Friday, December 09, 2016

The True Meaning of Christmas



It's my annual posting of my summary of the History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas. Part of our American Christmas tradition is for people to throw around the phrase "the true meaning of Christmas." What that usually means is that during the season of Jesus' birthday it's appropriate to be reverent towards God and extra loving towards each other. I maintain that Christmas has little to do with Jesus at all. I admit I'm wrong to be that extreme, but people are also wrong who think religion is at the core of this holiday. The History Channel's program is extremely relevant to this annual discussion and I encourage you to watch it if you can. 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 observed 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 indulge in food, drink, sex, spending, etc. I know when I tell someone "Merry Christmas," it has nothing to do with "The Church." I'm just wishing them a good season of partying.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Cubs did it

I don't like sports, but as a 23-year resident of Chicago even I felt how big it was when the Chicago Cubs baseball team won the World Series last night. Baseball is the American sport and for decades the Chicago Cubs have been the losers of the baseball world. Every national baseball team gets its turn at the title of World Series Champions, and most have won the World Series at least once in the past 30 years, but not the Cubs.

The Cubs are Chicago's north side baseball team and the White Sox are Chicago's south side team. The last time the White Sox won the World Series was in 2005. The last time the Cubs won was in 1908.

Yes, goddamn 1908! Decade after decade, loyal Cubs fans have had their hearts broken by this team. Sometimes the Cubs get close to reaching the World Series, but they don't make it and fans are left to vow, "Next year!" In the 23 years that I've lived on the north side of Chicago, even though I dislike sports and ignore baseball, I haven't been able to avoid the emotional effects of the Cubs' wins and losses. North siders are dedicated to their team and they take every loss hard. As many times as I've felt disgusted with their masochism, I have also taken pity on them for their hopeless situation.
Wrigley Field marquee in background.

So the Cubs even making it to the World Series was a freaking miracle and a piece of American sports history. After six games against the Cleveland Indians with each team winning three games, last night was full of tension. (B
y the way, can we get Cleveland to change the name of its team? I really don't find it much better than the "Redskins.")

I was in Wrigleyville, where the Cubs' home stadium is, for most of the night, and I saw some of the madness. Everyone wanted to stand right in front of the marquee (scoreboard outside of Wrigley Field) and I and my date (it was a first date for us) made the mistake of trying to join them. It got so tight I worried about getting crushed. It was a little claustrophobic.

Everyone was in great spirits through the eighth inning because the Cubs didn't yield their early lead for a long time. The crowd was mostly people under the age of 40, putting me in the top bracket of the age demographic. It was also mostly white, although there were several Black and Latino fans as well. 

My date took photos of me trying to not to look intimidated by the crowds, but sometimes it was a little scary. Groups of young white men would begin a jumping chant, young women would get on men's shoulders, people seemed content to pile almost on top of each other, breathing liquor fumes and the scent of marijuana. 
Fun but scary

Two young white women flanked a third, as if about to lift her. They counted, "One! Two!" I didn't stick around for "three," nor did I turn around to see what they were doing. I just wanted to get away because alcoholic inebriation makes me nervous and I'm a short person who it's easy to step on.

Rain drizzled on us for the first half of the game, then stopped. Police were out in full force. At the beginning of the seventh inning, I saw three officers leading three African-American boys by the arm. I had seen those kids selling candy bars earlier, but I'd also seen an old white man walking around selling artwork. I didn't see him escorted from the area, but that's what the police did with those children. 

About 30 minutes later, a young white man scaled a streetpost and reached for the parking sign. An officer trained his flashlight on the man and my date muttered, "He's going to get arrested." The young man grabbed the sign and worked it back and forth, as if trying to rip it off. The police officer reached him and made him get down. I walked over to see if they arrested him for vandalism or escorted him from the area. They did neither.
Lots of police in yellow vests.

When the Cleveland Indians tied the score at 6-6, the energy dropped. Faces sobered and the crowd quieted. As it became clear that the game was going to go into extra innings, I couldn't take it, so I ended my date and left the area. That decision turned out to be both good and bad. It was good because once the Cubs won, Wrigleyville became the destination point for hundreds of Chicagoans who flooded into the area, or tried to (the police had restricted access by that time). If I'd felt claustrophobic before, I would have felt complete fear if I'd been there then.

But it was a bad decision because it meant that as the final minutes of that tenth inning came to a boil, I was sitting on the #36 bus northbound on Broadway. Damn it! In my mind, I pleaded with that bus to hurry-hurry-hurry and get me back to Rogers Park. I was lucky that the Cubs had just gotten that final out when my bus finally pulled into my neighborhood. I jumped out and sprinted to the nearest bar, bursting in the doors as people were on their third and fourth joyous hugs. So I didn't see the winning moment, but I got to scream and carry on with a jublilant crowd just the same.

I think it worked out that my celebration happened at Bar 63 and not with my date. We had a great time and I liked him, but if he'd seen me screaming and weeping and carrying on -- after I'd sworn up and down that I was NOT a Cubs fan -- he would have decided I was even crazier than he thought. I clutched at strangers, screamed through a round of "We Are the Champions," and kept on shrieking through "Bohemian Rhapsody" and whatever else the bartender played. The tv screens glared "CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES" as if trying to convince everyone it had really happened, which was good because some of us were wondering, "Did that really happen?"

