down anytime soon.

Bad Dad Syndrome. Every working class white kid knows what it is.

Today we do have a black President. We also have black fire fighters, and probably even a black astronaut or two, and my brother no longer draws Easter Bunnies (at least to the best of my knowledge he doesn't--I haven't spoken to him for over twenty-five years).

Most of the janitors around here these days are Mexican.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Racial Stories We Never Tell

Ms Parks courtesy Corbin-Benson@FlickrCC 
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, about how white America has all these stories we never tell, stories that are not in the public canon, human stories about race and relatedness and personal history.

Not all of these stories are unhappy, but many of them are.

Not all of them date back to slavery, but some do.

My belief is that as a culture we keep as many secrets about race as we keep about sex, maybe more. If we stopped doing that, it might open up a space for change.

Junio Diaz was once asked if he thought white people would ever be able to write these stories, and he said no, not in his lifetime. Maybe sometime far, far in the future.

I thought maybe I'd use this blog for awhile to tell some of my stories.

I have more of these stories than I really want to have, and I don't have a good place to put them. Many of them make people of all colors and backgrounds uncomfortable.

They are filed in my head right behind the folder entitled, "Pam You Are Freaking Worthless." I don't open that folder anymore if I can help it, and most of the time I forget about the file behind it.

I often wonder how many white-seeming people have such stories.

No one ever tells me theirs.

Here's a small one:

When I was a kid we used to ride the bus downtown all the time and just wander around, getting kicked out of stores occasionally and sometimes getting a soda. This was before malls, before shopping centers, during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.

I grew up in the North, in an industrial city south of Detroit. But although my city was on the Underground Railroad, no blacks stopped and stayed until the big factories came in the 40s and 50s, along with a need for lots of factory workers.

I remember black ladies being escorted out of department stores if the tried on hats. Also, if they went in the dressing rooms to try something on, a white saleswoman would go in and ask them not to do that, as if they were somehow dirtier than everyone else.

One day I was riding home on the bus and an elderly white woman got on.

The bus was full, so a black woman seated across from me stood up and offered her seat.

The elderly white woman smiled and then fished around in her purse for a moment, producing one of those flowered cloth handkerchieves. Unfolding it, she daintily spread it across the seat the seat the black woman offered, and then sat down.

The black woman, seeing I had witnessed this sorry scene instead of looking away like the adults did, shook her head sadly. Our eyes met for that moment and I did... nothing.

I was a kid. I probably should have given her my seat, but I got off the bus shortly thereafter.

Now nobody rides the bus in my home city except black people and schizophrenics.

Come back if you want more.

I'll keep going until I run out.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

American Apartheid

Not really having a conversation.
Why should white people care about racism?

Trust me, most white people never consciously ask themselves that question, because they already are pretty sure they personally are not oppressing anyone. They feel that if they personally are not racist, then racism is not their problem.

Whenever a racially charged incident occurs in the U.S., lots of pundits start talking about how we "really need to have a serious conversation about race in this country."

That's not what we need.

I've been present at many such discussions, and what usually happens is that five or six white people dressed in J.Crew khakis and polo shirts suck all the air out the room whining that they personally are not racist and they don't like feeling accused.

Usually some excruciatingly tactful and patient black professional takes the time at this point to carefully explain racism as an institution (not a personality trait), at which point the same white people just keep on whining about how no one is showing them any respect.

Right about there, I want to slap one or more them. Hard.

Understand, nothing has been done to me. I have nothing to complain about and I'm not insulted. I'm just embarrassed--no, mortified--that these assholes are the whites who are 'representing', and I begin to feel like it is my job to somehow blow them up so they will stop talking.

So enough of the talking about race nonsense. We talk too much as it is.

Instead, how about we agree, as a society, to fix some stuff.

For instance, because most white people don't think about racism outside stereotypes, ugly remarks, and their own raging narcissism, it has been possible to quietly corral all the poor people of color into huge urban deserts, where nothing is. No schools, no stores, and no cops most of the time.

Integration as a concept for peace has been largely abandoned in favor of something like "just keep it out of my face and out of my kids' school."

So basically we have de facto segregation in most of American society today. It may be a different kind of segregation and a different atmosphere than the Jim Crow days of the pre-Civil Rights Act South, but the effects are every bit as oppressive.

If the recent events in Ferguson have not laid to rest the idea that Americans live in a post-racial society just because Barack Obama is President, I don't know what will.

I keep thinking of the line from that song Crosby, Stills, and Nash song about the Ohio State Vietnam protests that goes, "...what if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?"

We can't pretend like we don't know anymore. Some of us have known for a long time.

But now, even those J.Crew idiots need to STFU.

Enough talk.

Time to get to work.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The All Cricket Diet

Courtesy Johan J. Ingles-Le Nobel @ Flickr CC
Early this year I stopped eating meat. 

