Friday, July 24, 2015

My 49th Birthday

Today I turn 49 years old. I love my birthday.  Each year I throw myself a party, and tonight many of my friends are coming over. I'm particularly excited about this party because it falls on my actual birthday. That doesn't always happen. 

Happy birthday to me! I'm one year closer to the big 50!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dog sitting

Someone who has a successful little side job with a dogsitting service suggested I try it as a way to make some extra money. You go to the website, sign up as a pet sitter, set your nightly rate and wait for someone to ask you to watch their dog or cat. The animal usually comes to your place, but you might go to their place. Like Uber and Airbnb, it's another way Americans have found to provide services for each other that benefit everyone. For people who dislike leaving their dog at a kennel or boarding service, this way they can go on vacation knowing their pet is getting lots of attention and walks and isn't stuck in a cage. 

The person I know who earns hundreds of dollars a month from this makes it look easy, so I figured I'd give it a try. I like dogs. I love stopping owners in the street and saying, "Can I say hi to your dog?" Since owning Ozzie the pit bull when I was married (Ozzie now lives with my ex), I've come to appreciate dogs and love running my hands over their fur. Their happy energy lifts my spirits and I come away from my little dog encounters feeling cheered.

Jim (not his real name) dropped off Daisy (not her real name) at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. We had done a brief visit the night before so Daisy could meet me and learn that I'm a good person who gives a great head-scratch. She seemed comfortable with me and I felt confident things would go well. Jim asked if he could pick Daisy up the next day at 8:30 p.m. That seemed late, but it was my first time and I didn't know the usual routine, so I said sure.

I expected Daisy to do some whining when Jim first left and she did. I talked soothingly to her as she whimpered and sniffed at the front door. When she began pacing through my apartment, I tried to pet her, but she shied way. Now the dog launched into full distress. For an hour she wouldn't be distracted by toys, food, water, a video (Jim said she liked Curious George) or my calming voice. And she wouldn't come near me, so I couldn't even pet her. With her tail firmly down between her legs she paced, whimpered, whined and occasionally barked. I live in an apartment and had only warned my downstairs neighbor about this dog, so I worried that someone would complain. 

When Daisy pooped in the dining room, I figured she needed a walk, but when she saw me with the leash, she darted away. She was afraid of me and there was nothing I could do to change it.

Two hours after Jim left, Daisy was still pacing and fretting, but finally she began to let me pet her. Once I accomplished that, I snapped the leash on and her attitude changed immediately. Her tail began to wag as we headed outside and she finally calmed down as she began exploring the neighborhood. I felt relieved. Now maybe I could start to enjoy my time with her. She was a beautiful, black pit bull with a glossy coat and a trim, muscular body. I liked petting her. She was young and healthy and I wanted us to relax together.

She didn't eliminate at all on the walk. Odd. But at least we returned to the apartment 45 minutes later in a better mood. Well, we were in a good mood until Daisy seemed to remember that Jim had left her. We had used the back door, so she returned to the front door where Jim had left and resumed pawing and crying. Oh, my god. Now what?

The weekend went on like this. Going to the kitchen to make myself a meal distracted her, so each time I cooked I made a point of accidentally dropping pieces of egg or chicken on the floor for her. She also got quiet while I sat at the dining table to eat, probably because she was still waiting for food (tiny pieces of which I dropped sporadically). I ate as slowly as possible, stretching out this peaceful time, but after I'd finished and sat for several minutes, she'd figure out I was done eating and start whining for attention again.

This was a high maintenance dog. 

In the afternoon, I spread my yoga mat on the floor and put a fluffy throw blanket over it. We spent some time on it, but she kept returning to the front door to whine. I couldn't let her cry it out because she would then escalate to barking. I already felt out of energy. I knew that another dog sitter would grab the couple of toys Jim had left and pretend to play with them as if I had discovered the most fun game in the world. Another dog sitter would jog around the apartment so Daisy could give chase or would follow her around giving her back rubs and telling her she's a good dog. I just didn't have it in me. All I could do was sit on the fluffy blanket and talk soothingly to her and give her petting and chest rubs when she came over to me. She came over for this physical comfort often, but in between she whimpered, pawed at the door and occasionally barked. This noise made me tense up every time.

Finally, she lay down next to me and we managed to take a nap. Relief! The dog was asleep and I felt renewed hope that things would get better. I had the air conditioner going, plus a fan, which did a pretty good job of blocking out all outside noise. This was good because there are many dogs in my neighborhood and Daisy reacted every time she heard a bark. With the motors humming, I hoped Daisy would stay asleep for a while. Jim had said she normally did a lot of laying around.

Unfortunately, a huge thunderstorm rolled in and woke her up. Damn! But at least Daisy didn't seem afraid of the thunder. I don't know what I would have done if she'd been phobic about it, as many dogs are. Instead, she simply resumed her usual level of anxiety, pacing, whimpering, and sniffing at the door. This dog just didn't want to be here. Even when the skies cleared up and the sun came back out, she kept fretting. Her stress wasn't about the weather. She just wanted Jim to come back.