I was struck by how everyone, to a person, said "We did it!" not "They did it." Having minimal experience with sports and sports fans, this surprised me. I also considered the way that the ritual and spirit of baseball parallels the religious and spiritual traditions that keep others connected to their communities. I wondered if atheist fans also mutter, "Please, please please."

From Bar 63 I walked five blocks to my apartment, screaming and waving my arms every time a car passed, honking and waving the "W" (for "win) flag. Loyola University students streamed down the sidewalks, many heading to Wrigley Field, but others just out to wave flags, shout for joy and walk off their drunk (or keep it going). I warned one young woman, "I just came from Wrigleyville. If you get in, good luck getting back out," but she didn't look worried. I didn't get to bed until 2:00 a.m. even though I had a 7:45a meeting this morning.

Even if you don't care about baseball -- which I don't -- you must at least be aware of the historic and cultural importance of this moment. A mathematician friend of mine pointed out that at the start of the series, the Cubs needed 108 outs to win. That, of course, is the number of years since the Cubs last won the World Series, and it's the number of stitches in a baseball. This morning I heard someone say that number was echoed again in the way the Cubs won in inning number 10, with a final score of 8. Those are some great coincidences. 

The Cubs have fans all over the world, so when the Cubs finally scored that last point, it was a global event. The Cubs World Series Victory Parade and Rally will be tomorrow (Friday), and yeah, I guess I'll be there.
Loyola students at the train station heading for Wrigleyville at 12:30a

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Why I like meditating every day

My cousin-once-removed asked me about meditation, so here's my story. I started with guided meditation when I was in my mid-twenties. I liked listening to someone else's voice as it led me through a visualization exercise that helped me relax and feel completely peaceful, if only for twenty minutes or so. I still very much enjoy that. It helped me with stress and the chronic depression I manage. Guided meditiation made me feel better when things felt out of control.

Meditation has always been an important tool for managing my anxiety and depression symptoms. It's also helped me improve my self-esteem and reach other goals. Research shows that it improves health, even after you've stopped doing it. This is good because I've been very uneven with my meditation practice. I've quit many times and then come back to it.

In the past 25 years -- during the times I hadn't quit --  I moved from guided meditation to the blank mind kind of meditation. I sit, let go of everything that's been on my mind, and allow my brain to come to rest. It's kind of like cultivating that blankness you go to when you're trying to fall asleep. As a result, I've done a lot of falling asleep while meditating. This was particularly embarassing when I used to attend a Shambhala center and meditated in a silent room full of people. I'd start nodding off and have to snap myself back to an upright sitting position. Ugh. We also did a walking meditation which was a little better. At least it kept me awake.

Of course keeping my mind blank happens for only a few seconds at a time, even after decades of practice. Some call the chatter that streams through our heads "monkey mind" and it's hard to calm down. I've experimented with long periods of guided meditation (over an hour), short periods of guided meditation (10 minutes), short periods of blank-mind meditation (my term), long periods of blank-mind meditation. I've never settled on just one way to do it.

In 2013 I discovered the meditation practice of Dr. Joe Dispenza and I devoted myself to his techniques for a while. I've read this book a couple of times and learned a lot from it. My first breakthrough experience with his guided meditation helped me with anger at my mother and another one came right after attending one of his workshops.

But readers of this blog know that I put on a bunch of weight when my marriage fell apart and have been trying to lose it, and I've been using the Dispenza technique on that (for a couple of years) and it hasn't been working. So, in frustration, I stopped meditating again earlier this year.

As my pattern goes, these days I'm coming back to it. With Dispenza I'd sit in meditation for 45-60 minutes a day. Now I'm just doing six-minute periods. My strategy is that if I tell myself it's just six minutes, I'll do a better job of focusing. I think it works, which means I actually achieve peace for about five seconds per session. Yeah, there's no short cut to meditation, but if you practice regularly monkey mind does get easier to tame.

While I don't have many physical challenges, such as high blood pressure or arthritis, I can list a few clear benefits I've received from meditation, even though I've only done it off-and-on over the past 25 years:

1. It helps me manage depression, if only by turning my self-destructive mind off for a little while.

2. It gives me an energy boost in the middle of the day, kind of like a power nap.

3. When I meditate regularly, I eat less junk. My sugar cravings go down.

4. I can use it to fall asleep at night.

5. Guided meditation has been very effective at helping me solve problems, improve self-esteem and release emotions that were keeping me stuck.

6. It adds stillness and peace to my routine and I LOVE stillness and peace.

Maybe I'll always meditate off-and-on, feeling the benefits for a while, then getting mad because it's not working on everything and tossing it out the window for a while. I don't go around telling friends that they should do it because I know (very well) that it takes commitment and isn't for everyone. Meditation means sitting (or walking) and doing nothing. That's actually a great non-activity to add to your schedule, but this is the U.S. and Americans hate having our minds unoccupied and doing nothing. So that means meditating is going against the grain, which works for me.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Determined

Well, since I published this post saying I'd better accept my fatness or live in the delusion of future thinness, I've chosen the latter. I was a skinny kid and stayed thin for most of my adult life, so I simply refuse to accept permanently the weight I put on as my marriage fell apart in 2012 and 2013.