I did this because I was grossed out by how meat is raised, because I can't really afford to buy even the most corporate-raised mystery meat (never mind grass-fed organic), and because we had just gotten Netflix live streaming for TV, which offered at least six documentaries on why vegan eating is the only responsible way to eat, period. 

That was back in February or so.

Since then, I've added eggs and whole milk to my diet because I just started craving them. I buy cage free eggs which I know are still not that humanely raised, and organic milk. 

We grow some of our own fruit and veggies.

It got me to thinking though how hung up on food American's are, me included. 

We're fat, for one thing, and we know it. We get constant reminders on the news and in the doctor's office and when we try on clothes made in the third world for people one-third our average size. We feel bad about that and wallow in self-hatred and yet... losing weight is hard. 

Correction: Losing weight is easy.

Keeping it off is hard. 

I've lost some weight. mostly by accident, switching to veggies. But in general, I'm still not bikini material (at 61) and even though Helen Mirren IS (and she's older than me!) I've learned that I can't (won't) do anything about it and anyway, acceptance works way better for me for a happy life.

I've seen these food fads come and go:

The Stillman Diet (remember that one?): All protein. period.

The Atkins Diet: Mostly protein, some veggies.

The South Beach Diet: Low fat protein, lots of veggies & fruit.

Food Combining: Because nobody knows more about food than Suzanne Sommers.

Eating every other day: Because if you don't eat, you can lose weight.

Vegan: No meat or animal products ever, no matter the cost. (The saddest two words in the English language are "vegan bakery.")

No grains, no bread: Wheat belly? Please. I made this belly myself, thank you very much!

No sugar: OK that's actually a good idea. But very difficult.

Basically almost any change you make to your diet that eliminates a food group will cause you to lose some weight, for awhile. But for most of human history, people ate whatever they could get their hands on. And in lean times, so would we. 

I'm thinking however that diet books might be a source of income in a time when most writers are filled with financial despair. How about the All Cricket Diet? Did you ever see a fat bird? No of course not. Birds eat crickets and so should we. 

John the Baptist lived in the desert on locusts and honey and did he have a gut?

No, he did not. Although, he did lose his head eventually... but I don't think it was due to the locusts.

So choose your poison, or your food. It's your life, after all.

But you are not what you eat.

You are you. 

Food is food. 

Crickets are free.

Eat as many as you can catch for a svelte new body!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Quality of Light

Courtesy Eddie Quinones @ Flickr CC
Something about waiting in a laundromat feels like this moment.

From the constant hum and thunk of the rotating machines, to the smell of damp and steam and the propped open doors, to the random tabloid pages and the women's mags worn thin and soft as cotton flannel, waiting in this laundromat is like being inside a warm egg with new, wet feathers, waiting and warming.

A quality of light found only in laundromats is the color of waiting, the buzzing blue florescent shimmer neither too bright nor quite bright enough, the sense of swimming through some thick sparking nowhere. Whitens! Brightens!

It doesn't. Not ever.

Invisible and too visible, the color of waiting is a quality of light that flecks grey eyes with silver and shadows with swirls of white, like the white of a poached egg or a sheet that is not quite dry or maybe starched with albumin.

Launderers avoid the whites of each other's eyes but notice everyone everything else, the torn wet Tide package committed to memory, the Tide comes in but never stays in. The peanuts are always stale.

Bring your own.

Why are we waiting?

Why is this steel egg shabby sad tired end

less.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is the World Getting Weirder or Is It Just Me?

Courtesy Gideon @ Flickr CC
This past month in happy, vacation-worthy West Michigan, the following events made the news:
  • A young man with a Craig's list ad murdered a pregnant teenager and her boyfriend. The boyfriend was rumored to be setting up the young woman to have sex. The murderer kept the girl chained in his basement before killing her and then cut off her boyfriend's head. The head has still not been found. Neighbors remarked that the murderer (who killed himself after the double killings) seemed like a nice, boring sort of guy.
  • A young woman was murdered by her new boyfriend, a Facebook friend, at the gas station/quickie-mart where she worked. He stabbed her repeatedly then helped himself to some money, beer, and cigarettes. He walked out and casually boarded a train with a male friend. 
  • A dozen kids living in marginal neighborhoods shot each other for no apparent reason. 
  • A grandmother riding bikes on a popular trail with her grandson was stopped by a teenager who demanded her bike. When she refused, he knocked her off the bike, took out a gun, pistol-whipped her, and took the bike anyway. It was not a valuable bike. 
These are just the stories I remember off the top of my head, but I have to confess, this kind of thing is starting to bother me. Is the world really crazier than ever or does the news just pay more attention to violent craziness? 

I figure I can 1) quit watching the news or reading it, 2) do something but I don't know what the hell it would be, or 3) blog. 

More and more I think the earth has been invaded by aliens. 

And the aliens are us.