Monday, December 31, 2012

Any humans out there?

Dear Person Reading My Blog Right Now:

If you wouldn't mind leaving me a comment, I'd hugely appreciate it. A lot of the hits that any blog gets are automated search engines and websites. So if I see that my blog got 30 visits, that really means that some fraction of that number were actual humans who actually read a post. The rest were not real hits.

Please do me a favor: if you're reading this right now, leave a comment on this post answering the following question:

How did you discover my blog?

I'm just feeling some blogger insecurity these days. Thanks!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fat and middle-aged: the advantages

Visiting with a friend's dogs on Christmas Eve
This post is specifically for women "of a certain age," although young women might also find it interesting.

For me the best part of being middle-aged and overweight is not having to waste time and energy playing the "is he looking at me?" game. I was single and thin until my 40's and I spent a lot of effort trying to catch the attention of other single people (mostly, but not always, men). I fanatically kept my weight down, carefully chose my clothes and constantly looked at myself in mirrors and reflections to make sure I looked pretty and sexy. In the gym I abandoned all modesty and wore tight tops and short shorts. Everywhere, at all times, I glanced into faces to see how many eyes were on me. Is he looking at me? Is he looking at me?

Yes, it showed lack of confidence and low self-esteem, but so it was. Even when I wasn't actively looking for romance, I needed to know that my face and/or body had everyone's attention. Am I pretty enough? Am I sexy enough? The disadvantage was that I constantly felt vulnerable to the attentions of men. Whenever someone gave me attention I didn't want, I felt helpless, scared, like I wanted to hide. I didn't feel powerful or comfortable in my sexuality, but I thought it was all I had that kept me from being invisible.

That was my life in my 20s and 30s. I'm 46 now and no longer carry that air of loneliness, desperation and longing for approval. My need for people to notice my physical beauty must have been as clear as a neon sign for decades, but I've turned that sign off. No more searching faces to see if my body is being appreciated, no more sucking in my gut when I walk by someone, no more straining to check my appearance in every reflective surface.

I am settling into my middle-age. My face no longer appears 30-years-old-or younger, so I no longer appeal to men who scope out 30-years-old-or younger women. Does this make me feel sad? No! It makes me feel relieved that I can be myself without trying to meet anyone's standards of beauty and sexiness. Also, to be physically admired feels good, but beauty can also be distracting. Beautiful young women aren't always taken seriously. People make assumptions about women and men who are extremely attractive and those assumptions aren't always positive. Being beautiful means having some degree of social caché, but it doesn't always lead in the direction you want to go and it's a very limited "skill." The bottom line is that young women don't hold a lot of power in American society, but when beauty and sexiness don't get them where they want to go, thank goodness middle age comes along and gives them a chance to develop real skills and power.

I am content to have moved out of the demographic of "pretty young women." It was fun while it lasted, but pretty young women are also a targeted population and I felt unease about that all the time. That fear is finally fading as I outgrow my youthful physical appearance. At age 46, I can now have an exchange with a man and know that our attention is on the conversation, not on sizing each other up for possible further contact. I love being able to talk to neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers without that mental buzzing concert of either "Does he think I'm pretty? Could this interaction go somewhere?" Or "Does he find me sexually attractive? Because I don't feel that way about him. How do I scrape him off?"

Yes, I burned a lot of valuable energy on that whole attractiveness thing, but without the narrow waist and young boobs to distract people (including me, since I felt self-conscious about my body), I can have free and relaxed interactions and it feels great. I'm learning that there is so much more to life than being pretty! There's stuff like:
  • Self-esteem that's based on who I am on the inside, not the outside.
  • Ability to take care of my emotional needs (includes friendships, support groups, knowing when to rest and when to get moving, and being in tune with my moods).
  • Valuable tools to get me through daily challenges and crises (includes Emotional Freedom Technique).
  • Being comfortable in my body.
  • Less concern about what others think of me.
  • Forty-six years of experience, wisdom and creativity to calmly face whatever might be ahead.
  • Knowing what's necessary, what isn't necessary and what I'm really better off without. 
  • Love and acceptance of myself. It's been a long time coming.
These gifts feel so much better to me than being pretty enough to catch everyone's eye at the gym! If this is the trade-off for youth, I call it a bargain.

The title of this post includes the word "fat" because my weight gain in the past couple of months has taught me that being 5 foot 2 inches and 155 pounds feels quite different from 5'2" and 130 pounds. Being overweight moves me even further from the kind of body that hungry American male eyes constantly seek. Being overweight has its drawbacks (limited movement, more odd aches and pains), but I've discovered a big advantage: it makes me feel even safer in a world where young women are vulnerable and preyed on.

Middle aged women are powerful. The Emotional Freedom Technique Meetup (tapping circle) I started last summer is coming into its own. A group of us meets each week to release fear, guilt and anger and to celebrate when we achieve goals and reach new levels of freedom from limitation. It's no coincidence that the majority of our core group is women over the age of 45. Unhampered by the frantic life-building that often characterizes the younger years, we're discovering strengths and tools to heal ourselves more deeply than ever. We're not afraid to dive into burning emotions and painful memories. As a group we are working through emotional blocks and individually we are improving our ability to take care of ourselves. The EFT Tapping Circle is a priceless resource for me and is just one example of how powerful women become when we're no longer using major brain power for attracting and mating. (NOTE: all are welcome to join us in our tapping circle any Saturday morning on the north side of Chicago!)

In my late 20s, filled with fear and insecurity, I said to myself, "I'll bet everything will be better by the time I'm 45. Yeah, I'm going to look forward to 45. Come on, 45!" It turns out, I was right. My 20s and 30s were filled with awful struggles with my own inner demons, but on the other side of those struggles were my 40s and they feel much happier and more comfortable. Being fat, middle-aged and confident feels a hundred times better than being young, thin and scared all the time. As a young woman, I knew one day my youthful physical appearance would go away, but no one told me that by the time I got there, I wouldn't care!

Be middle-aged with me. The best is right here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve activity

Lifesource is open for business today, so I'm heading over. They sent me an email saying the holidays are a time when they NEED BLOOD DONATIONS and they hope I'll help. I'm hydrating right at this minute so I can be a good bleeder, if they accept me. I don't always get accepted because my iron level isn't always high enough, but either way I get free snacks, so what's to keep me from at least trying?
You can also contact the American Red Cross to donate blood. If you're not in the U.S. I urge you to find your local blood donation center because blood donations are constantly needed all over the world. What better way to celebrate what many call the season of giving? I'm bleeding for Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Letter to Congress about a ban on semi-automatic weapons

My sister wrote the following letter to Senator Diane Feinstein of California, but is sending copies to her congressional representatives, too. She gave me permission to send a similar letter to my Illinois reps, copying entire passages from hers, and she encouraged me to share it with everyone who reads this blog.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I have recently learned of your plan to introduce legislation banning assault weapons from use in the United States. I am writing to ask you to please implement a retro-active ban on ownership of these weapons.

In the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Australia which killed 35 people, public opinion was such that Australia’s government was able to successfully implement a far-reaching gun control measure. Within the new law was a restriction on the ownership of semi-automatic weapons including a retro-active ban on ownership of these weapons.  Although some gun owners weren’t happy about giving up their semi-automatic weapons, they were appeased by the government implementing a buy-back program in which the government bought back the newly banned guns at a rate of the retail price plus ten percent.

Over the last 15 years, as a result of the ban, Australia, who had previously seen a mass shooting approximately every year, has seen no mass-shootings.

It seems to me that the American people deserve nothing less than a comprehensive ban on semi-automatic weapons. If the hunter-rich, gun loving Australians can pass such legislation, we should give the American people the opportunity to do likewise.

A good commentary on these issues is the
Democracy Now program of Dec. 18, 2012 which features Rebecca Peters, former Chairperson of Australia’s National Coalition for Gun Control.