I felt awful for her. The more she cried, the more I wanted to cry, until I finally did. Maybe she reminded me of a time when I had felt like my parents had abandoned me. I had no such memory, but I might have felt like that as a baby or toddler. I tried to hold it together. I tried to be calming and cheerful, but Daisy was too much for me. At one point, we were both an emotional mess.

I'm extremely grateful to the friend who dropped by that evening. Anticipating my anxiety with the dog, I had asked Ania if she wanted to visit that day, so she came by around 6:30. I had stopped crying by then and had taken the dog back outside where she was calmer. The three of us took a walk along the lakefront where Ania told me that Daisy looked happy outside. Ania observed Daisy's interest in the sand and grass, and in other dogs. 

Now that Ania pointed it out, I saw that Daisy was very interested in other dogs, but also afraid of them. She shied away or stopped walking if one were in front of us, but she also stared after them. A couple of dogs must have looked less intimidating because Daisy's tail stayed relaxed as she poked her snout towards them. These dogs wagged their tails and strained back towards her, and they tentatively greeted each other. It was sad that Daisy seemed to want to make friends, but didn't have the courage to be friendly. Her tail didn't wag once when we were outside. In fact, her tail didn't wag at all during the whole time she was with me, except when she would see me put on my shoes and sunhat to go out. She was not a relaxed dog.

We took a nice long walk and then returned to the apartment. Ania and I sat on the fluffy blanket and Daisy lay down between us, eventually closing her eyes. Peace! I told Ania how hard this was. I said Daisy's fear at being left by her owner felt familiar to me, making me feel afraid of abandonment, too. I told Ania I must have some old terror about being left behind by my parents and Daisy was making me feel that again. Then I just wept and tapped, as Daisy rested and Ania sat quietly. I love when friends know that the best thing to do when I'm crying is just sit with me. 

I felt much better, and Daisy was relaxed, when Ania left around 9:00. I thanked her many times for coming, and decided it was bedtime. Daisy and I had exhausted each other and I hoped we'd have a good sleep. As I went into the bedroom with Daisy's dog bed, she began to whine and pace again, sniffing at the front door. Christ god, this dog! So much for a peaceful transition into slumber. I lay in bed, my back sore from spending so much time on the floor, and hoped she'd join me. She did, but only for a few minutes. Then she was up again, whimpering and pacing. After several minutes she came to me with that "go for a walk" look, so I reluctantly, resentfully hauled myself out of bed. We stepped out into the sticky night air, Daisy happy to be back outside and me angry that we weren't winding down inside.

As we walked, I slipped into zombie mode. I could feel myself dissociating, pretending I wasn't really outside walking a dog at all. My movements became stiff and my eyes glazed over. I ignored where I was, I ignored how I felt, I ignored any thoughts of where I'd rather be. I just went numb. Once again, Daisy eliminated nothing. The only thing that pierced my brain fog was surprise at how small this dog's input and output were.

When we got back inside, I lay down on the fluffy blanket again, even though my back wanted none of it. Maybe Daisy felt more comfortable in the living room and the bedroom felt foreign. She lay down near me, finally quiet. I did my best to sleep, but it was useless and Daisy wasn't asleep either. Either her eyes were open or they were closed but I could tell she was awake because when a dog is truly asleep, it does that twitching thing. Daisy just lay still.

It must have been near 11:00p when I couldn't take the floor anymore. I got in bed, hoping this wouldn't set Daisy off again. Fortunately, she lay down in bed with me and kept still this time. But I was just too tense. Exhausted and sleepy, I lay next to that dog until 3:00a before I finally drifted off. I don't think she fell asleep before that either.

After Daisy's morning whimpering and sniffing at the front door, we were out for a walk before 8:00 am. I had texted the owner to keep him updated and he knew what an ordeal I was going through. Jim had agreed to come get her at 5:00p instead of later. Yay! I only had nine hours to get through!

The second day was better, but Daisy remained a whiny, high maintenance dog to the end. I was much more relaxed now and I think she was, too, but she never stopped watching the front door and she never stopped whimpering for attention. 

Daisy's anxiety with people and other dogs made her look like a traumatized dog, but she had been acquired as a puppy and had only had one home. I figured her owners had simply sheltered her too completely, handicapping her for the real world. Maybe they had given her all the attention and physical touch a puppy demands and maintained that level of attention into her young adulthood. Maybe they hadn't socialized her to play confidently with dogs. Maybe they hadn't modeled for her how to trust the wider world of people and animals. I texted my dog sitter friend, "I suspect her owners have overprotected her and spoiled her," and he texted back, "That happens a lot." Now he tells me! After I heard that, I knew I couldn't do this again. This behavior was common? Forget it! I realized there are probably as many bad-yet-animal-loving owners as there are bad parents. My disgust with the world grew. 

I was so happy to see that dog leave at 5:30 on Sunday. As much as Daisy wiggled and wagged and jumped and peed when Jim finally returned, I knew my relief matched her joy. Jim apologized for her being a big baby and I, of course, said it was fine, but I knew what I wasn't saying. The dogsitting website coaches us sitters to say that we enjoyed our time with the pet and would love to have them again. I obviously did not say that, but I also restrained myself from saying that I was going to delete my sitter profile from just as soon as my payment cleared. 

