Sunday, April 26, 2015

The selfishness of having children

Pope Francis has made it clear that he believes couples who choose not to have children are selfish. A recently published book gives insight into why choosing not to have children isn't selfish. Today I'm blogging about neither. I say let's look at the reasons people decide to have children. If we're looking for selfishness, we'll find it there, too.

Please note that I'm not saying people who want kids are more selfish than those of us who don't. I'm also limiting this discussion to the reasons people want to have kids before they actually have them. I realize that raising children requires endless sacrifice (if you're doing it well). I'm talking solely about the motivations for wanting children in the first place.

Why do people want to have children? My friends who haven't had kids, but want them, are usually unable to answer this. I'm startled by how little people think about their reasons for wanting children. It seems they don't think about it at all; they just know they want them. But when pressed, people say things like:

1.  I want the experience of being a parent.
2.  I have so much to teach a child and I'll learn so much from them.
3.  You're not fully grown up until you have your own kids.
4.  I know my partner and I will be great parents.
5.  I've always wanted a family.

These aren't altruistic reasons. Reasons 1, 3 and 5 are about satisfying your own desires and making sure you get certain life experiences. Reason 2 is neutral, but I wonder about people who want children because of the ways they themselves will learn and grow. You're going to create a human being to serve as a living workbook for your benefit? And reason 4 sounds a bit egotistical, too. Does this person want to show the world how parenting should be done? Do they think some people are more deserving of children than others? What makes them think they're better?

These are just the reasons people are likely to say out loud. From talking to friends who've been raising children for the past 10 to 25 years, I know less-spoken reasons are peer pressure, family pressure, spouse pressure, not fully realizing there's an option to not have kids, and being afraid of running out of time (to be able to biologically carry a pregnancy to term). I hope it's clear to you that these aren't good reasons to have a child either. Having a baby to ease your guilt or lessen the feeling of being the odd person out fits my definition of self-serving. And do I need to mention the selfishness of creating your own biological child when the world has so many abandoned children who desperately need homes?

Then there's a reason I'm sure no one will ever cop to. One of the subjects of a recent This American Life episode voiced it (that's National Public Radio's weekly show that explores topics by featuring real life stories on that topic). Two high school girls were given robotic dolls that acted like babies, so they could get a glimpse of motherhood. Using technology that made each doll specifically respond its "mother," the system taught each girl what it was like to have a baby wake you repeatedly at night, the frustration of trying to figure out what a baby wants and the critical need to handle babies in specific ways (such as supporting the head). The girls couldn't leave their dolls or hand them off to someone else because they wore bracelets that would send a signal if they did. They were stuck with their ersatz children for a full week.

By the end of the week, the girl who had dreamed of being a mother by age 21 had changed her mind. She decided to push children back to some later point in her life. The other one hadn't been sure how she felt about motherhood before the experiment, but at the end she decided she'd love to have kids and was looking forward to it:

Because I kind of like the feeling of having a baby. For some reason, I guess the idea that someone or something needs you and only you makes you feel all important. [CHUCKLES] It was awful, but at the same time, I was-- I kind of liked it. I'd never really thought that I would want to have a kid younger, but maybe I would. [from the transcript of the show]

There it is, and I don't think this is uncommon. People like to feel needed, especially when it makes them feel irreplaceable. There's a lot of appeal to having a little creature that loves you and only you in this special way. It's an ego boost. It makes you feel important. It makes you feel loveable.

So when Pope Francis, or whoever, makes those well-worn statements about how those of us who choose not to have kids are selfish, I want to say, "Okay, maybe I am selfish for not having kids. But let's examine the motivations behind couples who decide to start a family. Are they completely selfless and altruistic? I think not." I'm not saying people who want children are more selfish than those of us who don't. I'm saying that if we size this up fairly, we come to the conclusion that we're all the same amount of selfish. People take action for their own personal gain. That's just human nature. So let's state the full truth: we are all selfish in our own ways. Having kids is selfish and not having kids is selfish. Likewise, there are selfless reasons to want kids and selfless reasons to not want kids (not genetically passing on disease, leaving more resources for the children of others, etc.). No one's perfect. Except maybe for the Pope, I guess.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hooray for fat yoga!