Thank you for your time and consideration of the above.


Judy Rodriguez
Houston, TX

Friday, December 21, 2012

Shouldn't it be 28 bells?

I appreciated the moment of silence the country observed this morning as 26 chimes of a bell honored those who were killed last week on the school grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School. I heard some used the number 27 to include Nancy Lanza, the mother of the killer, but I didn’t hear anyone suggest 28 (correction: one entity did).

Shouldn't it be 28 bells? As someone who has struggled to believe life is worth living, I feel sad for Adam Lanza. Clearly this was a young person in an unimaginable amount of pain. I can tell it's unimaginable because few Americans have even tried to imagine it. I've heard the questions, "How could anyone do that?" and "What kind of person?" I wish these were honest attempts to understand, but mostly these have been rhetorical questions that precede a good session of vilifying the latest crazy person. I have an answer for "How could anyone do that?" but it's hardly worth sharing with someone who means, "How could anyone do that except for a monster who should never have been born and who better be burning in hell right now?" [My audience for this piece does NOT include anyone with a direct relationship with anyone who died in Newtown last week.]

I've heard no prayers said for Adam Lanza, no public honoring of his life or acknowledgement that he was a victim, too. The people in Adam's life failed him, just as we fail countless people who struggle with emotional and personality disorders every day. He needed help and it wasn't there for him.

It regularly occurs to me that life is unbearably hard and kids don’t deserve the pain that many of them face. Sometimes I look at babies and feel sorry for them because they’re at the very beginning of their lives and who knows what terrible ordeals they'll have to go through. I can imagine Adam believing he was sparing the Sandy Hook students from having to live in an awful world with awful people and pointless suffering. I think that's often the motivation when mothers kill their children. To release an innocent child from a hellish life on a wretched planet can be seen as an act of mercy. I have no idea if this was Adam's reasoning, but take a minute and consider it. Can you step outside yourself and try to imagine, just for a second, the logic that would lead someone to think killing is an appropriate thing to do?

No? Maybe you can't. Many people choose not to imagine the minds of the unstable because it's disconcerting to see the world through the eyes of someone whose logic is so twisted. Or maybe you're afraid of how much you might have in common with the depressed, the manic or the schizophrenic. Why would you want to step outside of your safe, sane mind and try to understand a disturbed person? Why would you want to get that close to ideas you want to keep out of your head?

Because we distance ourselves from the mentally ill there's little sympathy for Adam. It's easier to see him as crazy-scary: someone who should have been shot before he had a chance to shoot others. Or if we see him as an ill person who needed treatment, we think such treatment should have cast the devil out of him, as if emotional disorders were caused by evil.

We need to get semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of regular Americans and we need to make mental health care easily accessible, but we also need to develop true sympathy for those who live with mental illness. Americans like to see everything as either good or evil, using even medical symptoms as clues to someone's moral standing. This is what we've done with Adam Lanza. Even those willing to accept that he must have been mentally ill tend to use that phrase as code for evil. We say "He must have been sick" with judgment, not understanding. But if everyone who suffered from an emotional or personality disorder made our challenge known to our families, neighbors and co-workers, Americans would eventually be forced to change our attitude about mental illness. Mental illness is everywhere and it's not evil and it rarely leads to violence. Most symptoms of many disorders are driven by fear, not the desire to hurt anyone.

Whatever Adam was suffering from was beyond his control, and no one stepped in to get him the help he needed. His slaughter of 27 people might be the ugliest, most senseless killing the United States experiences for a very, very long time, but Adam Lanza did not step out of the mouth of hell. He was an American boy with a disorder that no one paid enough attention to. (In a country where people don't have access to powerful weaponry, his symptoms might have led to a more innocuous breakdown.) We'll never know what he was thinking, but I think that's enough to earn him the benefit of the doubt. I mourn Adam Lanza along with the people he killed because every life cut short in Newtown that day was a tragedy. Each of those schoolchildren deserved to grow up, and so did Adam.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

[I originally posted this on January 5, 2006 and it's my tradition to re-post it every December.]

Here’s my summary of the History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas which I find extremely relevant to the annual discussion of the true meaning of Christmas. The following historical facts are from the History Channel program, but the opinionated statements are mine.

Christmas Started Without Jesus

It turns out that early Europeans were observing a winter solstice celebration centuries before Jesus was born. In Norse country it was called “Yule” and it lasted for as long as the enormous “Yule log” took to burn, which was about twelve days. In preparation for the cold, dark season people would kill almost all their livestock since they couldn’t feed them through the winter. The feasting and general revelry that resulted became the annual Yule celebration.

In Rome the winter solstice marked the period known as “Saturnalia.” During this festival people drank, behaved raucously and generally overturned the normal social order. While this was going on, the upper classes of Rome worshipped Mithras, the sun god, whose feast day was December 25th and who was believed to have been born in a field and worshipped by shepherds.

Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth, focusing on his resurrection (which makes a lot more sense to me), but by the fourth century the new Church needed to establish Jesus’ holy birth, so it began to put together the nativity story. It knew it would never manage to outlaw the pagan traditions already in place, so it appropriated them and that’s how December 25th became Jesus’ feast day.

It Had More Sex Than Saints

In England during the middle ages, the pious went to church on December 25th for “Christ’s mass,” but for most of the population it was just a regular day. Most of those who celebrated made it a festival of drunken revelry and sex that would look more to us like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It was a saturnalian free-for-all with little connection to Jesus except in name.

By the 17th century the Puritans had had enough of this and they made attempts to outlaw Christmas in both England and the New World. These devout people saw Christmas as a depraved tradition that had to be stopped. It didn’t work, but the holiday was greatly downplayed for a long time, as evidenced by the U.S. Congress being in session on all Christmas Days for its first 67 years!

America Needed a Tradition

When the United States were established in 1776, the early Americans wanted to rid themselves of all things English, including Christmas. But over time they also needed new culturally shared holidays and a reinvention of Christmas was on the horizon.

One new aspect of the American Christmas was how it addressed the growing class divide of the industrial U.S. In the early 1800’s the holiday became quite dangerous as working class people turned it into a time of violent payback for the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. In response to growing economic imbalances, writers like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens created works of fiction that instilled a spirit of generosity and demonstrated sharing wealth with the poor. These popular stories gave the upper classes guidance about what their responsibility was to those who had less and established “giving” as a central Christmas theme. Christmas now gave people a chance to correct some of the socioeconomic unfairness of newly industrialized America.

The view of the family was also changing. Traditionally, the American family was supposed to discipline children and turn them into hard workers, but by the end of the 19th century the family was seen more as a nurturing body that protected childhood innocence. Christmas, with its emphasis on giving gifts, allowed people to pour attention on children without seeming to spoil them. The holiday became a celebration of children, honoring them with presents and sharing in their joy.

Why Shopping Is Central

The creation of the American version of Santa Claus in the mid-1800's did a few things: it reinforced the idea that Christmas distributes wealth, it solidified the focus on children and it removed gift-buying from the marketplace and placed it in the realm of family love and affection. Shopping became an expression of love. This diminished the obvious commercialism of gift-buying and obliged parents to fulfill their children’s expectations. Thus did shopping become the central activity of the Christmas season.

But Where Was God?

By the late 1800’s Christmas was just about everywhere in the U.S, except in church. In fact, the author of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was an Episcopalian minister who initially kept his authorship a secret because he thought the poem was too friviolous; after all, it didn’t mention Jesus once. The celebration of Jesus’ birth was an established part of the Catholic tradition, but for quite a while American Protestant churches pretty much ignored it. For decades they stayed closed on December 25th until their parishioners made clear that they wanted services on that day.