I don't know why my dog sitting friend thought this would be a good idea for me. I clearly don't have the patience for the kind of dogs whose owners use such sites. Those websites probably exist for those who have raised their pets like brats, with no coping skills or ability to self-soothe. That's probably why the dogs fall apart in a kennel and need personal attention in a private home, and who wants to deal with THAT? Well, apparently, a lot of people do, but not me. 

How much did I earn? My rate, like my friend's, is $30 a night. My friend says he would have told Jim that's $30 for a 24-hour period, but I didn't know. Clearly I needed a lot more coaching before taking this gig. Daisy was with me for a total of 31 hours, required my constant attention, caused me as much distress as I caused her, and I earned $30 for my trouble ($25.50 after takes a cut). So that was worth it...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Old is good

My hair stylist recently made a comment about her children's definition of "old." She seemed to dislike their idea that she was just a couple of years away from being old, but I disliked her dislike. I said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with being old." She didn't understand this statement, so I explained it to her.

Americans have conflated oldness with infirmity and disease. People often say, "I don't feel old," when what they mean is that they don't feel out of breath, in arthritic pain, or any other symptoms of sickness. "I don't feel old" doesn't mean the person hasn't yet registered Republican or started saving for retirement. It doesn't mean they suddenly remember coming of age a few decades later than they did. "I don't feel old" doesn't mean someone is making the same harebrained decisions they made when they were 20. "I don't feel old" tends to be a statement about stamina, attitude and general health. 

Having equated old age with being sick or incapacitated, Americans are terrified of growing old. We insist we're not old no matter how old we get. "I'm not old" we say as we celebrate our 55th, 65th or even 75th birthdays. We can only say this because we've detached old age from chronological age. We say this because we've given old age a new definition: sourness of mood, pain in body and limited physical mobility.

But there are many people who reach the end of their lives without these characteristics. And there are plenty of people who suffer from crotchetiness or a life-threatening disease well before their 40s. Americans like to fantasize that older people are closer to death and younger people are farther from it, but that's completely false. Death claims plenty of children, teenagers and young adults all the time, whether through disease, accident or police. At no time is anyone any farther or closer to dying than anyone else.

But we Americans hate death and we handle it terribly. We can't think about it without great anxiety, so we tell each other that as long as we don't get old, we don't have to die. And now we've conveniently redefined "old" so that it doesn't apply to anyone who doesn't feel sick. We've even gone so far as to start believing that no one is old who maintains a cheerful outlook on life. No one's old and no one ever has to be!

Even though I was born and raised in the U.S, I failed to learn this fear of old age. For as long as I can remember, I've seen getting older as an advantage. You know the pride a six-year-old feels upon turning seven? I still feel that with every birthday. On July 24th I'll turn 49 and I'm glad.* I see 49 as one year more experienced and knowledgeable than 48. I've witnessed a bit more, learned a bit more, and felt a bit more. I'm one year farther from past painful lessons and I have one year more perspective on those events. I have one year more authority with which to say, "Yes, I know how that feels," and "I remember that," and "Actually, in my experience, it's like this." Growing old is one of the ways I feel increasingly solid and respectable. Aging has brought me confidence, peace of mind and the end of feeling afraid of the whole world. Aging has been great for me and I anticipate feeling better and better as I get even older.

Someone must have modeled this lack of fear of aging. It might have been my dad, who has never hesitated to tell anyone his age, has never colored his hair and has never fussed about his appearance. He just lives his life, and these days his life is pretty darn good. He has no chronic pain or health issues that slow him down. He's enjoying himself, completely unhampered by concern about whether he's behaving like all the other 78-year-olds. 

In other countries, people understand that how wrinkled or incapacitated or diseased someone is reflects the circumstances of their life, not how many years they've existed. When I taught ESL 22 years ago, I asked my classroom full of women from Japan, Germany, China, Mexico, Russia and Vietnam how they tell how old someone is. They listed things like how the person dresses and speaks. When I asked about wrinkles and gray hair, they said that only showed how hard someone's life is. It's as if Americans have taken the worst qualities of life and stuffed them into our definition of "old." This view of aging makes no sense and I've never bought it. 

After I explained my views to my hair stylist, she nodded and said she understood what I was saying, but I had my doubts about whether she could take it to heart. I can see that it's hard for middle aged American women to accept their own aging, even though I don't understand their discomfort. 

So happy birthday to me next Friday the 24th! We'll see if I still feel this way next year when I turn 50. OH, yeah...50!

*It occurs to me that my sister might not like me telling my age every year because anyone who knows how far apart we are in age can calculate how old she is. Sorry, Judy.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A friend's story about Norco, II

Part I is here.

The worst of the sleep disruption went away by the third night after she stopped taking Norco, but her mood plummeted the next day. She woke up feeling anxious, tense and worried. In the mirror she saw an ugly person with a ruined middle aged body. She felt sure she'd just get uglier and uglier for the rest of her life.

She made herself meditate, partly just to get to that place where the world goes away and your mind rests in nothingness. She made it there a couple of times during a 45-minute meditation, but mostly she felt like she was zombie-ing out, shutting down, going numb. Did that dead, lifeless mental state count as calm stillness?

