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 iherb.com, 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!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The pain has receded!

I finally had a mostly decent menstrual experience two weeks ago. I'd been suffering since November from horrible cramping that made me cry. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain's grip spent hours at 10, leaving me unable to do anything but rock with pain and focus on making it stop, which I couldn't do even with painkillers, prescription drugs, exercise, relaxation, EFT, my heating pad, my hot water bottle and my yoga mat. But I've had a breakthrough.

The cramps started because I went off my birth control pills, which I started taking in 2008 to control the cramps. In 2014 I wanted to eliminate the negative effects of adding those hormones to my body, so after consulting with my gynecologist, I stopped taking them. And the pain came back. I saw a doctor who specializes in hormonal problems and she explained that cramping is caused when your hormones are out of balance. She showed me a chart that showed cause-and-effect relationships between estrogen levels, progesterone levels, other hormone levels and insulin levels. Apparently the beginning of the domino effect is insulin, and insulin is affected by what we eat and drink.

This led me back to the problem of my whole life: sugar. I swear processed sugar is the food of the damned.

Dr. Lindner told me to cut out all forms of sugar (including fruit and alcohol), grains, dairy and caffeine. These are the things that cause quick insulin increases in the bloodstream and my body just couldn't take any more. I couldn't believe I had to start this right before the holidays, but I needed to correct my blood glucose and insulin levels by staying off these foods until my period became manageable. Dr. Lindner assured me this was temporary and I could re-introduce these foods when my body healed. She also recommended healthy doses of vitamin D, magnesium and calcium, which I've also been taking.

It's been HARD. Most months I've only managed to stick to that diet 70-90% of the time.

Five weeks ago, when the cramps were better, but still making me cry, I talked to my doctor again. Why was the pain still so horrible? She asked about my diet and I admitted I hadn't been on it 100% of the time. She reminded me that that's what it takes, so I finally got serious. I gritted my teeth and spent all last month going 100% sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free and caffeine-free.

And the cramps got significantly better! I was so happy! I finally had a period with a mostly comfortable amount of pain! Maybe that sounds funny, but by "comfortable pain" I mean pain I can control with pain relievers, heat and exercise, keeping it at a 3 or lower (on a scale of 1 to 10). That didn't quite happen this last time. The pain rose to level 7 a couple of times for a few hours, but I was extremely grateful that it never hit 10. The flow was also much lighter (I'd been experiencing floodwaters).

Less pain! Lighter flow! Joy! I can do this. (Plus I've lost weight because I've cut out all sweets and processed carbs.)

So that's it: I'm staying on the diet 100%, dammit, and will stay on it until I menstruate comfortably. I'm aiming for pain at level 3 at the highest. I'm sure I can do this. And now it's breakfast time for me: eggs, green peas, papadam, water and Yogi Moon Cycle tea (I've been drinking three cups a day for a month and it might also be helping, but who knows?). This is going to be a great, mostly-pain-free summer!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Private English Tutor

Please note the new message at the top of the right column of my blog: I'm Regina The English Expert. Whether you want to pass the TOEFL, speak fluent English or improve your essay writing, I'll get you there.

I have:

TESOL Certification
Experience as a college English instructor
Experience as an adult ed ESL instructor
Bachelors degree in English from UC Berkeley
Masters degree in English from Cornell

We can work in person or online:
Pronunciation
Comprehension
Vocabulary
Conversation
Reading
Writing
Literature

Contact me at reginarm24@gmail.com. Free initial consultation. Sessions are $60 an hour.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

DWYL (Do What You Love). Or not.


(This could be considered the second part of a discussion I started in yesterday's post.)

Miya Tokumitsu's Slate article In the Name of Love has this as its subtitle: "Elites embrace the 'do what you love' mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers." It's a sobering article that really rinses out the "do what you love" slogan in ice cold water. It made me realize that "do what you love" (or "DWYL" as Tokumitsu abbreviates it) does a disservice both to people who dislike their jobs and to those who are doing what they love.