Besides altering diet and adding more exercise, I've been seeing a nutrition response testing professional, Claire Boye-Doe. She adjusted my nutrition, diet and exercise, and told me I'd start losing weight in a few months of working with her. In eight months her treatment has done wonders for improving my energy, mood, digestion and sleep, but I haven't lost any weight. Apparently I'm the very first of all of Claire's clients to not lose weight with her nutritional help. Great. In spite of my overhauled diet and exercise, my fat has refused to budge.

Extra weight often has an emotional component that can be complicated by food addiction, so I've also been working on my emotional reasons for holding on to these pounds. With Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) I've tapped and tapped and tapped on my sugar addiction and slowly the layers (a word that always makes me think of cake) of my fear have peeled away. Two weeks ago I had yet another session with EFT/hypnotherapist practictioner Lili Betancourt, who has helped me a lot over the years. We tapped on sweets, marriage failure, weight, sugar and coffee. The session went very well, but the weight didn't change.

Meditation has also been part of my healthy habits. Meditation has been shown to help with addictive behavior, including food issues, but it hasn't been the key for me, either.

What the hell? So this month I added an acupuncturist. I've had lots of acupuncture done in my life, but Brent Garcia says he specializes in problems with which you've tried everything and are about to give up. That's me! On my first visit he identified my weight problem as being related to weak spleen energy and told me to eat 8-10 cups of vegetables a day. That's a lot! Fortunately Claire Boye-Doe has me on wheat grass juice and green essence pills, so she says I can make it four cups of vegetables a day. Whew!

So for the past week I've been doing that, but I also found that in the days following my session with Lili, I had less interest in coffee. Weird. In fact on a couple of days I forgot to finish it and had to come back to my one, small cup of coffee later in the day. Then on Wednesday, Claire suggested I go one week with no sugar at all, not even fruit, which meant cutting coffee because I can't drink it without milk and sugar. And it didn't elicit an emotional response from me at all. In fact, I've had no coffee since Wednesday and haven't missed it. Very unexpected. 

I saw the acupuncturist again two days ago. Brent said my spleen energy is better and he needled some major spleen points, so I feel really turbo-charged now. I also read up on spleen qi. According to traditional Chinese medicine, weak spleen energy occurs with too much cold and "dampness" which can cause weight to stay on no matter what you do. That sounds familiar! So I'm off chilled drinks and foods: good-bye yogurt, ice cream and ice in my water. Other things that weaken spleen qi are coffee, alcohol, fried foods, sugar, wheat and dairy. Yup, all the fun stuff. But that's okay. I don't think I need to eliminate all of it, and certainly not permanently. Just while I'm healing.

Of course, my weight hasn't budged a gram even though I've spent the past week replacing half my food with vegetables and keeping up the exercise, but I guess my spleen isn't strong enough yet. At least I hope that's it. I really hope the acupuncture does it. I knew there was more going on here than food, exercise, sugar addiction and emotions because I've really tapped those out. The acupuncture has to be the final piece of the puzzle. Damn it, I'm determined to lose this marriage-going-down-the-drain pudge!

Friday, September 09, 2016

LLAG: Love Life of an Asian Guy

My post about (the bigoted) Dr. Christiane Northrup got some response from regular readers, but I got even more response to it when I shared it on Facebook. Specifically, I follow a page called Love Life of an Asian Guy which is written by a Filipino-American man who calls it "LLAG: Commentary on Racism, Sexism and American Culture." He recently posted on how Lena Dunham exemplifies the blind spots of white femimism and it led to a long chain of people discussing beauty standards, privilege and viewpoints that white feminists often don't understand. I linked my exchange with the good doctor and got a lot of support. A couple of women even joined the Northrup page so they could support me. I love the LLAG community.

It looks like the author of LLAG is named Ranier (not sure) and he's an excellent writer. He slings the truth like Wonder Woman's lasso on fire and calls out white privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia and whatever else pisses him off. He's funny and insightful and if you're not easily offended, you should check him out.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

What to do when you see Islamophobic harassment

A Paris film maker and illustrator who goes by Maeril created these graphics so we'll know what to do the next time we see someone harassing someone else for appearing to be Muslim. The strategy is to create a safe space for the person being harassed and ignore completely the person doing the harassment. 


And in French.

Please share these graphics with others. You can read more about them in this Buzzfeed article.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD

Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD is an internationally known expert on women's health and wrote the bestseller The Wisdom of Menopause. She has appeared in hundreds of podcasts, radio shows and television shows, including Oprah. Her writing encourages women to take control of our health, cultivate a positive outlook on aging and empower ourselves through self-care. I have greatly appreciated her books and started following her on Facebook last year.