So it's not quite true that Jesus’ birth was the original reason we have Christmas. December 25th was part of a pagan festival that morphed into a holiday of gift-giving that American churches didn’t want anything to do with until almost the 20th century. There was no golden age during which most people observed Christmas primarily as a holy day. Sorry Charlie Brown, but Snoopy's right: Christmas is as much about the big decorated tree as it is about the manger.

Does Christmas Even Need Jesus?

By the 1920’s the sex and revelry were gone from Christmas and by the 1950’s it was all about kids and presents. Clearly a spiritual focus was appropriate since religious services recall the need to connect with a greater power. In the centuries before Christ, people needed to believe they’d survive the winter and they worshipped the sun as their source of life. Modern Christians worship the son of God, whom they recognize as the source their life.

But for as long as December 25th has been recognized as Jesus’ feast day, there have been lots of other activities going on at the same time. I think if Christmas were really just about Jesus, the holiday wouldn’t occupy public space as it does. Strictly religious holy days tend to be observed only by those who practice that faith. Our grand scale yuletide traditions -- big decorations, big eating, big shopping -- support the religious significance of the day, but don’t engage it.

Pick Your Own True Meaning

The History Channel’s program ends with the observation that only children understand what Christmas is really about: pure joy and celebration, and the magic and mystery of opening gifts. That’s why, even as grown ups, we often experience a moment of delight when we see a Santa truly in his role or glimpse a dazzling light display. Such moments take us back to our childhood and the unadulterated awe and glory that Christmas held for us then. Our American Christmas tradition was tailor-made for children and they are essential to its magic.

(I think the child-focus of the holiday is also why Christmas becomes ever more dim and disappointing to us adults: the essence of this holiday isn't about us.)

The true meanings of Christmas include Jesus, but they're also about children and gift-giving. There was never a time during which the majority treated December 25th as a solemn holy day; the drunken orgy it used to be caused the Puritans to try to stamp it out altogether. Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it's as much about decorations, kids and presents as it is about God, an interesting outcome for a holiday with a rich pagan history of drunkenness, gluttony and sex.

Let us all celebrate whatever we choose during the Christmas season. For some that might be the birth of Jesus, while for others it might be an excuse to EAT (etc). I know when I tell someone "Merry Christmas," it has nothing to do with the Church. I'm just wishing them a really good season of partying.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to be overweight

I'm a small-boned, petite woman who is all of five feet two inches tall. I'm 46 and a half years old. Most of my adult life, my weight has hovered between 120 and 135. With my sweet tooth and use of food as an emotional coping mechanism, I've fought hard to keep my weight down. I could easily have been obese decades ago, but I've done a lot of food restricting and forced exercise. My life has been full of low self-esteem, pounding myself against gym equipment and obsessing about food I told myself I couldn't have.

Since the beginning of October, I've been running the experiment of throwing all my eating rules out the window. I'm using Geneen Roth's approach to food: loving myself enough to stop depriving and punishing myself with food (and exercise, in my case). From the outside it might have looked like I spent the past two decades taking very good care of myself: eating well, exercising regularly, staying trim and fit. But on the inside it was deprivation and pain and feeling convinced that if I let myself relax, I'd turn into a huge fat cow and my life would be over. All my "healthy fitness" was driven by pure fear.

Roth knows from years of experience that if you take your focus off of food and work on the true issues that are causing you to emotionally eat, the food obsession will decrease. If you stop with the fear and self-punishment and let yourself lovingly eat whatever you want, the emotional need for food will recede. Through a combination of working on our true issues and eating what we want at all times, we can dissolve the hold food has over us and reach our natural weight.

I'm doing it. Since October I've taken my cruel inner critic out of the front seat of my mind. I'm being kind to myself instead of mean and judgmental. I'm keeping in mind that I deserve to have what I want, rather than put it off until one day when I'm perfect and can then be happy. Instead, I'm choosing to be happy NOW.

Part of this has been eating whatever I want, exercising as I feel like it (or not) and loving myself. Life is good and I don't have live in fear of losing control. As a result, I'm more relaxed, I don't worry as much, I sleep better, my personal relationships have improved, my digestion has calmed and life feels good. And as of this morning, I weigh 155 pounds.

Eating whatever I want means a lot of sugar, so my weight has ballooned. I find that the most difficult parts of this sudden weight gain are having to keep buying new clothes and not being able to do the yoga moves I like. My body doesn't bend the way it used to, like a bag that has been stuffed to the brim and has no more give. I don't like it. I'm used to doing this: sit on the floor with my legs straight out in front of me, bend in two, reach forward and grasp the bottom of my feet with both hands. These days my hands only make it as far as my ankles, so my spine and legs don't get the delicious, complete stretch I want. This makes me sad. I've also been noticing odd pains in my abdomen and upper torso which I imagine are the result of gaining twenty (or twenty-five) pounds in two months. This is not good for my heart.

But the experiment is beginning to take a turn: I'm getting tired of the sugar. I have no interest in the box of Christmas cookies in the pantry right now (the good kind from the bakery) or the uncooked chocolate chip cookie dough in the fridge. In the supermarket just now, I heard the ice cream calling me, and the candy and the cupcakes, but I let them be. In the past several days I've started drinking more water and less juice. My carb cravings are shifting to sliced bread and dinner rolls instead of candy and cake frosting. It's gradual, but some days I actually want vegetables instead of potato chips (yeah, I know!).

Will Roth's theories hold true? Is it possible that I can overdose on my favorite things so that even during Christmas week -- that time of super-indulgence -- I actually want to pull back on the sugary junk? I've also been working damn hard on my personal issues and have made startling progress, so maybe I am about to stop punishing myself with food.

I solidly, inarguably weigh more than is ideal for my frame and have the odd pains to prove it. To go from a size 10 to a size 14 (16?) in so little time is unhealthy, but drastic times call for drastic measures. Bariatric bypass surgery also has its dangers: possible complications from anesthesia, infection and malnutrition. Liposuction also has risks and so do countless weight loss diets and treatments. Are my 25-pounds-in-eight-weeks so terrible compared to things other people try? I'm following a very specific path to rid myself of my food obsession and body image problem, once and for all. I trust myself to heal from my self-punishing food behaviors and I trust my body to guide me to a truly healthy way of eating. I'm committed to reaching my natural weight and living there, without the weight yo-yo-ing I've been doing since I was 25 years old. I am trusting myself and I'm sticking with the process.

WARNING: Following Geneen Roth, I put on 50 pounds that I never lost. Don't do it. 
-updated 28 Feb. 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Atheist in support of Christmas ran this article on November 19th: "Charlie Brown Christmas Show Causes Church and State Controversy." It reports that a Little Rock church was performing matinees of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for local schools. The schools sent permission slips home for the field trip, but parents who believe in the separation of church and state protested children being led into places of worship by their government-run schools as part of the school day.

That makes sense and I like Maressa Brown's reasoned opinion which she posted on
The Stir. She writes, "The season should never be treated as an excuse for doing something that wouldn't be considered appropriate at any other time of the taking public school students to see a religiously-themed play with zero application to their curriculum at a church!"

But as an atheist, I can't help but think this is the stuff that gives atheists a bad name. Is it the right move to eliminate all religious instruction from the American public school system? Wouldn't it be better to allow all religions equal time? I believe spiritual beliefs are hardwired into the human survival mechanism and without them, we would never have survived as a species (I also think we should never have survived as a species, but that's another hypocritical discussion). Rather than argue that it's wrong to shuttle innocent, open-minded children to church, how about shuttling innocent, open-minded children to every place of worship possible? I'm in favor of an all or nothing approach. Introduce American children to mosques, temples, synagogues and yes, churches. Do you know how bored they'd be? Rather than become indoctrinated and mind-washed, kids would be so turned off by the tedium of spiritual practice, they'd want little to do with it. Or they'd choose their own path, which is also fine (religious beliefs can be extremely useful and nourishing, but -- again -- that's another argument).