Tokumitsu's first point is that making "do what you love" part of our work gospel leaves out all the people who have no choice but to clean hotel rooms, drive a cab, pick fruit, etc. Earning a living doing what you enjoy is a lovely idea, but it's unrealistic and elitist. Only those with the advantages of class and education (and all the privileges entwined in those broad categories) get to choose a career based on their preferences. You don't have room to consider "what do I want to do?" when the only options open to you are things you'd never choose to do on your day off.

A friend recently commented on how unpleasant an employee acted during his last trip to a public library. She wasn't exactly rude to him, but she gave every indication that she didn't want to help him or even be at work. My friend felt irritated and baffled by this behavior. If you don't like your job, he figured, why stay there? His was the response of someone who has always had a choice about careers and who believes that if you don't love your job, you're not living right. I understand his view. In the past, I've shared it.

But if you consider how few resources most people have (even most white Americans still don't graduate from college), it's not surprising how many unhappy workers there are. And they really don't need us putting this "do what you love" attitude on them. The DWYL idea can also hamper new college graduates led to believe that they're always supposed to enjoy everything about their job. Overlooking entry level jobs because you're following your bliss can result in long-term unemployment and a lot of disillusionment.

Tokumitsu's second major point is that believing we should love our work so much that we'd do it even if we weren't being paid for it, opens the door to -- well, doing work that we aren't being paid for. She mentions academia, non-profits, fashion and media as fields where people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In such "lovable" professions, employees often answer emails all weekend long, work long hours beyond their salaries and manage an unreasonable workload. When I worked at Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, so many jobs were eliminated that some of my co-workers ended up doing the work of two or more people, but we were changing the world and believed passionately in the end results, so we did it. Non-profit organizations like Rotary International are full of people willing to take poorly paid positions because they want to feel good about what they spend their days doing. Tokumitsu writes, "Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love."

"Do what you love" sounds like the key to happiness, but devalues the work of people who dislike and who like their jobs. While we respect those who are doing work they passionately love, we also suspect that those people don't deserve or need to be fully paid for that work. How many of us have frowned at the fees of a photographer, designer, musician or other artist who we didn't think should earn so much for doing something that's so much fun? That DWYL stuff is insidious.

No matter how much someone enjoys what they do, call it work. Pay for it as work. That's what it is. Tokumitsu also mentions this self-defeating idea: "If you do do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." This statement treats "work" as a bad word. It's as if we've become fixated on joining the leisure class at a time when fewer and fewer of us will ever reach it. She writes:

...it’s critical to ask, “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

This is the core of the destructiveness of DWYL: it erases the boundaries between work and non-work, leaving us vulnerable to working non-stop while getting paid for only part of that labor. 

Before they retired, my father worked for the federal government and my mother was a public school teacher. They liked their jobs well enough, but their passion lay elsewhere. They were extremely active in the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) of Contra Costa County, which lies to the east of San Francisco. Their MAPA chapter supported political campaigns, took on police commissions, faced down school boards and fought racism against Latinos in whatever way it occurred. To the end of her life, my mother helped organize food and clothing drives at her church and personally helped out struggling families by digging into her own wallet. That was where their hearts were. My parents modeled for me the dignity of doing what you have to do to earn the rent, and doing what you love after hours. And that is how I'm proud to live my life.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Live life happy, IF you can

Don't wish your life away...unless you have to. I saw this posted on Facebook recently:

I responded with support for this sentiment, saying that even people who constantly long for 5:00 p.m. or Friday are self-defeatingly wishing their lives away when they should appreciate each moment. But I re-considered my response later because I realized my thinking was quite privileged. I hadn't considered that for many people, anticipating the next stage of their life is what keeps them going. The bright part of their lives is in the future (they hope). I've worked retail and restaurant jobs alongside people who had little choice but to work in those places. Those kinds of on-your-feet-all-day jobs are labor-intensive, painful and draining. You can find things to enjoy about them, but there are very good reasons to look forward to your shift being over. It's completely understandable for some people to live for the end of the day or week.

The quotation above, which is anonymous, directs us to live for today which is good advice, but it assumes that there are things that are capable of being enjoyed right now. When you have no choice but to work an unpleasant job that hurts your feet and pays too little, finding the parts you can enjoy can be hard. Maybe in that situation it's okay to live for the end of the shift and wish your days away because your real life takes place away from the cash register or kitchen or vacuum cleaner.