On her Facebook page, Dr. Christiane Northrup regularly posts encouraging messages that are accompanied by graphics of women. For months, I've been commenting on how these images are only of stylized skinny women's bodies and are almost always of white women's bodies. Here's one from August 31, 2016 that exemplifies these posts:
I got tired of commenting on the exclusionary nature of these images and getting no response from Dr. Northrup (who I figure must occasionally glance at her Facebook page) although I did hear plenty of pushback from her followers (few of whom see my point). So, this is what I posted in response to this graphic:

I agree with this statement, but I'm ready to take public action about the exclusionary images Dr. Northrup uses in these graphics, and the way my criticisms about it have been ignored for months. These images are usually of white women and always skinny. Such imagery is alienating to women of different sizes and women of color (I am both). I'd welcome a response on this, Dr. Northrup, at reginarm24@gmail.com. Anyone else who wants to defend these graphics, thanks, but yours isn't the response I'm looking for.



Most women who responded to my post didn't like it, but you can see that I got three "likes," so I wasn't completely alone. Dr. Northrup, for the first time in almost a year, finally answered my ongoing criticism:

Hi, sweetie, when the Hay House artist first came Up with these stylized images years ago, I liked the look and feel Of them. They were never meant to depict Reality in any way. Just be interesting graphically. I totally get your point here. And so do many others. And at some point we'll probably change to something else. But for now, they're working for us. Please Know that your sentiments have Been heard and appreciated! Bless you!


Many women chimned in on this and none of them supported me. My response was:

Dr. Christiane Northrup, thank you for responding to me. All imagery is stylized, but do you not see how your skinny fantasy images enforce the dominant culture's belief that women are only healthy and beautiful if they are skinny? Or maybe you agree with that opinion. Your comfort with your skinny images make me suspect that you don't think fat women can also be beautiful and healthy. If that's true, then I'm very disappointed and will include this exchange when I talk to people about your wonderful books.


Dr. Northrup wrote back:

Well I am a huge fan of Melissa McCarthy if that means anything. Of course I don't believe that only tall impossibly skinny women can be healthy. Beauty takes so many forms.

I didn't bother to tell Dr. Northrup that no, it doesn't mean anything that she's a fan of Melissa McCarthy (damn). In the meantime, others weighed in, including with the response in the graphic above:

Enough of the racist crap Regina. Best you move along and stop TROLLING this profile before you get reported for harassment and hatred. Dr. Northrop does not owe you an explication on why she uses the pics she uses. Thank you Dr. Northrop for all you do to educate on here and all your books which I have them all.

More responses are below:


I felt real disappointment and hurt that so many people felt disgusted and angry with me for raising this point, although I'm sure I shouldn't have been. Dr. Northrup seems to have a very white-identifying Facebook community. I finally left it at this:

I am very disappointed by the lack of understanding from Dr. Northrup and the anger I've received from her followers. I have only tried to point out how the whiteness and skinniness of her images make me feel left out and ignored as a Mexican-American woman. Sadly (and I really do feel sad), there isn't much sympathy in the Northrup FB community for these issues of inclusion. Do you want a community where all women feel welcome or just some? If pointing out racial dynamics counts as "trolling" then I guess there's no room for me here.


I'm tempted to unlike her page, but I want to see if she makes any changes and, if she does, how long it takes. So I've decided to stay because I can't monitor the situation if I'm not there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wearing the button


So I was having lunch with a young white woman in a cafe today, and a middle-aged white man leaned over and interrupted our conversation.

"Excuse me. Can I ask you a question? I see you're wearing a Black Lives Matter button and can I just ask you one question?"

I glanced at my companion who looked as startled as I felt and told him, "Yes."

"What does that button mean to you?"

With as bland an expression as possible, I said, "It means there's racism against Black people, but I like them."

He said, "I was active in the civil rights movement in 1964, 1965 and 1966. And I find the anger today that Black people feel towards white people disturbing."

I just looked at him.

He continued, "So do you mean that you like Black people in preference to others..?"

I said, "I like Black people, too."

"Okay." He thought for a second, then said, "Okay. Thank you."

I nodded and went back to my conversation. He looked like he wanted to say more, but wanted to keep his word that it would only be one question.

It was the first time someone had commented on my button besides to compliment it or ask where I got it. Of course it apalled me for this old white man to give me his Baby Boomer bona fides before he questioned my politics, and I could have said more, but I was in the middle of a conversation and didn't think he was worth it. Later the African-American server told me he had been rude to her. Yup. (Get your Black Lives Matter button at PeaceButtons.info.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How to apologize properly

Do you know someone who needs a lesson on how to give a true apology? We hear a lot of false ones in public life. Here's how to say "I'm sorry" properly.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

No such thing as evil

Slaveholders, rapists and serial killers are evil.

No, they're not.

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker argues that defining people as evil is not only unproductive, it's dangerous. It's dangerous because we conceptualize evil as being so pervasive that you can see it in someone's eyes, you can sense it just by looking at them, etc. This is dangerous because it causes us to watch out for people who "look evil" while people who look perfectly ordinary swindle, rape, rob and kill us. De Becker tells us to stop looking for evil people because most murderers, torturers, robbers and rapists are just like everyone else, which is to say that we all have the capacity to do awful things. All of us do, so there's no point in trying to distinguish the good people from the bad people.