On the other hand, atheists shutting down school activities is in keeping with the Christmas spirit given that Christmas has a long history of people trying to stamp it out. But my American atheist brethren: do you really believe the American Christmas tradition has much to do with religion? Come on: it's a cultural tradition of consumption and childhood fantasy. Who really cares about Jesus as we stand in long lines, tally up department store bills and ingest obscene quantities of cinnamon and vanilla? Christmas is mostly a big party with the same nominal relationship to Christ that it had back in the beginning when the Christian Church linked the feast day of a pagan god to its myth of a savior.

Let's be reasonable. Those who want to go to church on December 25th and pretend this is all about God are free to do so, but besides that let's have fun! In the public eye, Christmas only becomes about religion when people shout it loud enough, so hush. And let the kids have a field trip to see a play that mentions Jesus in the end -- why the hell not? After all, it's Christmas.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

How much to tip? TWENTY percent.

Many people build their careers in the restaurant industry and they're in it for life. They pay their medical bills, rent, mortgage, children's college, etc. with the money they make from bussing tables, serving tables, tending bar, etc. The majority of their income is the money you leave as a tip. That's right. You might disagree with that arrangement and think it shouldn't be on you to keep restaurant workers at a living wage, but that's the reality in the United States. In this country, servers receive below minimum wage from their employers and they need YOU to make up the difference.

The standard tip today is twenty percent (20%), before any discounts, Groupons or freebies are subtracted from the total cost of everything you ate and drank. No matter what you're getting for free, your server/bartender/busser still had to work in order for you to get it. Please pay them for their services. Gone are the days when you could get away with a ten or fifteen percent tip without looking cheap.

Please tip fairly. Those tips are what servers, bussers, bartenders and other service providers actually LIVE ON. And to those of you who already tip 20% as a base and leave even more for superlative service, THANK YOU! You are fair and wonderful.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I'm still writing an ebook

I'm proud of myself for finishing the first (very) rough draft of my book about what it's been like to own my first dog. I have no delusions about finding an agent, but will publish it myself as an ebook that the whole world can read. If it wants to.

I pledge here on my blog that no matter how ridiculous it is (a dog book?) or how little attention it gets from the ereader world. I'm doing this. First, I take a break from it, for at least December. At some point during the cold, quiet part of winter I'll start the process of (heavy) revision. After I produce a second draft and get some feedback on it, I'll create the third draft.

I've never written a book and certainly haven't self-published. I'm not sure what happens at that point, but I think that will be the final draft and then I'll work with an online publishing site to turn it into an ebook. Then I tell the world about it!

The one-liner on it might go like this:
A personal memoir in which a spinster bride discovers that letting her husband get a dog brings change to her personal relationships, self-image and diet.

Just kidding. That sounds terrible!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2012 National Novel Writing Month Winner!

I just completed the 30-day, 50,000-word NaNoWriMo challenge! I'm so excited. It's over! It's over!

Now I order my NaNoWriMo winner's t-shirt and watch tv for a month.

(Yes, I'll get back to turning it into a real ebook, but first I take a break from brilliance.)

The Glenwood Bar in Rogers Park and dogs

Last Saturday at The Glenwood Bar, Santa took photos with dogs to benefit the local Paw-tawattomie Dog Park. I paid $10 for Ozzie’s picture and discovered that The Glenwood Bar allows dogs during the day, off leash and everything. After 8 p.m. it gets too crowded (“crazy” was the word used), but between 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. on any Saturday or Sunday, Ozzie and I can go drinking! 

I don't drink (not with conviction), but it makes the perfect turnaround point for a dog walk. It takes me and Ozzie about 15 minutes to get there, then I can have my usual (orange juice mixed with club soda), let Ozzie run around in there and then head back.

Before we left, I put Ozzie on his leash and headed toward one of the single-room bathrooms. I love those because I can bring Ozzie with me and just lock the door. But he knows there's nothing fun for him in there, so as soon as he saw the toilet he balked.

"Come on, Oz!" I said. "I let you go to the bathroom, so now you can let me go to the bathroom. It's only fair. Come on. Ozzie, yes!"

He acquiesed as grudgingly as I sometimes haul him out for a walk.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum

I shouldn't like FX's second season of American Horror Story. I'm sensitive to negative portrayals of people with mental illness and can't stand when emotional and personality disorders are associated with violence and horror. But this is a hard show for me to dislike. Briarcliff, a Catholic-run institution for the "criminally insane" exists in 1964 and is run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) who voices the wisdom of the church in the first episode: "Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sin." These are hardly administrators that the audience will identify with. American Horror Story: Asylum serves up old cliches about the mentally ill being dangerous, but the characters most committed to that belief are asylum staff who use exorcism and frontal lobotomies as respectable techniques. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), who runs human experiments behind closed doors and Sister Jude who punishes by caning, hardly model healthy human behavior.

The barbarism of their methods is openly criticized by Dr. Oliver Thredson, a ridiculously good-looking court psychiatrist who spends several episodes observing a patient at the asylum. Dr. Thredson's ideas about medication and post-partum depression seem quite enlightened until he disparages Sister Jude's spiritual cure for homosexuality only to recommend aversion therapy. And that's the dynamic that saves this show for me: the sanest people are locked up while their caretakers proves themselves, one by one, to be absolutely off their rockers. As sadistic and scary as Sister Jude is, the licensed medical doctors really need to be watched. Briarcliff houses the criminally insane? Only while the full staff are in the building.

On an online article about the show, one response caught my attention: the criticism was that in the first season there was a clear baseline of normality that this season lacks. The commenter suggests that without distinguishably sane, reasonable characters like Vivian and Ben Harmon from season one, the scary stuff has no contrast; Briarcliff's lunacy on top of lunacy doesn't have the same narrative tension. I think this commenter has failed to recognize the sane characters: they're the ones in Briarcliff who are strapped to beds, physically violated and beaten. Although Sister Jude paints all her charges with a sin-stained brush, it's the clear-eyed Kit, Lana and Grace who we sympathize with and root for. Even sexy Shelly and the woman referred to as "The Mexican" have their obsessions, but recognize the evil of certain staff members. (I'm amused that there's an elderly, female, Spanish-only character who's called nothing more than "The Mexican." This leads to a scene in which Sister Jude is looking for that patient, muttering "Where is that goddamn Mexican?" I found this funny, I don't know why).

In this same comment that caught my attention, the writer accuses this season's storyline of having no heart. I see what she means: Ben, Vivian and Violet Harmon had history and strong bonds. But I think this season we're watching bonds forming between Kit, Grace and Lana and we have yet to see how those connections will evolve. I can feel the growing heart of this show even though it's not centered on a traditional family.

This season is very creepy and plenty scary even though there are no ghosts this time. Lange's Sister Jude facing off against Cromwell's Dr. Arden is even more delicious than Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice descending from skittish-yet-earnest servant to lascivious, lying nun. Besides having experience with mental illness, I was also raised Catholic, so there's no way I can resist this. Dangerous nuns and an egotistical, self-serving monsignor? Despicable acts done in the name of the Catholic church? Crucifixes and unsettling statues at every turn? This is some twisted s--- and I'm hooked, even though I'm still sure I shouldn't be.

NaNoWriMo 2012

National Novel Writing Month 2012 is almost over. This has been my first time doing it and in just a few more days of wild-eyed typing, I'll hit the 50,000-word goal which will make me a winner. What do I win? It's kind of like a marathon: if you complete the challenge of producing a 50,000-word manuscript in thirty days, you win the feeling of having accomplished a task that few ever start. With NaNoWriMo there will be thousands of winners, basking in the exhausted glory of having Kicked It Out.