I remember once taking a job at a chain grocery store. I had been looking for a different kind of job, but felt like I was running out of options. I lasted three days. My co-workers were great and I liked the customers. The work itself was fine, but I came up against two big problems: the scheduling and the pain in my feet. Retail scheduling is brutal: there's no regular pattern to your hours whatsoever. I've worked in restaurants that gave me a steady weekly schedule that didn't change unless I requested it, so I have no idea why retail is so different. Can anyone tell me why retail scheduling has to be so different from restaurant scheduling? As exploitative as the restaurant industry is, at least they get that part right: people need regular hours so we can plan our lives. The manager of the store assured me that I'd always know my schedule two weeks ahead of time, but that wasn't good enough. I had other obligations to accommodate.

And the pain. Granted, I probably took this job at too late a point in my life and my feet weren't up for it, or maybe I have sensitive feet with bad arches. I don't know. But the pain in my feet started in hour 4 of my first day on the job and only got worse from there. I hobbled to the train after that shift, grateful to sit. My feet were so sore that I dreaded arriving at my stop and having to walk again from the station to my apartment: a six-minute walk. On the second day, the pain started in hour 2, plus some lower back pain as well. This wasn't going to work for me.

I resigned from that job feeling more grateful than ever for my education. At some points in my life, my bachelors and masters degrees have almost felt like stones around my neck. They've felt like proof that I'm not a true Mexican, but am really a coconut. They've also made me feel pressured to do amazing things with that education when instead, I've led an ordinary life, often financially scraping from one month to the next. I've gone from entry-level position to entry-level position, never really using that education for anything it was supposed to be used for, and this has made me feel guilty, unworthy, ashamed. For years I stuck my Cornell masters degree in a closet, in its original envelope (now it's in a frame). I don't even know where my diploma from U.C. Berkeley is.

But that grocery store job shifted my view. The day I quit, I felt grateful to my core that I have a choice about what kind of job to take. My education means I don't have to work on my feet for 8 hours at a time (unless I choose to). I felt damned lucky that I went to college, and even graduate school, when so many people never get that chance. I recognized that it was my father's mother who really deserves my gratitude because she understood that education was the key to a decent life.

This is amazing to me now: my Mexican American grandmother, who lived in Texas, who became a mother in the 1930s, who at one point worked in a mattress factory, was determined to see all of her children get an education. My father and his siblings all graduated from high school, a remarkable accomplishment in Texas in the 1950s. Not a lot of Mexican Americans were doing that, but my parents even graduated from college, and my father earned a masters degree. They valued education so much that I got all the higher learning I could stomach. And now here I stand (or sit): able to choose from a much wider array of careers than I'd be able to otherwise. I was lucky. Damned lucky.

But the American work force is full of people who weren't lucky. We've all experienced the unfriendly worker who acts like they hate their job. Maybe we needed their help at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the library or Walmart. Maybe we got less-than-perfect service from the person who did our nails or served our drinks. Before we judge them for not enjoying the moment, for not living the life they want, for not appreciating what they have, we might imagine the pain they're in. That pain is probably emotional, might be physical and is certainly financial. Yes, it's the responsibility of each of us to find pleasure in our lives, but not everyone has much choice about their circumstances. They're trying to "live life happy," but to use such a sentiment as a motto is really the prerogative of the privileged.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Please tip always

If you're at a fundraiser or grand opening or another special event where the bar is either free or subsidized, still tip! A dollar a drink is good, even if you're having club soda. Club soda is my standard drink. Even though you're not paying for your own drink, the bartenders are still working for you and rely on those tips. Plus it will make you look like an amazingly cool person to them.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Menstrual cups: cheaper and safer

The one I use is in the middle.
(With this post I contribute towards the effort to normalize the topic of menstruation and the word "vagina.")

The Atlantic recently published a history of the tampon, which mentioned the controversy over how safe they are. Apparently the vaginal walls are vulnerable to the chemicals contained in tampons, and manufacturers have yet to make tampon ingredients public. So I ask: have you heard of menstrual cups, which are alternatives to pads and tampons? A menstrual cup is a rubber receptacle that fits over your cervix and collects fluid until you empty it. You can reuse it for months and months before replacing it, and some brands last for years. This makes it much cheaper than buying all those tampons and pads, for which companies like Playtex and Always make us pay through the nose (as it were). Doesn't it grate on you how much those companies charge for a product that women have to buy?