When I put on 50 pounds (23 kilos) between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2013, I didn't know if that weight was here to stay or not, but now it's starting to come off. It's probably similar to a woman who puts on 50 pounds while pregnant, and then finally starts to lose them. It's a relief, but it also just feels like going back to the way things are supposed to be. When you don't carry the extra weight for long, weight loss can just feel like returning to normal. Below is a photo of me taken last week. For a photo of me taken in August 2013, go here.

13 April 2015
I didn't spend a lot of time at my highest weight, but one of my favorite forms of exercise is yoga and when I hit size 18, it got much harder to take my weekly yoga class. Even after I pointed out to the trim instructor that I couldn't bend the way she did, she offered no modified poses for me. There was no way I could do her moves because my stomach was in the way (and for the most part, it still is), but Jessica disappointed me. When I asked how I might make the poses work for my chubby body, she began giving me advice on losing weight. It was insulting and completely disregarded the question I was asking. It's interactions like that that make people think things like "skinny bitch."

Yoga instructors must accommodate the fat people in their classes, especially in a beginner class, which Jessica's was. It's alienating and rude not to give modified pose options when there are people whose bodies just don't bend the way the instructor's does.

I appreciate very much yoga studios that not only accommodate fat people, but focus on us, so I love the title of this New York Times article They're Not Afraid to Say It: 'Fat Yoga.' The Fat Yoga studio in Portland, Oregon gives fat people the opportunity to enjoy the relaxation and invigoration of yoga without feeling like we don't belong. Check out the article for places that offer fat yoga in other cities.

At these studios the instructors are fat, the students are fat and everyone gets a chance to feel the invigoration of stretching, breathing and fully inhabiting your body in a relaxed way. Unlike every other yoga class I'd ever taken, the fat yoga class I took involved absolutely no ego. We weren't there to hit every pose perfectly. We were there to give ourselves permission to simply enjoy being in our bodies. The instructor told us that in her personal yoga practice, sometimes she moved through poses and sometimes it was all she could do to just lie in corpse pose (flat on your back) and try to coax her body into releasing its tension. She was very matter-of-fact about the goal being to relax and accept yourself just as you are. While I'd heard a variation on that idea in conventional yoga classes, it was in the fat yoga class that it felt most sincere. 

What I like about fat yoga is that unlike in other yoga classes, the teacher doesn't come around and push you into the pose or make comments about how "well" someone is doing a stretch. You're all just there to give yourselves permission to fully be in your bodies. There's a Buddhist view: start where you are. I think fat yoga classes practice that approach better than any other yoga classes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I love my glucose level!

Yesterday I attended the Asian Human Services Spring Health Fair where I got "my numbers" checked. That refers to my blood glucose level, cholesterol level, blood pressure and weight. The one I'm focused on is blood glucose level because that's what started my whole torturous sugar-free, grain-free and dairy-free experiment (my doctor put me on a variation of the candida diet). In September my blood glucose was somewhere above 100 so, in terror of developing diabetes, I began a new way of eating. I reduced sugars and starches (but I was supposed to cut them entirely), eliminated dairy foods and increased the amount of fat, protein and vegetables I eat. I was also supposed to cut out caffeine and alcohol, but those weren't a part of my habits anyway.

By December I managed to get my blood glucose down to 95, which was better, but not good. According to conventional medicine, anything below 99 is fine, but according to my holistic-oriented doctor, a truly healthy level is between 70 and 85. 

Yesterday my level was 82! I'm so glad about this! As a sugar addict, it's been @!&-damn, f#%*-ing hard to cut the amount of sugar and flour I eat, and I've been far from perfect. But apparently you don't have to eliminate those things 100% to improve your health and thank god for that. I'm relieved to find that what I've been doing is working. Now I don't have to kill anyone. (My cholesterol level was also down, even though fewer sugars and starches means I've been eating more fats, eggs and other animal products.)

But since my goal has shifted from just getting that blood glucose number down to eliminating my monstrual cramps, the diet continues. I'm constantly aware that my next period is always on the way which means I'd better not think about pastries and cookies. My menstrual pain has improved since I started this whole health push, but it's a slow process. Apparently a lifetime of sucking down sugar all day long really does a number on your hormonal health (surprise). By the age of 48, my body needs a long healing process of really good nutrition and no damn sugar. 