I've been averaging 2,000 words a day since 2 November, writing for a couple of hours every night. I even put in 1,000 words on Thanksgiving Day (22 Nov), but then I hit a wall. I wrote nothing at all on Friday the 23rd. While other Americans cussed their way from strip mall to strip mall, I spent the day like this:
  • Surfed the Internet on my iPad while lying in bed until 11:00 a.m. (dog accompanied)
  • Made and ate breakfast.
  • Watched first two episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum.
  • Went to a hair appointment and discovered it was damn cold outside.
  • Came straight home and watched the next two episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum.
  • Nap.
  • Dinner.
  • Watched the fifth and sixth episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum.
  • Began watching all six episodes of American Horror Story: Asylum all over again.
Oh, sure it occurred to me several times that I should take advantage of such a long, empty day to knock out a few thousand words on the manuscript. Couldn't do it. Just couldn't. But as you can see I'm in a good place on my word count. As of a few minutes ago, my total is 44,191 words. I'm planning to write another 2,000 tomorrow and then 1,300 a day until Wednesday. I feel no need to produce beyond my goal. I'm running out of things to write as it is. After all, mine isn't a novel but a memoir about owning a dog, for chrissake. How much is there to say?

On Thursday I will enjoy the feeling of being DONE with this masochistic experiment. I'll take a moment to listen for the desperate typing and scribbling of my still-sweating colleagues across the world and start watching/repeat-watching the seventh episode of American Horror Story: Asylum. And I'll probably swear to never do NaNoWriMo again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shopping ON a major holiday?

Dear Americans,
Please don’t shop on Thanksgiving Day. It only encourages big corporations to make their employees miserable on the one day every American should be able to relax.

There's a nasty trend of stores beginning their Black Friday sales on the evening of Thanksgiving Day. It's the time when everyone in the country should be sitting back with their loved ones, digesting the six desserts they couldn't resist tasting. That's what Thanksgiving evening is for.

People are being lured to early sales that start before the dinner dishes are even done. Maybe there are bargain-crazed lunatics who's rather fight crowds than relax, but think of the employees who are forced to work. NO ONE wants to work Thanksgiving night and most stores are not giving any overtime pay or special compensation whatsoever. They're just requiring their staff to work on the one holiday that should be sacrosant in the U.S. (all the more so because it's not religious, so we don't have to tangle about that). Even greedier, some large chain stores are even opening on Thanksgiving morning.

Give it a rest on Thanksgiving, people! Don't enter a single retail establishment on the holiday, not a Target, not a Walmart, not even a 7-Eleven. Low-wage workers are forced to give up their holidays because we keep running out to the store for one more thing. Stop it.

And definitely don't say to anyone working on a holiday, "I'm sorry you have to work today," when you're standing in their line. They had to leave their family and warm dinners at home and come to work because of YOU.

Please join me in this sentiment, expressed in a Reddit comment by some unknown person who is clearly just as disgusted as I am:

thesilence84 -- Decided that we as a family weren't going to do [Black Friday] this year as a result of the 8pm thing. Thanksgiving was the ONE holiday you couldn't commercialize. But those stupid fucking big box retailers kept finding ways around it... Pushing the Christmas season further and further back... And now. Black Friday starts on Thursday at 8pm. You know what? Fuck you and your goddamn greed. I'm done. I'll spend 20 extra bucks and not freeze my ass off and spend time with my family instead. I hope it flops miserably.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How long would your dog let you do this?

I understand that all dogs have different levels of tolerance for close human contact. Ozzie seems to have no limit. He lets me lie on top of him like this for quite a while. He lets me use him as a leg rest (when we lie on the futon sofa) for hours. I also understand larger dogs are more likely to allow this, since little dogs would just be crushed. Ozzie weighs 50 pounds and I weigh 145, so it works out for us.

How long does your dog let you lie on top of him/her? Seriously, would someone please comment? I'm curious.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Uncomfortable with the new me

I'm fatter these days, but also happier. I've kicked my harsh inner critic out of the driver's seat and am treating myself gently and kindly (see this post for the details). I'm not restricting food, I'm not eating for emotional reasons and I feel physically great: more grounded, more centered. I enjoy walking more than ever (which works out well for the dog).

But it's not all peace and joy because I'm not completely comfortable with the new me. I feel afraid I'm out of control, that being nice to myself will backfire horribly and I'll end up diabetic from all the sweets I've been eating. I worry that my relaxed attitude will make me apathetic and inactive and things will start to fall apart. Contentment makes you stop working for things while discontent keeps you moving forward and watching for trouble, right? So being unhappy is better and safer? Here's the evidence:
  • My inner critic kept me at a normal weight: when I'd start stretching my clothes, the critic would kick in and I'd increase exercise and reduce junk food until things were back under control.
  • Feeling worried about the state of the country kept me active politically, canvassing for presidential candidates and donating money.
  • Thinking of myself as defective motivated me to improve my finances, health, peace of mind, relationships and self-esteem. I saw problems in all parts of my life and I never stopping trying to fix them.
But what made me such a conscientious person was constant anxiety, low self-image and expecting catastrophe at all times. I didn't maintain a state of vigilance; I maintained a state of active fear. This fear aggravated my chronic depression, dulled my enjoyment of people and activities, and made me damn hard to be married to.

I'm struggling now to determine which is better: a miserable thin, politically active woman who's constantly trying to improve her depressive self  OR a chubby, happy, relaxed woman who makes a good wife, friend and co-worker, while the world goes to hell in a ballot box.


I recently hit size 14 at 145 pounds (I'm 5 feet, 2 inches). My discomfort with my first spare tire (the bulge of fat that sits around my waist, even when I'm standing up) could be because I'm used to being thinner or it could be because I'm used to being unhappy. That distinction is extremely hard to make in a culture that pounds into my head that even middle-aged women should keep looking like 30-year-olds who are size 4. My inner critic is howling at me, "You're turning into a disgusting pudge pot! Your watch doesn't fit anymore and you've had to stop wearing one of your rings. It's not too late cut out the sweets and cheese and drop down to a size 12 by the end of the month. You've done it before. Come on. If ever there were a time to restrict eating, it's now!"

The loving, kind part of me responds with, "No. No more restricting food in any way for any reason. Dieting turns into self-punishment too easily for me. I'm happy these days and even the dog can tell. There's no way I'm messing with this formula when it means I'm finally not beating up on myself all day."

I'm looking for the middle ground between thin-and-miserable and spare-tire-happy. I suspect a content, peaceful Regina Rodriguez-Martin needs to be bigger than a size 8. I no longer believe I have to be thin in order to be happy (that obviously didn't work). I need to feel comfortable in my body in order to be happy. Thinness isn't the goal. Completely accepting and loving my body, whatever its size, is the goal. That would really be a dream come true.
11 November

Saturday, November 10, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

We are now ten days into National Novel Writing Month, also called NaNoWriMo. Each year during this month, thousands of people from all over the world take a stab at producing a 50,000-word draft of a novel in just four weeks. Since November has 30 days, that means we're a third of the way through, but I've written 20,520 words as of tonight. I'm not good at math, so I leave it to you to figure out the details, but even I can tell that while a third of the days are done,  I'm more than a third of the way to my 50,000 word goal! I feel great about that!

Yes, it's a little inconvenient for us Americans that this event happens in November. This is the month of one of our biggest holidays (Thanksgiving) and it's full of extra travel, family, cooking, eating and, for some people, working. This isn't a month I would have picked to prioritize writing, but so what? Rather than snivel about it, I'm getting on with the wri-mo-ing.

OH, yeah....I am producing 50,000 words by the end of the month. I'm a Wrimo!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Make friends with red and blue

Several months ago National Public Radio did a story on how divided our country has become socially and politically. The story described the way Americans lived in centuries past: more towns where rich and poor attended the same church, more daily interaction between the wealthier members of a community and the poorer members. Businesses, schools, markets and places of worship gave people of all socioeconomic backgrounds a chance to build relationships, however pragmatic and limited. We knew the people who were different from us and they weren't monsters.
The NPR reporter went on to describe the ways we now go out of our way to avoid anyone who isn't like us. Entire neighborhoods vote the same way, worship the same way and recycle (or not) the same way. Left-leaning people only make friends with other left-leaning people and and right-leaning people only make friends with other right-leaning people. This means we don't personally know each other and our ability to vilify each other has become boundless.