She made herself eat a breakfast of eggs and papadam even though she craved pancakes with real maple syrup. She spent lots and lots of time online, reading articles linked on Facebook, checking email, reading NPR stories, watching Seth Meyer monologues. 

She had never been one for the outdoors, but after reading an article about how walking in nature helps depression, she decided to take a walk. The beach was two blocks from her apartment and it occurred to her what a shame it was that she rarely spent any time there. 

With dully glazed eyes and stiff movements, she reached the beach. Her mind stayed gray-blank as she dug her heels into the sand for that satisfying crunch. Slipping off her sandals, she let her feet take in the feel of the shifting grains. Her eyes stayed riveted on the ground before her as she took small steps, more focused on the powdery feel than on covering distance. "I just have to keep moving," she thought. "All that matters is that I keep moving." This kept her from lying down and letting lethargy take over, which she very much wanted to do. 

She passed an ice cream vendor and felt the strength of her sugar cravings. All morning she'd been longing for candy bars, donuts, and cake. She wanted a cookie so badly it hurt. This bewildered her. 

After staggering along for fifteen minutes, she got tired of the weight of her purse and let it and her sandals drop. Now she walked in a circle around them, eyes still focused on the sand at her feet, mind still filled with nothing more than the sensation of grinding grains.

At one point she lifted her head, stared toward the water and started crying. Why did she feel this way? Was it the fucking Norco screwing with her brain? What was wrong with her? She went through several kleenexes, giving in to despair. 

Then she stopped walking. Stopped crying. Dug her feet down into dampness. Saw nothing with her eyes as she focused on the feeling of sand against toes. Back to empty numbness. 

Finally, she moved off the sand and sat on a bench. She couldn't bear the prospect of the rest of the afternoon and evening with nothing to do, no place to go, no one to talk to. She couldn't go back to her apartment, she couldn't. She pulled out her phone and called a friend she hadn't seen in a while. Luckily, the friend answered and asked how she was. Her voice shakey, she said, "I'm not doing well. Do you think, either today or tomorrow, you could give me a reason to leave my apartment and talk to another human being?"

They met a little later, shared a meal, had a long conversation. She ate white bread with her lunch, even though what she wanted was the cupcake in the pastry case. She felt much better afterwards and thanked her friend many times for responding. She felt proud of herself for asking for what she needed. 

That evening, the sugar cravings that she'd been fighting for a week overwhelmed her. She had worked hard on her sugar abstinence and hated to blow it now. She didn't even keep sweets in the apartment anymore, but finally she went into her kitchen for the only thing with processed sugar she still had: a boxed cake mix at the bottom of a drawer. 

Her mind gave no argument as she opened the box, slit the plastic bag and stuck in a spoon. When the powder hit her tongue she felt both bliss and sharp disappointment in herself: her streak of sugar sobriety was over. The spoon went in again and again until the edge was off her craving. She tried to put the bag away and forget about it, but ended up pouring the rest of the yellow cake mix into a bowl, adding the rest of the ingredients and baking herself a one-layer cake. After eating lots of the batter, she only needed two pieces of the finished product before she felt done with it. NOW she could relax. 

Worry lived at the back of her mind that she'd opened a dangerous door and the sugar bingeing would continue the next day and become a habit again, but it didn't. The next day she woke up in a much better mood and took another walk on the lakefront, this time without the zombie stagger and the weeping. She passed an ice cream truck and a snack stand without a second glance. It stunned her, but the horrible cravings of the previous several days were gone. How was it possible? As miraculous as it was, she could feel that she was back on the sugar-free wagon without a struggle. She had no sweets that day. She didn't need them. 

The pain, the Norco, the cravings, the sleep problems - she longed for this ordeal to end, although she considered herself lucky to not have bigger addiction problems. One thing was definite: she would never touch another opioid drug again. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A friend's story about Norco

It was just five days. Her prescription was for 20 pills to be taken every six hours. After the doctors in the emergency room couldn't figure out what was causing the intense pain in her abdomen, they gave her the prescription and told her to go home. It wasn't appendicitis or any other inflammation, and the CAT scan showed no blockages of any kind. Her pain, which had hit level 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, had no origin they could figure out, so she left the hospital to have the scrip filled.

The Norco worked well for her. As long as she took it every six hours, the pain mostly went away. She ran out of pills on a Monday afternoon and nervously waited for the pain to come back that night. If it reached level 7, she would head back to the ER.

The pain didn't come back.

On Tuesday morning she followed up with her regular doctor who identified the problem as a fibroid tumor in the uterus (very common and completely benign). The doctor gave her a prescription for a different painkiller, plus another prescription for Norco, just in case.

She briefly mentioned to her doctor that she hadn't slept well the night before, but didn't go into detail. She didn't want to detract from the business of identifying and treating the main problem, but it had been a weird night. She had gone to bed at her usual time, feeling nice and drowsy, but as she closed her eyes and let her body relax into the mattress she suddenly felt the urge to move. She rolled to her other side and adjusted her legs into a new position and sighed back into the pillow. In a second, the feeling of restlessness came back and she began to point her feet and then pull them back into a pointed heel, over and over again, quickly. What was going on? Why did her body feel like this?