Onward.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't respond to phone calls from the IRS

This morning I received a call on my cell phone. The incoming call had a 347 area code. A young-sounding woman asked for Regina Martin and told me she was calling from the Internal Revenue Service. For a few seconds I started to sweat, but then I remembered that the IRS never calls people at home as a first contact. They reach you by postal mail, so this was probably a scam. The woman asked if I was aware that there was a warrant out for my arrest (no). She asked if I wanted more information about that. I said yes. She explained that I had broken three federal laws by filing income tax forms that were incorrect. She asked if I wanted more information on the laws I had broken. I said yes. She said it was about incorrect calculations on my tax returns and failing to report income. She said I owed money. Apparently she was following up on information the IRS had mailed to me weeks earlier.

Hearing that she was following up on a letter made me nervous again because sometimes I don't open my mail immediately, but I kept in mind that the chances of this being a real call were low. She asked a lot of questions for someone who was calling to give me information. She asked if I had received the IRS's letter. She asked if I was sure I hadn't received the letter. She asked if I filed my taxes myself or if I had used a tax preparer (I didn't answer this). She then told me that because of the warrant out for my arrest, I could expect the police to arrive soon. She said that as soon as we hung up she would forward my file to the local police in my area who would come to my door, arrest me and place me in a holding cell where I'd have to await trial.

It was when she asked if I did my taxes or used a preparer that I decided this was definitely a scam phone call. If she were really calling from the IRS to tell me I was in trouble, why would she need to ask how I filed my taxes? The other suspicious thing was the background noise: I could hear many more conversations going on, as if this woman were sitting with many other people making phone calls, all at the same time. Her little description of what being arrested would be like also seemed unprofessional. Finally, I found it odd the way she only gave me bits of information and then asked if I wanted to know more. That's how advertising works, not enforcers of the law.

When I wouldn't answer any questions about my taxes or finances, she reminded me that as soon as we hung up, she'd forward my file to my local police who would come and arrest me within 40 minutes. She asked if I had anything to say. In an attempt to find out exactly what the scam was, I said, "What do I have to do to make the police not come and arrest me?" She said she could only help me if I'd answer her questions about how I'd filed my taxes. I still wouldn't do that, so she reminded me about the police and asked again, "Do you have anything to say?" I said, "I didn't do it." She said, "Didn't do what?" I said, "I didn't commit tax fraud." She told me again that she could only help me if I talked to her.

Then I asked for her name and exactly where she was calling from. She said her name was Lucy Roland and she was calling from the investigation office in Brooklyn, New York. I asked for her exact title and she said she investigated cases for the IRS. When I pressed for a job title, she said she was an investigation officer. I asked her for a phone number I could call to talk about my case. She said that once we hung up, it would be too late, she'd forward my file. I insisted on a phone number in case I changed my mind a few minutes after we hung up and wanted to talk more. Finally she gave me a number: 347-732-5357. At some point earlier in the call, she had asked me if I wanted my case number. I said yes and she gave it to me.

At this point I laughed and said, "I earn about $40,000 a year and I find it very unlikely that the IRS would go after me for tax fraud. And to actually send the police to arrest me!" She said she was just informing me of what was going to happen. I said, "So the police will be here 40 minutes after we hang up?" She said, "Yes." I said, "Okay, well then I'll go shower now, and get ready for them." We hung up, and I called the number she had given me. I got a busy signal.

My message to you today: The IRS doesn't make phone calls. They send letters. These scammers are assholes who play on one of our worst American fears: doing time and/or paying penalties for tax evasion. The woman kept saying the words "warrant" and "arrest." It was scary and cruel.

Our phone call ended at 10:50 a.m. It's now 12:42 as I finish this post, and I'm still waiting for the police. Just in case, I've eaten a hearty meal and put on some nice makeup.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I am old. Say it!

The other night I was at the meeting of a non-profit that works with refugees that have recently come to Chicago. The room contained about three people in their 20s, maybe three people in their 30s and three of us who were over 45. One of the young women in her 20s was talking about how to format a publication and mentioned that we should keep the font large "so it can be read by people who are..."At this point she stumbled for words.