In March, I started using the FemmyCycle, which is a soft, medical grade, silicone receptacle. It's a dumb name, but I really like the product. It requires some learning and practice, but after four cycles I'm learning how to place the cup correctly and remove it efficiently, with very little fuss. I'm saving money on disposable products and the cup works much better than pads or tampons in preventing leaks. My flow can get very heavy, and frequent bathroom trips get frustrating. Needing to stay near a bathroom can limit my activities in the first 48 hours of my period, making me practically housebound.

The FemmyCycle cup can't change how heavy my flow is, but it allows me to go longer between pit stops, although I still need a real bathroom for emptying and washing the cup (I don't know how you'd manage one of these in a public bathroom stall). I've been suffering from an extremely painful, heavy flow, but for a normal flow, the cup can do the job for up to 10 hours. And as the flow tapers off, there's no risk of toxic shock syndrome because a menstrual cup doesn't absorb fluid; it catches it. Menstrual cups are completely safe and you'll never get that dry, uncomfortable feeling that tampons can cause.

The main drawback is needing a private bathroom in order to remove the cup, wash it and re-insert it. I suggest that if you switch to a cup, you only use it at home until you get used to it. It's great for overnight. If I were still working in a place with bathroom stalls, I'd probably use a combination of cup and pads to avoid having to take it out at work. And that would still save me money.

Each time I use my menstrual cup, I get better at insertion and removal. I was one of those old-fashioned teenagers who chose a diaphragm for birth control back in the 1980s, and diaphragms mean you have to be comfortable touching your vagina, so maybe the cup is second nature for me, but anyone can get used to it. No big deal, women! 

So if you've ever felt the helplessness of having to fork over handfuls of cash to companies like Kotex or worried about putting unknown chemicals in your vagina, here's one solution. There are many different brands of menstrual cups, so if you get one that doesn't work for you, try another one (they aren't all as expensive as the FemmyCycle which is $40). And if we could get these cups, along with decent bathroom areas, to all the menstruating girls and women who struggle with horrendous sanitation conditions all over the world, what a different experience it would be to be female!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

I'd rather ride a bicycle

Used bicycle, new helmet.

I'm not a confident driver. In fact, I dislike driving, especially on freeways, at night, in rain or snow or when traffic is heavy. I dread changing lanes. I totaled a car once, which taught me what it's like to be in a car when it's upside down. I also crashed my ex-husband's car before we even got married, costing $4,200 worth of damage. Some people should just stay off the roads and I volunteer.

But riding a bicycle works for me, so I recently bought a used one. I used to ride a lot when I lived in Ithaca, New York and when I first moved to Chicago, but then I began using public transportation more and the bicycle got neglected, then stolen. Recently it felt right to start using one again.

I'm not one for riding recreationally. I ride in order to get places that aren't easy to reach on the train from east Rogers Park in Chicago, Illinois. I've been using my new-to-me bike to get to south Evanston and west Rogers Park. I've never had a lot of physical stamina. After a 30-45 minute ride, I have to rest, after which I might have another 30-minute ride in me, and then that's it for the day. I have friends who will happily ride for miles and miles, making an afternoon of it. I will never ride with them. 

Yes, it's scary to be out there in the city with vehicles that could easily munch me, including parked cars whose doors could suddenly swing out and lay me flat (which has happened). But I take comfort in knowing that I can't do nearly as much damage to others on a bicycle as I can in a car. In a car I'm constantly checking the rear and side view mirrors, trying to figure out if I fit into the flow of traffic and how likely I am to crash into someone else. On a bicycle, my mistakes are more likely to land me in the hospital, not someone else. I just have to keep myself from getting run over, which feels much more manageable to me.

Maybe it comes down to how I'd rather be the one who pays the price for my mistakes. I hate the idea of screwing up and leaving someone else to clean up the mess. I try to limit the consequences of my actions to me. This is consistent with my dislike of being needed and my decision to not have kids. So it's a bicycle for me. I'll leave the driving to people who think they can operate such a large machine without putting others at risk. I'm in awe of such people.