When the foot-flexing didn't bring relief, she rolled onto her back and began kicking her legs against the mattress as if she were doing the back stroke across a pool. This was bizarre! She had heard of restless leg syndrome, but this felt like restless entire body. She felt as if she had suddenly been filled with high octane fuel and needed to burn off energy. Frustratingly, she still felt drowsy and knew she needed to sleep.

She took a Bach flower essence for sleep. She tapped. She listened to a meditation recording. She watched a YouTube ASMR video. Nothing worked. Her body could not unplug from whatever power source was feeding it. She lay in her bed with her eyes closed, with either her legs kicking or other large muscle groups flexing and unflexing. Ten-thirty became 11:30, which became 12:30. Sometimes she got up and walked around for a few minutes, but that just made her exhaustion more obvious. She just wasn't awake enough to watch a TV show or read a book. She wanted to sleep. Hoping that her grogginess would carry her off, she'd hurry back to the pillow, snuggle into it, but then feel the restlessness overtake her limbs again. She simply could not resist the urge to twist and twitch. It was after 1:00 before her jumpy muscles finally gave in to unconsciousness.

She figured it must be related to the Norco because nothing else in her routine had changed. She went online and learned how addicting the hydrocodone-based drugs are: that they can hook you after just one or two weeks of regular use. She felt horrified by a video that showed changes that happen to the brain when it's on opioid drugs. She read accounts of addicts trying to quit and the withdrawal symptoms they experienced. One of them was sleeplessness.

"Oh, my god," she said to herself. "What have I done? There's no way I'm getting that second Norco prescription filled." The second night wasn't as bad and she fell asleep in half the time it had taken on the first night, but she longed for her usual sleep pattern. Please, please let the third night be normal. Or at least the fourth.

During the day she noticed that her sugar cravings were bad. She kept thinking about frosted layer cakes and bakeries and pancake houses. Her research told her that hydrocodone screws with the brain's ability to regulate serotonin, the hormone that's critical to a stable mood. If your brain loses its ability to produce serotonin, which opioid drugs can cause, you might find yourself willing to do anything to feel good again. That often means using other drugs like alcohol or heroin. She wondered if Norco messed with appetite if your drug of choice was sugar. She kept wanting to eat even when she wasn't hungry. 

She fed her sugar cravings with fresh fruit, nuts, tea with honey, peanut butter, salads dressed with processed dressing, a Kind bar, and potato salad with sweet relish. Her mood was terrible. If she'd realized that Norco would screw with her careful sugar sobriety, she would have talked to the ER doctors about a different painkiller, but she hadn't known.

Tonight will be her third night after quitting Norco. She dreads getting in bed and wonders how pill addicts ever manage to kick. She has new sympathy for them.

A friend's story about Norco, II

Saturday, July 04, 2015

How does racism hurt white people?

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist and writer for The Atlantic. In this three-minute and 20-second video from PBS NewsHour's Brief But Spectacular series, what strikes me is his use of the word "luxury." He says, "You really can't be an African American in this country and see, say, a Walter Scott video and be completely amazed. You just don't have the luxury of living that way. You know, you've had interactions with the police. You know people who bad things have happened to just for being who they are."

That's the blind spot for many of us: we don't recognize that we live with the luxury of not having to think about racism. It's part of white privilege, which all white people have as well as many people of color if we look or act certain ways. I have white privilege because of my class, education, coffee-with-cream-colored skin, and because I sound exactly like a white woman when I talk. I live a life of luxury because my white privilege means I don't get stopped by police, followed in stores, or asked to move on if I linger on the sidewalk. 

Of course, white privilege only goes so far for people of color. When it comes down to it, our physical features override how we talk or dress and our luxury ends. But many white Americans can live their whole lives without ever having to think about things like Black churches being burned down or unarmed Black men being gunned down by police or the lack of access that many women of color have to health care or how many people live in American jail-like conditions because they came to the U.S. from Mexico or Guatemala out of economic desperation. Most white people don't feel the effects of these conditions on their own lives so they ignore them, and they ignore them because they can. Rather than see themselves as living as a state of luxury, these white people see their lives as "normal." To them, the lives of people who live under the weight of racial oppression seem abnormal, foreign and a million miles away. Those are the "other" people, and once you see someone as "other," it's easy to dehumanize and emotionally distance yourself from them.

The way to change people's view of others is to bring those others close, humanize them, and show the connections between the groups. Someone used the concept of otherness to explain how same-sex marriage gained acceptance among Americans. He said the critical shift happened when more gay and lesbian family members, co-workers and neighbors began coming out to the people who knew them. When people realized that "those people" were their own family and friends, they couldn't keep dehumanizing them. Once that happened, the path to accepting same-sex marriage became much clearer. 

Unfortunately, this dynamic hasn't been possible between white people and people of color because it's too easy to identify the physical characteristics of race and culture. We wear our otherness on our faces and there's usually no hiding it. So how do you manage a sea change regarding racism?