The man who looked like he was in his 60s said, "Were you about to say 'older?' Are you saying that older people have trouble reading?"

The young woman looked uncomfortable, "Well, no. I mean just in general maybe people have trouble -- "

The man smiled and watched her for a moment before he said, "No, it's true. People have more problems with our eyes when we get older."

He did this a second time a little later, seeming to take affront to the word "older." Both times he changed his criticism into a joke, but he was making the young woman visibly uncomfortable. I finally spoke up.

"Yes, 'old.' There's nothing wrong with the word 'old,'" I said, glancing at the man and then addressing the woman. "He's old, I'm old, we're old. No problem!"

When I looked back at the old guy, he didn't say anything, but he stopped making cracks about the word "old."

Why do people in their 50s and 60s have so much trouble with the word "old?" Recent news articles report that people over the age of 55 don't even want to be called "mature."  It didn't use to be this way. People who are now in their 70s and 80s accepted words like "seniors" and "elderly" with grace twenty years ago. It's specifically Baby Boomers who seem to reject the fact of their own aging.

I find this aversion to one's own age annoying. How can someone who's so insecure about turning 60 have the confidence to walk around with jet black (or bright red or deep blond) hair that doesn't match their wrinkles at all? I hope Generation X doesn't follow the Boomers' vain, delusional trend of wearing their forever-young desperation on their brightly colored sleeves.

Or maybe it's just that Americans have equated youth with health, and aging with lack of health. If "old" simply means "unhealthy," then of course everyone wants to avoid being old. But if we're changing the language and "old" becomes a term we apply only to the unhealthy, then how do we describe healthy old people?

Maybe we can just use age ranges. Instead of senior centers we'll have people-over-the-age-of-65 centers. If finding an inoffensive adjective is too hard (and it seems to be), we'll have to stay clinical and numbers-centered. But my preference is to force Baby Boomers to learn that being old is perfectly fine and can have positive as well as negative connotations. I want to slap some sense into them and say, "There's nothing wrong with being old! It doesn't make you a worse human being. Get over it!" It's what I wanted to do with that man in the meeting. I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him, "'Say it after me: I am old. Say it!'"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thank you, friends

I'm very grateful to my friends. I had a bout of depression in the past week and they responded in just the right ways. They asked how they could help and offered to talk, but they didn't give me a pep talk or keep asking why I was depressed. They just let me know they were there for me, and besides that they just trusted me to work through it. It definitely helped to know they were thinking of me and were willing to come over or take me out if I wanted it.

Why was I depressed? That's a question you learn not to ask when you truly understand depression.  Depression isn't an emotion. Depression is an emotional disorder. It's an illness that has symptoms,  flare-ups, remissions and can pop up out of nowhere. Think of it as similar to other chronic conditions like migraines, back aches and arthritis. Sometimes depression is just there when you wake up, for no reason you can figure out. You just think, "Oh, no. It's back," and all you can do is take care of yourself and ride it out until it gets better. For a back ache, you might apply heat. For a migraine you might take a pill and avoid a lot of physical stimulation. For depression, I make sure to be very gentle with myself. What helps me most is meditation, walking, EFT and interacting with others or not, as it feels right. Sometimes I'm grateful to have a dinner party to go to. Other times I want to stay in and lose myself in a movie or book. I make sure to take my anti-depressant and my SAMe. I get plenty of sleep and try not to skip any meals. For me, meditation and EFT are good for dealing with the worst of the pain, but besides that, I have to just be patient until the episode ends.
 
Because I've been talking about my depression for years, my friends are getting good at giving me what I need. They know my depression isn't usually influenced by external factors; it's just a condition I live with. I love this: friends I talked to over the weekend didn't ask me why I was depressed! That was a great relief. As with migraines and arthritis, depression can be triggered by general stress or it can be brought on by nothing you can pinpoint. It would be appropriate for someone to wonder if my depression is the result of stress in general, but I still appreciate them not asking because when I'm in depression I feel like I don't know anything. Questions can be hard to answer.

