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.