Maybe the model is animal rights. Yes, I realize that comparison is offensive, but I think it works. I have a hard time caring about animal rights unless I see how the issue directly affects me. Maybe that makes me a selfish, uncaring person, but I think such a stance is common. The only way to make some people change entrenched views about others is to show them how they are directly affected by the way those others are treated. I have the luxury of never thinking about the living conditions of the cattle, chicken and pigs I eat, but if you tell me those conditions cause risks to my own health, you'll get my attention. If you can convince me that eating certain animals is bad for me, you might even get me to stop eating them altogether. A friend of mine says many people are actually convinced to support animal rights simply by hearing of the suffering of animals (those are better people than I). But this friend acknowleges that hearing about suffering doesn't do it for everyone, and some people need to hear how animal rights affects their own health directly.

On the topic of racism, at a certain point we will have reached all the people we're going to influence by talking about justice and human rights. Maybe we're already at that point. What's left are the people who will only be swayed by feeling the negative impact of racism on their own lives, which leads to the question (and doesn't beg it): what are the negative effects of racism on white Americans? 


My best response right now is that racism negatively affects white people by shutting down the vast resources that people of color offer. There are dying white communities throughout the country that need an influx of immigrants to revive their economies, provide labor and get government money flowing into their schools and public services again. Also, considering that in the next 25 years the population of the U.S. will have more people of color than whites, to keep locking up and killing large numbers of people of color will hurt our national productivity and ability to function in a global economy. As people of color gain the majority, it will become a greater national liability to deny us decent housing, health care, schools, etc. A government can't keep its own people in economic distress and thrive without turning into some kind of dictatorship or failed state. 

Of course, maintaining prejudice against Blacks, Mexicans, etc. also means white people deny themselves rich experiences of friendship and community. That's a harder loss to argue, but maybe we can say that seeing all people as potential friends helps mood and increases levels of happiness and feelings of safety. Those things have positive effects on a country's economy, too.

While there are many people who live in the luxury of not having to think about racism, their time of enjoying that privilege will end. The United States is heading towards a demographic makeup that will require the dismantling of its systemic, institutionalized racism or we'll become a country that marginalizes its majority. On this American Independence Day, can you leave a comment on a way that you see that racism in the U.S. hurts white people?

Oh, yeah and happy Fourth of July, America.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Sweet dreams

Last night I dreamt I was eating layer cake. I scooped off the sculpted yet gooey white frosting with my finger and wrapped my mouth around it. In other dreams I've abstained from desserts or only tasted them because even in the dream, I remember that my doctor took me off sugar. I awaken from those dreams frustrated, mad at myself for not diving into the cupcakes because it was just a dream, damn it! I could have eaten it all and been none the worse.

But last night I had no such hesitation. I just enjoyed that cake, piece after frosted piece, and it was good. I ate as much as I wanted with no guilt whatsoever. Is that how addicts dream?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Prosopagnosia and alerts

There's a part of the human brain that processes face recognition. Being able to distinguish and recognize faces is a very specific skill that gets a region all its own because being able to tell family from friend from stranger is critical to survival. Unfortunately, this part of the brain doesn't function well for many people. We have prosopagnosia (from the Greek proso for "face" and agnos for "knowing"). It's commonly called face blindness. We can see the face in front of us and we can see that you have two eyes and a nose and nice full lips and a bunch of hair, but we can't easily retain it in our memory.

People have different degrees of prosopagnosia. Some people don't recognize their own spouses or children and the most extreme cases can't recognize themselves in photos or mirrors. My face blindness means that it takes me longer to memorize a face, although I'll eventually get it. If you have a very distinct, unique-looking face, I'll get you in my memory bank pretty quickly, but if you don't, it'll take me several meetings before your face will sink in. When I worked in an office, I'd need to meet a co-worker over and over again, for weeks or months, before I'd be able to recognize them if I saw them at the supermarket or the lakefront. Some prosos struggle with situations like this, for instance: having a long involved conversation with a co-worker in the break room, having them ask you to send them an email, parting and realizing you have no idea who that was, but since you've been working with them for months, you're too embarrassed to admit this. Such is the life of someone with prosopagnosia.

I feel particularly helpless when I see a bulletin about a missing person. Such announcements include a picture of the person's face and ask us to contact the police if we see them. Unable to distinguish faces, I'm useless with this kind of thing. I feel even worse when the missing person is a child. There's no way I can participate in the awareness that will bring that child home.

If you have a friend, co-worker or acquaintance who seems to have snubbed you, ignored you or pretended they didn't see you, it's possible that they're angry with you, but also consider that they might just have prosopagnosia. If they do, they won't remember meeting you until you remind them. You can help us prosos by talking to us and reminding us of how we know you. As awkward as that might feel to you, it's a fraction of the discomfort we live with regularly. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kicking a sugar addiction

I am in the process of trying to kick my addiction to sugar. For almost seven months, since November 2014, I've done a pretty good job of reducing my ingestion of sugar of all forms, which means I've abstained from processed and natural sugars, alcohol and fruit. I've slipped many times. I've eaten desserts I knew I wasn't supposed to be having, but that's how it goes. The key was that I kept getting back on my sugar-free diet.

In the past six weeks I've reached a new level of freedom from sugar. I crave it and fixate on it less than ever before! I've done this kind of sugar-free diet a couple of times in my life and this is the closest I've gotten to breaking sugar's emotional as well as physical hold on me. I think kicking a sugar habit is a lot like quitting smoking: you might have to try and fail several times before you succeed, but if you don't give up, you can get there.