Michele Obama's recent reference to the White House having been built by slaves has resulted in renewed discussion of American slavery. I've heard people call American slaveholders monsters, but when we do that we falsly distance ourselves from them. How long does it take us to learn that the worst of human nature happens because ordinary people go along with what everyone else is doing? American slaveholders and their wives and children were regular people just like us. They believed their treatment of Blacks didn't count in the eyes of God. They didn't think Black people felt pain or love or fear the way whites did. Their monstrous treatment of slaves resulted from the culture in which they lived. They weren't evil. They were ordinary men and women motivated by ordinary desires to take care of their families, prosper in their vocations, put in an honest day's work, contribute to the community and be good Christians. They had the same hard-wiring we have. They just happened to live in a racist culture. They just happened to live in a climate that brought out their worst tendencies.

Here are some other people we call evil: a police officer who panics and kills an innocent person, a woman who drowns her children, the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, murderers, embezzlers, kidnappers. Some people do these things because they suffer a break from reality, but others do them with clear minds. And every time we call someone like that evil, we know we would never do anything like that, never, ever, not in a million years.

But that's bullsh*t.

When it's our family that's in danger, when it's our life on the line, when we stand in the truth that someone must be handled and we know how to do it, we reveal how capable we are of terrible things. We can't know how we'll behave in a situation until we're there. Most of us will luckily never face the circumstances that test how truly monstrous we can be. We will continue to enjoy the privilege of believing that we don't have evil tendencies and can pretend we're better than those who do. But we're not.

The list of groups of perfectly ordinary, nice, loving people doing inconceivable things is endless. From American slavery to the Nazis to the Cambodian killing fields to American enhanced interrogators, perfectly normal people find themselves doing things they might have never imagined. There is no such thing as evil. There are only ordinary people doing horrible, nightmarish things.

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the ethnic Hutu part of the population slaughtered a million Tutsi Rwandans. Were the Hutu men who swung their machetes day after day, hunting down whole families, monsters? No. Jean Hatzfeld's Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, Hatzfeld shows us regular men who had to overcome their own emotions on their first kills, but who adjusted to the "work" because if they didn't do it, they faced their own murder. A Hutu man married to a Tutsi woman was ordered to slaughter a family of Tutsis in order keep his own wife alive, so he did it. And so on. To prevent the death of ourselves and our loved ones, who isn't capable of going beyond their usual capacities?

Please stop calling people evil. Don't even call certain actions evil. To do so is to fool ourselves into thinking we can recognize a certain kind of danger and insulate ourselves from it. And especially do not call racism evil. Racism isn't evil. It didn't come from the devil or get cast out of heaven. Our racism today is the result of our nation having been built on treating human beings as property without rights, agency or even feelings. Americans learn racism from infancy, just as other countries pass on their prejudices to their children. This is why I sometimes insist, "The nicest people are racist!" We must uncouple racism from the idea of evil. As long as racism is evil, it's easy for us to believe that we can't be racist because we aren't evil. In fact, what we call evil lives in all of us, and although it's usually dormant, it can be activated under circumstances most of us will be lucky to never face.  (Post on heroism HERE.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

No such thing as heroism

Last night I noticed that Amazon Prime now offers the movie Hotel Rwanda. It's based on the true story of a hotel manager who shielded 1,268 people from certain slaughter during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I couldn't resist watching it (for my fourth time). What I'm drawn to is that the protagonist is motivated by a very simple drive: to take care of others' needs and make them happy. Hutu Rwandan Paul Rusesabagina is an excellent hotel manager because he derives personal satisfaction from providing the best service to his guests. He simply lives to take care of others. We look back on the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis and marvel at Rusesabagina's heroism to stand up to soldiers, police and Hutu murderers, but his motivation is simply that these are his guests and he must take care of them.

Hotel Rwanda shows that the simplest of drives can take you very far. We almost worship people who risk their lives for others, who give when we can't see them getting anything in return, but actually the mechanism that causes people to act in these ways is usually very ordinary. Rosa Parks was tired of giving in and tired of being on her feet. Captain Sully wanted to land his plane safely, just as he'd done hundreds of times before. Animals who we call heroes (dogs and cats) act on instinct. None of these people or creatures considers that their actions might set off a chain reaction that will have far reaching effects across the decades, or make them famous or will prevent a death that would have devastating ripple effects. They just do what they're hard-wired to do.

Moments of heroism happen when an unusual situation both activates and challenges someone's regular, everyday response and that person follows through on that response regardless of risk. We think it's amazing because after the incident is over, we can see all the risks and stunning outcomes and unforeseeable results. We weigh all the things the hero didn't have time for and that forms the basis of the myth that this person has a bravery we don't. But that's not true. They weren't being a genius or a saint. They were just doing what came naturally.

We all have unremarkable drives that, under the right circumstances, cause us to act in remarkable ways. If we de-mythologize the idea of heroism, we can stop thinking that some people are brave, but we are not. We can stop excusing ourselves from taking action because that's not us.

Between April and July 1994, Paul Rusesabagina did what he was hard-wired to do. Remarkably, he kept doing it even when he knew his life was in danger, but his motivation was quite ordinary. When we find ourselves in a situation that challenges us, and we don't waver from what comes naturally, we are similarly being as heroic as Rusesabagina was. Human beings have all the same instincts and responses. We are all just as capable of what we call heroism as of what we call evil. (Post on evil HERE.)

Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda (2005)
P.S. Part of the reason I've watched this movie four times is that the character of Rusesabagina reminds me of my ex-husband, who has spent his life in hospitality and has some of Rusesabagina's character traits.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

50th Birthday


As of July 24, 2016 I am 50 years old and I feel like I've finally reached my prime.
(Cake was yellow layers with buttercream frosting on the outside and mango mousse on the inside. It was from Swedish Bakery in Chicago.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump, immigrants and the RNC

Now that I'm building a new blog for my business, Welcome Dialogue, I choose between my two blogs, depending on the content. Today's post is here: http://wp.me/p76ImY-6h.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I love turning 50!

As I get closer to my 50th birthday on July 24th, I'm getting tired of people trying to tell me I'm not old. They obstinately don't understand that for me old is good. I have always been happy to get a year older because I experienced no great benefit to being young, even as a child. After that, my 20s and 3os were years of low self-esteem, weak confidence, painful family dynamics and fear of almost everything in the world. In my 40s I finally began to build self-esteem and feel more hopeful about my life. At 50 this is the best I've ever been.

When a ten-year-old declares on her birthday that she's all grown up now, no one tries to take that away from her. They don't say, "No, you're not. You've got a long way to go. You're just a little kid." No one says that to a ten-year-old because they understand the context: compared to how old she used to be, being 10 is a big deal! Please give me a similar response. When I say, "I am now officially old!" respond with a statement like, "Congratulations!" not "You're not old. You're still a youngster." When people say things like that to me, it feels like they're dumping a bucket of discouragement over me.

Being told that 50 isn't old also sounds very patronizing, especially when it's said to a woman. The stereotype is that women want to stay young forever and we require constant assurance that we are succeeding. F@#$ that. (And don't give me that "50 & Fabulous" crap either.)

I suspect part of the problem is that my peers take my claim of "oldness" personally. They worry that if Regina is old at age 50, how old does that mean they are? This is just insecurity and overfunctioning. If a 10-year-old calls herself "old," does that make a 25-year-old think, "Damn, then I'm ancient. Oh, no!" No, the 25-year-old knows the 10-year-old's statement has nothing to do with her. Please, people. Let's keep in mind that we're all separate.

So I thank you in advance for not trying to talk me out of my age and wisdom and I leave you with this list.

(Just Some) Reasons It's Great To Be 50 Years Old:

1. You have more authority to talk about things that happened, even in the distant past, because you were there.
2. People can no longer give you that patronizing “Wait until you get older. You’ll change your mind.” (For example, when a 50-year-old says "I don't want children," you have to believe her!)
3. Your opinions count more because they’re based on actual experience and not speculation (such as managing employees, child raising, running your own business, divorce, surgery).
4. The cost of auto insurance goes down.
5. It's easier to rent an apartment, get a loan and do other things that people size you up for based on your appearance.
6. You have more confidence to not put up with the same bullshit as when you were young.
7. You're closer to the end of that annoying, painful, expensive process called menstruation!
8.  It's the age when the senior discounts begin.
9. Salespeople who think you have more money (than young people) are often nicer to you.
10. Women have a brief window of time during which we're neither too young to be taken seriously nor too old to be taken seriously. When we're 50, we're in our prime for being seen as authorities!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Friday, July 01, 2016

NPR's This American Life: "Tell Me I'm Fat"

National Public Radio's This American Life program recently broadcast a show called "Tell Me I'm Fat." On their website, it's described like this:

The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West’s book Shrill.

I haven't read West's book, but I listened to this episode and was impressed with the forthright way the storytellers talk about being fat and how others respond to fat people. The episode features a lot of honesty and a lot of bravery. (I was disappointed and angered to find out that Dan Savage, who I respect, has a history of shaming fat people and making jokes about us.)

One early point West makes is that there's a coming out process to declaring your fatness. But it's not coming out to others, who can see that you're fat. It's coming out to yourself. We fat people often think of ourselves as thin people who are going to fix the problem any day now. We don't want to claim our bodies as they are, so we try to live in a future when we will have shed what we see as extra pounds that aren't really ours. When we stop living in this denial, we can become more comfortable with ourselves and how others see us. West describes her coming out as the point at which she told friends to please just call her "fat." Not "overweight" or "heavy" or anything else; just "fat." It's the reality of who she is and she's done pretending that she's not really living in her body.

Lindy West is way ahead of me.


December 2011
I was a skinny kid, a thin young adult and didn't start to wrestle with weight until my mid-30's when I began restricting food and going to the gym at 5:30 a.m. five days a week. In 2008 I got married later than most: I was going on 42 years old. Like many women I was a slim bride but by my divorce had become straight-up fat. 

In the final seven months of my five-year marriage, I put about 45 pounds on my five foot, two-inch (57 cm) frame. In 2013, two months after my then-husband ended our marriage, I hit 50 pounds up. Yes, I gained 50 pounds (that's over 22 kg) in nine months, almost like pregnancy pounds.