There's no cheering up me up per se when I'm experiencing a depressive episode. You might be able to take my mind off of myself for a little while, but if you're clearly trying to make me feel better, that can backfire. If you try to get me to look on the bright side, it'll look like you're uncomfortable with my mood. If I sense that you're uncomfortable with my mood, I'll become uncomfortable with you. At best, I'll want to end the interaction; at worst, I'll resent you for not accepting me as I am. 

Feeling accepted is critical when I'm depressed. A psychology student recently asked me to describe depression and I said, "Depression is an abandoning of yourself. Whether it's not being able to get out of bed, or feeling angry with everyone, it's a feeling of not wanting to be yourself anymore. Or even if you're acting like everything's fine and you're good, then that's still cutting yourself off from your own feelings. Whether you're acting happy or you're totally sad or you're just numb, it's an abandonment of yourself and your feelings. Depression is not being on your own side anymore."

That's why it's important for my friends to accept me as I am when I'm depressed. I've rejected myself, so I need them not to. It's also important that they not give reasons I should feel good. When I'm depressed, I hate myself. I've got the critical voice in my head loud and strong, telling me it's stupid to be depressed and I should take some action and then I'll feel better. When others point out reasons my life is good, they only enforce that shaming voice. As frustrating as I'm sure it is, when I'm depressed, pointing out the good parts of my life can make things worse. 

It's not easy to be friends with someone who manages depression, and it's even harder to be married to one. I greatly appreciate everyone who bends and stretches to learn about depression and who makes things a little easier for me when mine comes back.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

White fragility

Recently Michigan public radio did a story called Why All White People Are Racist, But Can't Handle Being Called Racist: The Theory of White Fragility. One might wonder the following: what is white fragility? Do we need more jargon about racism? Why are we talking about white people again?

After listening to the story, I realized I've encountered white fragility. White fragility is the hypersensitivity with which white people often receive the news that, yes, they count as racist. Many white people believe that the word "racist" doesn't apply to them because they've equated "racism" with killing Black people, using the n word, believing in white supremacy and being an asshole in general. They think, "I don't believe white people are better, I've never killed anyone and I'd never use the n word, so there's no way I'm a racist." They don't (want to) realize that racism includes many more behaviors than using racial slurs and aiming guns at people of color.

I've blogged this before: racism is when you make any assumption about someone else based on their skin color. This means it's also racist to assume someone is smart or better with computers or good with children based on their skin color. All Americans are racist because those assumptions are part of our learned culture. I'm racist. You're racist. We are all perfectly nice people and we are racist. We're also implicated in racism because we're part of the American traditions and institutions that treat people unfairly according to our skin color. Racism is simply part of the fabric of American society and culture. (If you're a white person who's having a hard time with this paragraph, you're experiencing white fragility right now.)

So here's my experience with white fragility. I recently made a Facebook friend who's an American white man in his 40's. I met "Mike" recently when we both took a TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) course. Mike had linked the following article on his Facebook page: Indiana Democrat Says GOP Colleague's 18-Month-Old Son Is Racist. I believe he was being sarcastic when he commented "Perfect."

I commented that babies are very aware of skin color so, of course, an 18-month-old might be racist if it reacted to someone based on the color of her skin; babies are racist just like we all are: aware of skin color and making assumptions based on that skin color.  One of Mike's friends then commented that because babies can't carry out violence or call names, they can't possibly be racist. From what I could tell from her Facebook page, it looked like this friend was an American white woman. I directed her to my blog post of November 24, which she apparently read. She commented that she disagreed with me and asked Mike to weigh in.

Mike commented that he also disagreed with me. In addition to other statements, I responded, "Like many white people, you and Cindy are using a definition of racism that conveniently excludes you." I told him I was including myself in a definition of racism that's much more pervasive and commonly shared than he or his friend wanted to see.

I might not need to tell you that Mike and Cindy rejected my opinions. A day or so later I returned to Mike's post, only to find that he'd taken it down. I emailed him directly and said I had wanted to continue the exchange, but it seemed he'd taken down his original post. He didn't respond and some time after that he unfriended me. That's white fragility.