The past seven months have taken a lot of white-knuckling, but here are the things that have made letting go of sugar easier for me (some are proven to help with addiction):

1. Raw pain - hugely motivational.
2. Daily meditation - I couldn't have done it without Joe Dispenza's books and guided meditations.
3. Emotional Freedom Technique tapping - extremely helpful for reducing cravings.
4. Acupuncture - my practitioner is Dr. Ashley Frer.
5. Healing the emotional reasons I turn to sweets - this was critical. (If you really want to kick sugar out of your life, do not skip this.)
6. Cutting starches - bread, pasta, corn, rice and other grains act like sugar in the body and can trigger cravings.
7. Taking this supplement - twice a day. (If you order from, please use my code: VKS670)
8. Eating fats, protein and vegetables with abandon! No calorie counting!
9. Time at home - it helps to not be in a work environment that triggers cravings. Also, the early weeks of cutting out sugars and starches made me feel fatigued. I took it slowly and allowed myself lots of naps. 
10. Keeping my home free of sugar - easier when you live alone, I know. 

What also helped was that cutting out sugars and starches caused me to lose weight, which was certainly encouraging. I've now lost about half of the 50 pounds I put on in 2013.

There's no such thing as getting over an addiction quickly or easily. It's a long, tough slog and I don't know if my active determination to kick sugar will ever end. Maybe I'll always have to be vigilant. Maybe staying off the sugar roller coaster will always take effort and commitment, but I hope not. It would be nice to relax and just live, but maybe some of us don't get to do that. Diabetes runs in my family and I'm determined not to inherit it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Give blood. Meditate.

I've felt frustrated because I've been using Joe Dispenza's powerful guided meditation recording for a year and a half and there's one part that just hasn't fallen into place. While I've gotten great results in general, there's one thing that has bothered me. At the end of the meditation, he guides you to ask for a sign that you've made contact with the quantum field which is now working with you to create your new reality. The sign should be completely unexpected and should totally surprise you so there's no doubt that it's the result of your meditation work. I've only received such signs a couple of times since I started using this meditation in October 2013 and it discourages me.

So I had this great experience with the man himself on Friday, and then on Saturday and Sunday nothing happened that surprised me. But I had an appointment to donate blood on Monday afternoon and had no idea it was about to tie in to my Friday experience.

I went to the appointment, knowing the Red Cross Blood workers might very well reject me for having low iron levels in my blood. That often happens, but my father worked in a hospital when I was growing up and every time he came home with a "Be Nice To Me, I Gave Blood Today" sticker, it made an impression on me. Since college, I've regularly tried to give even though, if they accept my blood, giving a pint often makes me feel sick. But every few times it goes well, so I think it's worth it.

The health worker checked my iron level and it was high enough. Success! Then I sat down, they put in the line and the sterile, plastic bag began to fill. Now this is the point at which I usually start to get anxious and feel light-headed, no matter how much I hydrate ahead of time. Usually as the bag gets full, I get a weird, depleted feeling throughout my body and sometimes there's nausea, too. After the blood-letting is over and the needle removed, I have to sit there for ten minutes or so, trying to feel well enough to stand up.

But not this time! As the bag filled, I remained perfectly calm and felt fine: no nervousness, no need to tap. I had drunk a lot of water in the 24 hours prior, so things went quickly and the health workers commented on how fast I pumped the stuff out. And at the end, I felt exactly the same as the needle came out as when it went in. I felt like I hadn't given blood at all!

I couldn't believe it. It felt like a miracle. I thought, "So this is what giving blood feels like for those healthy, strong people who have no problem at all." I've always envied people who can lose a pint of blood and then stand right up and walk away with no ill effects, and now I'm one of them! This is definitely a sign that's so surprising and so completely out of nowhere that it indicates that my meditation practice is making a difference in my life. I'm so excited about this!

I AM using my mind to change my body. I AM creating my own reality. And I predict that whoever gets my blood is going to have a miraculous recovery.

(I've already signed up to donate blood in 56 days, which is the earliest you can give after donating, in the United States. You give blood, too, wherever you are!)

Monday, June 15, 2015

And when I stood up, I was different

Celebrate Your Life conferences bring together gurus and teachers of various disciplines all focused on the same thing: helping you achieve the best life for yourself and others. I've never been to one, but I attended their pre-conference workshop with Dr. Joe Dispenza last Friday and I am so damn glad I did.

I've read Dispenza's Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One a couple of times. It led me to see how powerful the mind is in creating our reality because the body follows whatever the mind tells it. This allows us to change our health, beliefs, relationships and even things that seem external like job opportunities, experiences in nature and chance meetings.

Now I'm the last person to say "there's a reason for everything" or "the universe wants me to..." or "the universe is telling us to..." or any crap like that. You'll never catch me invoking the law of attraction. I don't believe in a mechanistic universe that we appeal to by behaving in certain ways. I find that a lot of New Age talk uses the same language as religion, but substitutes the words "the Universe" for "God," granting human qualities to these things, which I think is bull&*#.