I thought it was temporary. I saw that weight as a temporary response to specific conditions in my life that I would overcome and move past. I willingly bought size 18 and XXL clothes in 2013, knowing I'd only need them for a year at the most. Never having been fat before, I had no idea how hard it would be to lose weight. Never having been 47 before, I didn't know how much harder it is to lose weight in middle-age. I've been learning.

In 2015, a severe health problem forced me to cut out sugar, grains and dairy. By last fall, I had made it down to size 14 and could feel size 12 right around the corner.

I still don't know what happened in January 2016. Financial stress? Fear of being attractive to men again? Not being ready to shed my protective layer of fat? Some other subconscious self-sabotage? Whatever it was, I began eating sweets again and my health problem had improved enough that I could now get away with it -- unfortunately. I went back into depression and eating sweets and feeling bad about myself and eating more sweets and struggling with depression and feeling out of control. By spring, I was back up to size 16:


June 2016
I am not at all with Lindy West in accepting myself as a fat person. I wish I were. It would be so much better to be at peace with where I am, although I've actually been calling myself "fat" all along, wearing my big body like a costume. I have proclaimed my fatness on this blog, in person, in the doctor's office and everywhere. I'm fat. Of course, I'm fat. No one can deny this. But in my mind I keep adding the word "temporarily" to the phrase. I've accepted my fatness, even to the point of posting fat pictures of myself online, because I want there to be a record of how fat I was before I lost all the weight again. And there it is: I'm living in a future where I'm thin again, just like the people Lindy West describes as being in denial.

I'll turn 50 on July 24th, which would be the perfect time to declare that I love myself completely, exactly the way I am, but I still believe who I really am is that thin person I was up until four years ago. I admit that's delusional. Even if I somehow dropped 50 pounds next month, I wouldn't have the same body I had at age 46. I wonder if this is how post-pregnancy women feel: bewildered that years later, they still haven't gotten back their "true" slim body, certain that they aren't going to be this big forever, but unable to find their way back. The weight's going to disappear any month now, right?

At the age of almost 50 years old, I've finally joined the yo-yo dieters. I had managed to avoid that pattern for so long, but here it is. I have a choice as I face my landmark birthday: come out of the closet as a fat person, or keep struggling with myself indefinitely.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

American currency is changing

I missed the announcement a few months ago that not only will the American twenty dollar bill be updated, but the $10 and $5 bills will be, too. Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 (even if it's not for 14 more years), and although Hamilton will stay on the face of the $10, on the back of the $10 will be Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul and Sojourner Truth. On the back of the $5 will be Marion Ross (famous contralto), Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pretty good.

How did I find out? This is interesting. A stranger from a website called Invaluable emailed me asking if I'd be interested in posting some content from Invaluable's blog called In Good Taste. The website looks to me like an upscale Ebay, which I have little interest in, but the graphic he sent is interesting. Here it is:


It's hard to read in web view, so I wrote the person back and asked for a graphic that could be easily zoomed in. He sent the ones below.





I confirmed this information (this New York Times article lists the new faces) and decided to share it. If you ever wondered how currency goes from the design state to the finished product, now you know.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Against no-kill animal shelters


Sabine Heinlein's essay, The Cruelty of Kindness, poses the question of whether no-kill animal shelters have gone too far in saving every life. It comes down to the question of whether any kind of life, no matter how painful, is better than death.

Maybe I'm all alone in this opinion, but I don't think death is always worse than staying alive. There are many conditions that make life a questionable advantage over being dead. This is at the core of discussions of euthanasia (choosing death because the quality of life has sunk to a certain point). I think as people get older and the prospect of living in extreme pain looks more like a possibility, they tend to support the idea of euthanasia. They want the freedom to choose whether nor not to keep in living in a state they find intolerable.

Animals under the care of humans don't have this choice. We choose for them. We can't know what shelter animals think about their situation or if they would consider death a more humane option than a dog living for years (and years) in a place where it doesn't have the human companionship it was bred for. Sure, dogs are physically capable of surviving the most miserable, inhumane circumstances indefinitely, but should they?

When I've discussed this with friends, they've insisted that the best option is for a dog to find a forever home, and they remind me that shelters hold that hope. Yes, shelters do provide the possibility that a dog could find an owner at any time. But is that hazy prospect enough to keep a dog indefinitely in a structure with inadequate heat/cooling capacity, minimal nutrition, no medical attention, almost no contact with humans, in a constantly soiled and cramped space? Most shelters keep their animals in either a cage just big enough for the animal to pace in or in a room filled to capacity. Many of these shelters can't keep up with standards of health and cleanliness. No-kill shelters run on shoestring budgets and they can't all maintain a decent quality of life for their occupants. Why not let the worst of those shelters put their dogs down peacefully?