Americans turn everything into a moral issue. We might be correct that smoking is dangerous and obesity indicates health problems, but we don't just take action against those things. We start thinking of them as morally corrupt lifestyle decisions and we decide that those who don't agree with us are morally bad people.

At this point in American history, we are the most divided we have ever been. I haven't forgotten the Civil War, but over generations now we have effectively insulated ourselves, --socially, politically and physically -- from anyone who doesn't agree with us on things like abortion, gay rights, health care and if dogs should be allowed in businesses. Entire cities and states antagonize those who aren't like-minded. We have moralized every issue that exists, believing the other side is not only wrong, but bad or even evil. This way of viewing each other makes all of us assholes.

If you have left-leaning beliefs, go out and make some right-leaning friends. If you have right-leaning beliefs, go out and make some left-leaning friends. That's how we heal. I commit to making more friends who vote Republican and who believe there's a god. I value personal relationships more than politics, so I commit to opening my social circle to those who vote "against me" (we Americans take this stuff so personally).

If someone thinks all undocumented workers should be shipped back to where they came from, yeah, that would make me mad. But it wouldn't mean that person was a demon sent to make my life miserable and who should be stopped at all costs. Yes, such a person could ultimately affect people I care about through their voting patterns, but that just makes it all the more important that I stay active politically to block such legislation from passing.

We've replaced active political involvement with focusing on what the people think who are around us. We've stopped believing in collective action and replaced it with personally bullying individuals. I can only feel threatened by a person with anti-immigrant thinking if I feel he or she really has the power to enact their intentions. But let's say I'm involved with immigrant rights and I'm part of a bigger movement and I'm certain to the core that this country will eventually (eventually) accept its immigrant population. If I avoid a leftist knee-jerk reaction, I can listen to that person spew about anchor babies and peacefully walk away, secure in his or her inability to harm my world. Or I can change the subject, but either way, I don't dismiss that person as a heartless, ignorant agent of doom. This makes it easier for me to work with or live next to or employ those who didn't vote for Barack Obama. It actually makes my life better.

I told a friend of mine about my plan to make friends with those of different political beliefs. She wrote:
I have a hard time understanding why you feel you need to reach out to people who have gone completely off the deep end. They need to reassess and stop consuming Fox news, etc. You are being reasonable, but it is incumbent upon you to reach out?
Later in the same email:
I know that we are one United States of America, and I really do wish that we could come together.  But both sides do not bear equal blame for this, and I feel like we are caving to 4 year olds when we let them think that both sides do bear equal blame. 

This is exactly the kind of thinking I identify as the problem. Both Democrats and Republicans are rock solid certain that it's the other side that's being obtuse, selfish, histrionic and destructive. Both Democrats and Republicans believe they've done nothing wrong, that both sides do not bear equal blame.

This reminds me of my marriage. Recently I believed my husband owed me a BIG apology. I hadn't done anything wrong, but how could be behave that way to me? He was a jerk and I was furious.

After about a week of silence and resentment, I decided I didn't want to live this way. My husband wasn't doing what I thought he should, but I hated living in such tension.  I couldn't make him act the way I wanted, so I looked again at my behavior. I had control over that. And guess what? After I stepped back, looked at the whole situation, got input from others and tried to see it from my husband's point of view, I saw that I'd been a jerk too, possibly even the primary one.

This taught me that no matter how certain you are that the other person is the one who's behaving badly, there is always something you can do differently, too. In any dynamic between equals (and I still think red people and blue people are equal) the power and blame never rest primarily on one side.

Let's stop talking politics. Let's get to know each other in total, not just in parts. We use politics as the lens through which we see even the dry cleaner. Stop it. Build relationships with people because of who they are when they're not in the voting booth, that's who they really are. And remember: most of those people -- from both sides -- are really very nice.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


President Obama is re-elected! If I believed in a god, I'd thank it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Mexican Mitt

This past weekend, National Public Radio's Latino USA featured an interview of Mexican Mitt, a comic who embodies the Mexican part of Mitt Romney's persona. Sort of. It sounds to me like some crazy Latino guy playing up the "minority advantage" as Romney can only dream of. I enjoyed the interview. Mexican Mitt calls himself part of the Juan percent. You can  follow Mexican Mitt on Twitter.

Hate exercise? Don't do it

We are such a self-punishing culture. Americans, especially women, often try to achieve ideal health or appearance in truly painful ways. While there's no getting around the pain of laser treatment or pelvic exams, there are many ways that we hurt ourselves completely unnecessarily, such as with physical exercise. And yet, to avoid it does more harm than good.

No pain, no gain? Don't accept this masochistic approach to fitness. If you're pushing yourself to run down the street or using threats to get yourself to the gym, please stop. The human body is meant to move every day, but make it movement that you enjoy. And everything counts. Dancing, gardening, covering entire lengths of shopping malls, stretching, playing physical games and going to the park are excellent ways to get in your daily movement.

One exercise that we high-achieving Americans tend to dismiss is walking. If you're trying to maintain any kind of fitness routine that you dislike, think about swapping that ordeal for time simply spent walking. Walking is a wonderful way to improve your health, and you can do it at any pace you like. If you have a dog, don't push it out the back door to do its business. Grab a leash and get both of you some exercise, for chrissake.

I spent years pounding snow-covered pavement because I had to get in my daily run. I spent even more years being a gym rat, sometimes getting up at 5:00a to get in that workout before work. It was crazy, and so was I.

No more. I'm done tormenting myself in the name of health. After years of free weights, nautilus machines, yoga, Pilates, step classes, running, interval training, stair masters and chin-up bars, I've figured out what I really like doing and I'm only doing that. It turns out my favorite movements are walking and yoga, so that's what I do. After ten years of dedication to Ballys fitness centers, I haven't visited the gym in months.

If you hate exercising, stop doing it. Just stop. Take yourself for a walk a few times a week as you reflect on your favorite activities and the movement you loved most as a kid. Then start working towards making those things a part of your life.

Better digestion

One stunning side effect of my recent achievements in self-nurturing and loving myself is that my digestion has improved. I've struggled with self-loathing behaviors and low self esteem my whole life, but my digestion only started having real problems a few years ago. In 2008, the same year I turned 42, I noticed that I could no longer digest dairy products comfortably, even with lactose digestion aids. In 2009 I lost the ability to eat wheat products and baked goods without stomach aches. By 2010 I made the rule that I would not eat anything past 8:00 p.m. because I found that going to bed on anything but an empty stomach affected my sleep.

There is increasing scientific evidence that gut flora directly affects mood and mental states. The stomach and brain are so intimately connected as to constitute one big organ, or maybe we can just call the stomach "the little brain."  Of course, those of us with nervous stomachs or who get anxiety heartburn don't need to be told that the state of our minds influences how our stomachs function, but now we're getting the data to back up that conventional wisdom.

I worked with a new therapist intensively on my emotional health over the past couple of years, but noticed no change in my digestion problems. An increasingly sensitive stomach seemed my fate as I settled even further into middle age. But since that work finally moved my inner critical voice into the back seat of my mind, and I've stopped punishing myself every day for mistakes real and imagined, my stomach has gotten better! I no longer lose hours of sleep because I had too many cookies or had a sandwich past 6:00p.m. Incredibly, I ate a pizza dinner with my husband last week and I was fine. It was the first time we'd shared a delivery pizza in three years.