Do we need a new word? Has the word "racist" become too inflammatory to evoke anything but the most negative responses from white people (especially the nice ones)? I don't think so. White people who are brave and clear-eyed are able to face their own racism without their egos feeling threatened. White people who truly understand the structure of American racism recognize their place in it and know that doesn't mean they aren't good people. They know not to take it personally when someone recognizes their white privilege. And if I had any doubt that there are white people who are secure enough and brave enough to own their racism, it disappeared today when I saw the video embedded below. It's a self-named redneck talking about the need for white people to stop letting fear keep them from standing up against racist language, behavior and thinking. This video was published by "W Honky" on YouTube on April 4, 2015 and it impresses the hell out of me.


This man has no fear of the concept of white privilege, which is rare in a person with white privilege. Do you own your white privilege? (Many people of color have some, including me.)

Yes, we're talking about white people again, but there's no way to discuss racism without doing so. I remember when the "Criming While White" hashtag was trending on Twitter last December. I posted my frustration with the people of color who thought it was inappropriate for white people to take part in a discussion about the double standard with which police treat people. People thought whites were bragging about all the crimes they had gotten away with, when what was really going on was that white people were recognizing their white privilege. They were seeing it, many of them for the first time. I found that exciting and encouraging, but many people of color criticized #crimingwhilewhite as being white people taking up all the oxygen again. They missed the importance of what was going on.

White fragility makes it damn hard for people of color to talk to white people about racism. As I found out with Mike, white people can respond quite negatively to being called racist, even if the speaker is also calling herself racist.* The best chance for getting through to people with white fragility is for white people to do it. Criming While White did that. W Honky is doing that. I think people like him are the most likely to be able to successfully explain to white people how they participate in racism and why it has to stop. I hesitate to write this, but sometimes the best thing people of color can do to advance the cause is to be quiet and let the white people talk to each other.

*Uh, yeah, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My skull ring


This is a photo of my hand wearing my current favorite ring. I love this ring because I find the idea of death comforting. For me, life is busy, loud, often overwhelming and too often painful. Life is full of people moving quickly and too many things to do and not enough places to go to the bathroom. It's a relief to know that at the end of all these responsibilities and challenges, there will be rest. There will be silence and stillness forever. I live for that. 

Ordered ring from www.theSilverDragonJewelry.com. They use only reclaimed (recycled) silver and make everything custom.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Enjoying a book about The Twilight Zone


I think I've watched all five seasons of the original Twilight Zone series enough times to be able to read this book. It's Stewart Stanyard's Dimensions Behind The Twilight Zone with a foreward by Neil Gaiman. It was a gift from my sister and it's not only a good coffee table book, it's great to actually read.

How To Cancel Service

I've been having Internet connection problems for weeks now (it started on 20 March) and have finally had it with Comcast. I'm cancelling service this week and switching back to AT&T. I only left AT&T because Comcast had a good deal back in 2013 when I moved into this apartment, but it's not worth it. I don't know what's going on with them, but my Internet service cuts out several times a week these days. One minute I have full connection, the next minute I have no connection. Maybe they're going through changes right now and it'll get better, but I'm out of patience. The worst is trying to connect with my 2010 Apple PowerBook which is the most sensitive to Comcast's crappy connection. So I'm blogging on my iPad again, using my Blogger app today. That means the font will be weird again.

TIP: if you want to cancel a service or credit card or whatever without the rep trying to talk you into keeping it, this is the answer to give when they ask why you're cancelling: "It's emotional and I don't want to talk about it." 

I just cancelled a MasterCard because I got it for a specific reason that makes it painful to even look at the thing. When they asked why I was cancelling, I said, "It's emotional and I don't want to talk about it," and the rep backed off! It totally cut the conversation short, so I'm going to do the same thing with Comcast. They might be the magic words.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Moon

Tonight the full moon slices through veils of clouds, glowing brighter than a communion wafer.

A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture



This is just too good to not pass along. Zaron Burnett III published this article last year, but I think it'll be timely for a long time yet: A Gentleman's Guide To Rape Culture. Zaron is a man addressing other men on how not to participate in the daily sexism that fosters our culture which assumes women enjoy being objectified. He points out, "Men are the primary agents and sustainers of rape culture," but my favorite line is:

When a guy cat-calls a woman and you don’t say something, he just treated her like a cheaply degraded sex object for his satisfaction and he turned you into the punk-ass that’s willing to allow him to mistreat a woman in your presence … while you say nothing.

Check it out.