Once again, I know the mission of no-kill shelters is help dogs find owners. I know the reason to keep dogs alive is to give them a chance to find a new life. Yes, of course, that's the best case scenario. But take off your rose-colored glasses. Imagine living for years in a lonely cage with the constant smell of shit, surrounded by miserable creatures, and you'd have no loved ones or anyone who even knows you exist and no hope of escape (dogs can't plot their exit or appeal for parole).  I'm sure you can't even imagine living like that. Being a shelter dog isn't like being in prison. It's worse. Those dogs probably didn't do anything to deserve that fate, often don't get treatment for medical conditions, can't relieve themselves when they need to, have no way to comprehend why they're there, and are unable to get anything close to the level of companionship we've bred them to need. Many are constantly hungry or in pain. I wouldn't want anyone -- human or animal -- to live a single day in that situation. Again, I know that experience includes the possibility of being rescued any day, but still: doesn't the peacefulness of death sound better than years of that, especially since dogs can't conceptualize hope?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hammacher Schlemmer lifetime guarantee

I bought Hammacher Schlemmer's Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Sandals three years ago, but one of the soles started to detach. I went on their website to replace them and noticed that they have a lifetime guarantee on their products. I decided to try it. 

I called and got my original order number, shipped back the sandals and in two weeks they sent me a brand new pair for free! Apparently I can do this any time I buy one of their products and it wears out/breaks/falls apart. Excellent. From now on, if I can find it on their website, I'm not buying it anywhere else.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Purge movies

Promotion for the first movie.

So I finally watched The Purge (2013) and The Purge: Anarchy (2014), which have to be called "social science fiction action horror" because there's so much going on in them. The first movie seems to be another home invasion story that pits a family against assailants who threaten to kill them, but James DeMonaco wrote some serious social commentary into it. The story takes place in the year 2022, at which point the United States has legalized one night a year when you can commit any crime -- including murder -- without consequences. All laws and emergency services are suspended from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (no police and no hospitals). During this annual event, called the purge, the wealthy protect themselves with state-of-the-art weaponry and security barriers and the un-wealthy do their best to lock themselves in and hope they make it through the night.

The initial movie only sketches out what it must be like to live through this night, showing the experience of one family. The second movie, which takes place in 2023, gives us a fuller picture of what it's like during those annual 12 hours: assailants with ghoulish masks and face paint slaughter people in the street, kidnappers deliver the disadvantaged to wealthy families who want to purge in the privacy of their homes, armed individuals set out on private missions to settle scores, and anyone stuck outside (sometimes driven from their homes) has to survive by wits and luck until the ending horn sounds at 7:00 a.m.

That's all interesting in its violent, action-packed way, but what I find more interesting is the social commentary behind it. In The Purge: Anarchy we find out that since the purge was ratified in 2017 (it's part of the 28th amendment), unemployment and crime are down. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) say the purge gives people a chance to cleanse themselves of their worst tendencies so that the rest of the year they can live in peace. The NFFA state that the economy is improving and the country is more peaceful because of this new tradition.


Zoë Soul, Carmen Ejogo in The Purge: Anarchy

But in this twisted dystopia, other Americans point out that in the five years since the purge started, the numbers of working class, homeless, etc. have decreased because the rich use the purge to slaughter the poor. In The Purge: Anarchy we see the emergence of a political, grassroots opposition led by a Black character named Carmelo. He leads an armed movement during the 2023 purge and urges his peers to join him in fighting back. 

The Purge was prescient in its anticipation of an American population that's ready to do what it takes to get rid of "unwanted" elements. As we've seen since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the presidency, many Americans have been waiting to unleash their bigotry, fear and violence towards people of color. It startled me to see that in The Purge: Anarchy, the Founding Father who's shown giving a speech on TV is named Donald Talbot. The movie came out in July 2014. How did DeMonaco know?

But as much as DeMonaco gets right about political dynamics, he gets a lot wrong about economic dynamics. As I posted recently, when Alabama passed harsh laws in 2011 that caused large numbers of immigrants to leave the state, Alabama lost so much of its working population that its businesses lost millions of dollars. Simply eliminating the poor doesn't result in better employment rates and an improved economy. If everyone who earns less than $10 an hour dropped dead right now, who the hell would pick the fruit, bus the tables, drive the cabs, give the pedicures, watch the children and clean the toilets? We saw in Alabama that unemployed, American-born citizens do not flow right into underpaid, labor-intensive jobs even when they're vacated. Alabama's failed experiment did not improve its employment rate or economy at all. 

DeMonaco's Purge series seems to criticize a country where the rich want to get rid of the poor, but it makes a very insidious argument: that eliminating the poor (and the homeless and the old and the sick, etc.) would improve the economy. This seems particularly irresponsible when I consider that Alabama's cautionary tale was well underway by 2012, the year DeMonaco would have been creating his fantasy world where getting rid of the poorest members means an economy improves. 


Promotion for the third movie.
I can only hope that The Purge: Election Year (out 1 July 2016) shows us that the NFFA's stories of the economy improving have been false. That's the only way DeMonaco can correct his misguided dystopic vision and back away from the idea that killing those who earn the least will result in more prosperity for all. In the second film, one character describes the purge as having resulted in the redistribution of wealth upwards. What? Our country's wealth has already redistributed upwards. You could kill off all of us who earn less than $20,000 a year and it wouldn't make much difference at all to those at the top. The storylines of The Purge movies seem pro-working class on the surface, but they're supported by a dangerous theory. Come on, DeMonaco. Show us in The Purge: Election Year that the purge hasn't really been about economic wealth. Maybe it's really been about racial purity or good old eugenics, but it can't be about money. The math just doesn't work.