What Joe Dispenza's book taught me is the science of the quantum field and how attention influences physical matter. Remember in physics 101 how the professor talked about scientists discovering that photons behave differently when they're being watched? Have you heard people say that the act of observing a behavior has an effect on the behavior?

Dispenza's books use these kinds of ideas to explain how our thoughts influence what happens in physical reality. I know it sounds ridiculous and out there, but research in physics supports the idea that where our attention goes, so goes our reality. Photons appear where the scientist looks and disappear when the scientist stops looking. Science hasn't explained that kind of weird stuff yet, but Dispenza explains how to use it to create the life you want.

I've been using Dispenza's guided meditation recordings for a year and a half. I've gotten excellent results (healing relationships, releasing anger, improving health, losing weight), but I've gotten sloppy about my practice. Going to the workshop last Friday gave me the boost I needed. Dr. Joe gave a rundown of how the mind influences the body and the body determines reality, and then he led us through a meditation. Meditating in a room with 140 people being guided by an expert into the alpha brainwave state is a powerful experience! The twenty-seven minutes felt like a third of the time. We did one more 45-minute meditation at the end of the day. His meditation process is to quiet down, get past the analytical mind, go into deep relaxation, rest in "nothingness," then focus on a specific goal, and experience the emotions you would feel if you already had that goal in your life. He said that if you can't imagine what you'd feel in that future possibility (a dream vacation, new job, loving experience, healed chronic condition, etc.), then start with gratitude. As you sit in the state of meditation, feel how grateful you are that you've finally reached this goal.

He likes to say that each time you do this meditation (daily), you mustn't get up until you are a different person. If you really reach the state of nothingness and truly tune in to the emotional experience of your goal, you change the vibration of your cells and actually change who you are on a fundamental level. After that second meditation, I finally felt this. I went deep, got to the place of no time/no body/no thought, felt gratitude and excitement as if my future had already happened, and when I stood up, I was different. I felt so good! I couldn't stop smiling. It felt like my wonderful future had already happened.

Since then, I've felt happier. My daily meditation is deeper and when I come out of it, I keep the feelings of gratitude and excitement. I walk down the street with a slight smile and greet more people. I feel more worthy of my goals and less doubt about reaching them. The negative mind chatter has quieted (for now). Since I already feel the gratitude and joy of accomplishing my goals, I have more patience about how long they'll take to manifest in the world. I am at peace.

Meditating with Dr. Joe also reminded me that the best times to do this kind of meditation are upon waking and right before sleep. Wide awake, the brain is in what's called "beta state." We sleep in "delta state." That hazy time between being fully awake and being fully asleep is called "alpha state," and is also known as the trance state. You can go into alpha even when you're active, such as when you're driving and you get home without any memory of the actual trip because your mind was wandering.

For meditating you want to be in alpha state, so an ideal time to meditate is in the morning while you're passing through alpha anyway in order to go from delta to beta. That's when I've been doing it for the past three days and I'm getting much more out of it than before Friday. I had been waiting until I was fully awake in the morning to go meditate, which meant I had to get myself back into alpha after reaching alertness. But now, as soon as my eyes are open, I haul myself out of bed and stumble to my meditation cushion that sits in the living room. In a half-awake state, I begin Dr. Joe's meditation recording and go right into that powerful place of no thought. And then I come out of it as I start thinking about things. So then I re-focus on relaxing and reaching the nothingness. I achieve it again. And then my mind chatter comes back. Et cetera. But that's just how meditation goes: every time your mind tries to get active, you calm it down again, over and over. 

I'm SO GLAD I went to that workshop, even though I had to rent a car and drive through horrific Chicago rush hour traffic in order to get there (the event was in Lombard, Illinois and I live on the far north side of Chicago. Ugh). It greatly improved my meditation practice. Dr. Joe Dispenza will be in St. Charles, Illinois for a weekend workshop in August, which I'd love to go to, but I'd need about $650 of extra money to cover the workshop, hotel and transportation. You can see all the places he'll be giving workshops on his website. He's a stunningly busy guy and gives these workshops all over the world. Want to become a better person in Australia? Munich? Costa Rica? He'll be there.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Join a global experiment

8x8 is the coolest thing I've seen in a while because I like ways to connect with people you have things in common with. This site helps you find someone who's just like you, and I mean JUST LIKE YOU. 8x8 is a project that finds the one person in the online global community (it's probably just one person) who replies exactly like you to eight key questions. From their website:

8^8 is a project designed to find the one person among the world's online population whose tastes and sensibilities match yours exactly. The one person who understands you better than anyone else possibly could, because he/she is another version of you. The one person who naturally functions on the same wavelength as you, because he/she is your soulmate - someone who could be a lover, or a best friend, but more fundamentally, someone who feels like a twin you were separated from at birth.

So how does it work? It's simple: 8^8 is a multiple-choice test with 8 questions and 8 possible answers each. Take the 8^8 test and the likelihood of someone else answering in the exact same pattern as yourself is 1 in 16,777,216 (the result of 8^8 or 8x8x8x8x8x8x8x8). If you were to meet and get to know a thousand new people every day - which of course isn't practically feasible - it would still take you more than 45 years to go through 16,777,216 people.

I'm in the database now. Answering the questions was fun. Join us!