I seriously thought everything gets worse as we age. I'm surprised and joyous to find that my anxiety-ridden personality was a huge part of my inability to enjoy many foods. Now that I'm finally fixing my self esteem, my stomach works better. It seems that peace leads to peace in remarkable ways.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I'm writing an ebook

November is National Novel Writing Month (commonly called NaNoWriMo). Each year thousands of people take a shot at producing 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. This year I'm joining in.

What do you do when you find yourself the owner of a dog who does such strange things that even seasoned dog owners don't know what to tell you? You write stories about him. Blogging about our dog Ozzie has been good, but I'm taking this to the next level, as we Americans love to say. Between tomorrow and the end of the month, I will join thousands of other wrimos and churn out a draft of a book, mine being about what it's been like to own this dog. But to keep the pressure off, I'm not referring to it as a novel or even a book. I'm focusing on producing an ebook.

Eventually, I will take this draft and edit it and polish it and make it all good. I don't know how long that will take (months? years?), but when it's done I'm not deluding myself about finding an agent or a publisher. I plan to publish the ridiculous story myself, using an online publishing service. Then I'll share it with the world as an ebook.

Yes, this is my dream: to nurture and grow my creative project from a bunch of glowing words on a screen to a bunch of glowing words on another screen. Here I go.

Thriller Flash Mob in Rogers Park

I DID IT! I was in my first flash mob ever! On Sunday morning I did the Thriller dance sequence at the Glenwood Farmer's Market (in Chicago, IL USA) with about 25 other people who did this for the sheer hell of it. If you watch this, you won't see much of me and my friend Ceece, who was also there. We were on the far end that didn't get videoed much at all. But you see me for a moment: in a gray hat, sunglasses and a bright orange scarf. I LOVE HALLOWEEN!

Me at work today, wearing my glowing pumpkin earrings.
Happy Halloween to everyone who celebrates it!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mental Health Days

Mental health days are a great idea. That's what some poeple call those days when you're just feeling burned out and overwhelmed and you call in sick to work because you need to take care of your spirit and morale. It's a perfectly legitimate use of a sick days, especially for those of us who rarely get physically ill. Without the occasional cold or flu to break our daily monotony, we need to call our own breaks: our mental health days.

Unfortunately this concept doesn't always seem to apply to the people who need them most: those who are actually mentally ill. Friends or family are more likely to encourage us to play hooky if we're "normal," but just don't want to go to work. But if a person is actually going through a depression (low energy, trouble concentrating, either weepy or irritable) family and friends can get annoyed and tell the suffering person to go to work and suck it up. We're told to get over it.

It's a typical reaction of many Americans to mental illness such as my chronic depression. Mental health days are supported for those who are stressed and need a break, but for those of us actually experiencing symptoms of chronic mental illness, that sympathy can go out the window. The unfairness and cruelty of this reality makes me think twice whenever I hear the phrase "mental health day." I applaud the practice, but wince as I recognize that the majority of Americans wouldn't apply it to someone like me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lady Gaga's weight gain

This is what I'm talking about! Lady Gaga, after years of carefully maintaining the typical pop star's physique, has decided to be who she really is and fill the size her body naturally wants to be. She recently gained 25 pounds eating the foods she wants and not worrying about what people think. We are doing the same thing: releasing our need to fit into our skinny clothes and not apologizing for it.

Please read all about her refusal to give in to pressure to get small again. She talks about her problems with food and admits to some very unhealthy behaviors that she is working hard to overcome. Lady Gaga now proudly wears costumes that are a couple of sizes bigger and she looks great. As a middle-aged woman, I hadn't paid much attention to her before now, but I'll now count myself as a fan. I, too, have begun wearing clothes a couple of sizes bigger and I feel fine.

I also like Cynthia Nellis' post that makes the point that Gaga's move makes her much more human and lovable than Madonna. Madonna is my contemporary and while I used to admire her guts and her body, every time I see her I feel increasingly disappointed with her lack of authenticity. Maybe she's naturally thin, smooth, blonde and buffed, but I just don't believe it. I've started counting her as another celebrity with whom I have less and less in common, mainly because she seems to be working so hard to not look middle aged. Then again, Madonna lost me as someone who thought they could relate to her, when she settled on the color yellow for her hair. Gaga's hair isn't naturally blonde either, but she's becoming more honest with herself and us, one step at a time.

Many celebrities endorse political awareness and movements of various kinds, but Gaga's actions impress me as uniquely vital. There are external fights for things like economic improvement and human rights, but I know that everything starts with how you feel about yourself. That's a battle that can take your whole life and I believe it deserves priority. It's RARE that a female celebrity takes on one of the most taboo subjects in our culture -- eating disorders -- and even RARER that she's brave enough to let her body express her allegiance to herself over commercial culture. Lady Gaga now has my deep respect and gratitude.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My life is better now that I'm bigger

I've worked hard for decades on my negative thinking and self-punishing behaviors. With the help of some powerful techniques and amazing people, I've finally let go of the worst of these patterns. The main way my self-loathing manifests is with food. Restricting and binge-ing, restricting and binge-ing, hating my body, hating my inability to stay on the wagon, feeling bad when I give in to my sweet tooth or gain a few pounds. It's sugar addiction and compulsive eating and I have been hard on myself.

But for about three weeks now, I'm trying a completely new way of being: I don't listen to my inner critic and I no longer restrict food. For decades I've struggled to avoid sugar, wheat, dairy products and processed food, but in a radical move, I'm doing that no longer. Now I eat whatever I want, per Geneen Roth's strategies for dealing with compulsive eating (see my other October 2012 posts for details). I even stopped going to the gym.

Yes, I've gained weight. I've spent the past three weeks indulging my desires for cake, cookies, pan dulce, store-bought frosting-in-the-tub, donuts, ice cream, cheese, potato chips, juice and hot chocolate. I discovered a previously unknown love of baloney and cheese sandwiches and have eaten lots of them (who knew I was hungry for that?). I no longer say "no" to myself about anything. If I want it, I have it. Instead of driving workouts with free weights and nautilus machines, I focus on yoga, stretching and simple walking. I've put on about 10 pounds since the beginning of the month and last weekend I bought new clothes because the ones I was wearing before just don't fit anymore.

But unlike previous times when I've had to purchase a bigger size, I'm not upset about it. I see and feel my waistline growing and I'm not panicking. This calm response to my spreading girth is unprecedented. It's the first time I've put on so much weight in so little time without some kind of crisis going on in my life and without freaking out about my new size. This is how big I am and it's just fine. I might even get bigger and that will be just fine.

October has been my month of letting go of self-punishment. I'm happier and more content because I fully accept myself in all ways and it makes me nicer and less anxious. I'm no longer irritated by "slow walkers" getting in my way because I'm walking more slowly. I love how connected my body feels to the ground and I enjoy the simple act of walking as never before. My husband and my dog are happier with me. Our household is more peaceful and loving because I've finally stepped off the roller coaster of being pleased with myself when I fit into my jeans and mad at myself when I don't (I don't even try to put jeans on anymore). I'm actually a better wife -- and dog owner -- because I've stopped the constant self-criticism that made me tense and anxious all the time. My sleep and energy have improved. I'm more relaxed at work and I worry much less in general.

And my body is mushier and more ripply, and so what? I said to my husband last night, "All these years I've been trying so hard to be a size six. I put all this energy into being thin while I was also miserable and unhappy and unpleasant. Now I'm a size twelve and I feel so much better and it turns out that being a size six doesn't matter at all. I was going for the wrong thing all that time. Isn't this better?"

He agreed. My husband agreed that he likes me better now, as a pudgier person. How's that for validation? I thought exercising and dieting and being thin for him were important. I can't tell you how relieved I am to find that I don't have to keep that up!

I've spent most of my adult life wearing a size 8. I've worked $%&-damned hard to maintain that physique, and it's been very painful to do with my demanding sweet tooth. I was constantly at war with myself and my self-esteem was the casualty. Now the inner critic has been dismissed and I'm gentler on myself with everything, not just food. Life is so much better.

Now I'll see what size I naturally end up. Roth's theory predicts that when every part of my psyche learns that I really will let myself have whatever I want from now on, the binge-ing will slow down. Then it will stop. Then I'll begin eating from stomach hunger instead of emotional need, and I'll reach my natural weight. I might end up back at size eight or stabilize at fourteen or more and I'm okay with either because I've finally realized that size doesn't matter. How I feel matters, and I feel great!

WARNING: Following Geneen Roth, I put on 50 pounds that I never lost. Don't do it. 
-updated 28 Feb. 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not dieting

Right at this moment, a container of homemade brownies sits behind me as I work in my cubicle. In the past I would have actively resisted them while knowing I would love to pop one in my mouth. Today I tell myself I can have as many as I want at any time. In the morning I'm not hungry for them, so I don't have any. Later, I eat four as an afternoon snack. They're very good and I can easily keep eating them, but I’m not hungry any more. In the past, I might have forced them down knowing that tomorrow they'd be gone. But today I don't force the brownies into my stomach. Instead, I give myself permission to make myself a fresh batch whenever I want. Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tonight and tomorrow. Knowing I can have fresh brownies any time, cools the temptation. I don’t want the brownies now. I’d rather have them some other time when I actually have room for them and they're still warm from the oven.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Do Not Diet

Yes, I've made another U-turn in my nutritional beliefs.

In my ongoing search for optimal health and fitness, I've been reading Geneen Roth's books on compulsive eating and weight loss. I'm now reading When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair and I've begun a new way of eating. This is how it goes:

I eat whatever I want. No rules, restrictions, reading nutrition labels or checking if it's allowed on the [insert name here] diet.

How is this different from any Saturday binge or Christmastime free fall? Here's the difference: I eat whatever I want without guilt, self-criticism or regret and without restricting food later to make up for it.

This is extraordinarily hard for those of us who have lived our lives criticizing our every move. My self-loathing has driven me since I was a little girl. Believing I wasn't good enough unless my behavior were perfect, I focused on actions: good grades, following the rules, doing as my parents said. As an adult, I changed my focus to always looking attractive, obeying the boss, exercising regularly and eating "right."

The most problematic goal was the "eating right" one because food, unlike the rest of those things, was my substitute for contentment, happiness and feeling special. Treating myself to cookies, cake, frosting by the spoonful and candy was how I put the sweetness and love in my life that I didn't feel was there.

My self-loathing, however, did not allow me enjoy my sugar-love freely, so my indulgences were always accompanied by guilt. I ate entire cakes in secret. I helped myself to the office holiday goodies when no one was looking. I threw away empty paper bakery bags with chagrin and disappointment in myself. This eating felt shameful.

Eventually I could no longer deny the effects these habits were having on my body. A horrific case of candida at age 27 showed me how destructive sugar was for my whole system, and my genetic tendency toward slimness started to give out in my 30's. I had to change.

Thus began fifteen years of driving myself even harder to "be good." My health depended on it, so my indulgences became accompanied by
--> asceticism. My meals and snacks became pristine combinations of lean protein, fresh vegetables, homemade bean/brown rice dishes, raw nuts and fruit. But there were still cookies and cupcakes in my kitchen cabinets and I still ordered dessert whenever I got the chance.
For years my beautifully healthy habits battled my raging need for sugar. It was hell on my self esteem. Friends and co-workers admired my clean habits as we sat at lunch together, but I knew I'd be hitting the chocolate before the day was over.

I began seeing a therapist in my early 20's for my general low self-esteem and problems with depression, and my drive to heal myself has never stopped. Decades of talk therapy, relationship workshops, nutrition seminars, 12-step meetings, self-help books, Oprah shows, religious/spiritual support and professional help gradually chipped away at my terrible self-image and drew me into the light. I began to value and respect myself. But the sugar addiction remained.

In 2010 I was lucky enough to meet therapist and practitioner Carol Moss, who led me through powerful techniques (Emotional Freedom Technique and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) that moved a huge chunk of my negative beliefs out of my way. I finally stopped believing that at a fundamental level I sucked. I finally stopped believing that my life was more bad than good.

So I was ready for Geneen Roth's message when I picked up Women Food and God a couple of months ago. She cautions us to NOT DIET because dieting inevitably leads to binge-ing and greater weight than we started with. Her books aren't for everyone because there's a hell of a lot of work that many of us need to do before we're ready for her recommendations. Roth's approach to food requires that you trust yourself and this is an inconceivable concept to those of us who were told from birth that we couldn't be trusted, that we had no common sense and/or that if we weren't contained we'd eat the world.

But after decades of hard work on my self-loathing, I believe I'm ready for Roth's way of eating and I'm doing it. I'm letting myself have all the foods I've been saying no to for so long. I'm eating all the stuff I've been AFRAID of, even while I couldn't stop wanting it. I'm feeding the girl who has been deprived and shamed and punished with food for so long.  I'm trusting that when that girl realizes she can have whatever she wants at any time without punishment or restriction or shaming, she'll stop needing it. And then I'll tune in to what I truly need at all times, physically, nutritionally and emotionally. That's when I'll reach my natural weight that's right for me. My natural weight will undoubtedly be many pounds more than the 120 I've fixated on for years (I'm 5'2"/157 cm), but it will be a weight I can maintain over the long term, without having to keep changing wardrobes.

Yesterday, for the whole day, I had a Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwich (croissant with egg, sausage and cheese), two pieces of pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread), a quart of Ben & Jerry's cake batter ice cream, three slices of American cheese, two hot dog wieners and some Ritz crackers. I also drank half a glass of white wine.

The day before I had fried eggs and ground flaxseed with fruit for breakfast, two donuts, a cheese-and-wiener sandwich for lunch, healthy chili for dinner, white wine, nuts and 1/3 of a box of Russell Stover's dark chocolate assortment.

Et. Cetera.

Yes, I'm gaining weight. Yes, my clothes are getting tight, so you know what I'm doing? I'm buying new clothes! Roth strongly suggests getting rid of those clothes you've been holding on to for years with the intention of one day being thin enough to wear them again, so today I'll be clearing out my closet. No more skinny clothes making me feel bad whenever I push past them to the stuff that fits. And when I finally hit my natural weight, I'll go shopping again. So be it.

For the first time in my life, I believe I deserve to have whatever I want, without having to pay a price for it later. I deserve whatever I want because I'm lovable no matter what my size, paycheck, relationship state, tax status or anything else is. I'm worthy and lovable regardless of whether I follow the rules or look presentable or do good things. I reject my former belief that I'm only lovable if I'm thin and fit. I reject my former belief that I'm lovable only if I act in the appropriate way. (Those who know me personally might find it funny that my daily behavior has been me trying to act appropriately. Still, I've been trying to figure it out.)

It's incredibly hard to give up the self-punishing habit of criticizing my body at every chance, to give up telling myself I don't deserve what I want, to give up feeling fat and unworthy. These are ancient, stuck-on behaviors that I perfected decades ago, but they were based on the lie that I'm not a lovable person in my own right, just because I exist.

I am a lovable person in my own right, just because I exist. Eventually I won't need to swallow a tub of whipped frosting until my stomach cramps, an act which is me nurturing myself with what I want and punishing myself at the same time. How efficient!

I remember saying to a boyfriend when I was 26, "I'd give up all the cake in the world if I could just stop needing it." I still feel that way, but maybe my solution doesn't need to be that drastic. Here's a link to Geneen Roth's books (for those who are ready).

[P.S. On 17 October I hit 143 pounds and it just didn't feel important.]

WARNING: Following Geneen Roth, I put on 50 pounds that I never lost. Don't do it. 
-updated 28 Feb. 2018