Baby boomers are awesome

Baby boomers are awesome. Here’s why:

  • They grew up without the Internet, NetFlix and smart phones, so they know how to focus on a task without being distracted
  • They were there during the civil rights and anti-war movements and have the experience to mobilize for any threats they see on the horizon
  • They remember what it was like before safe abortion was legal
  • Most are retired but still active and have plenty of time for meeting, marching, educating
  • Healthcare is very important to them, as it could be the deciding factor on whether they die in poverty or have something to leave behind for their children

Baby boomers are ready to lead the resistance. Let’s learn from them.

NaPoWriMo 2017, poem 19

When people don’t reply

to email, texts, messages, calls,

I begin to write fiction

in my mind.

They must be busy

They must not care

They must hate me

They must be sick

They must be dead

Do I try again to rouse a response?

If I do, will it wake up

the dearly departed

or am I merely kicking someone

when they are down?

There is never a right answer

to the questions I ask myself

or others.

People were designed for face to face.

But here we are, so many miles

apart so I keep on pinging, nagging,

digging up daisies

until it kills me.

When there’s diabetes in the family

Our cat Sketch has Type 2 Diabetes and we’re so used to dealing with it now. Here are some highlights of our reality:

  1. There’s a sharps container in the kitchen. Relegated to the floor for food safety purposes, it’s a bright red reminder that someone in the family gets shots every day.
  2. All the adults in the house have accidentally stabbed themselves with the syringe or lancet at least once. It happens. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you are being.
  3.  Sometimes a lancet falls on the ground. It’s cool when it actually pierces the floor, like in this pic.
  4. You wake up in the night and wonder if your cat is having a seizure somewhere in the house. Sketch hasn’t yet had a seizure or hypoglycemic incident, but sometimes I worry about him in the middle of the night.
  5. When you can’t find the cat, you wonder if he’s dead. Especially when his blood glucose numbers can ride a roller coaster between 50 and 650+ I start wondering just how many lives this animal has left.
  6. You get used to the blood testing equipment just sort of chillin’ in the middle of other family activities. As when the Easter baskets came out and the journal and bowl o’ supplies got into the pic, because they were there, like they always are, right next to my place at the kitchen table. 

What’s Everyone Freaking Out About Today?

If I could be cynical for a bit…my brain thinks it’s visiting social media for some excitement, but what’s really happening is a desire to get an answer to one or more of the following questions:

  • What event or news is everyone upset about today?
  • What’s the latest thing we are criticizing each other for doing, or not doing?
  • What well known person has died, and how many people are going to freak out because of it?
  • Which movie/TV Show/cultural phenomenon is everyone distracting themselves with?

Here’s the thing: Do I really want answers to these questions? I don’t.

Like anyone, what I’m really seeking is happiness. Remember happiness? Good old happiness. It certainly isn’t to be found in the realm of social media.

Child’s Desk Makeover

My tween’s desk has been a source of parental horror for me ever since I caught her eating a bowl of soup directly in front of the laptop keyboard. Banning soup from the area isn’t enough though. I mean, look at the photo below. She doesn’t have any real space to do her crafts while watching endless sessions of PopularMMOs on the laptop screen. I’ve been telling her for months that we just need to raise the lappy up on a platform, push it back aways, and add a bluetooth keyboard which we have kicking around, but she recoiled every time I brought it up, apparently unable to convince herself that the effort of moving her little bins of whatsit back there were going to be worth it.

"Before"

“Before”

So while she was at school one day last week, I decided to take matters in to my own hands, aka, “saving her from herself.” It’s a power technique all parents need to have in their toolkit when raising a stubborn child.

Once I got past stripping away layers of garbage and out of place materials I began to notice some shrewd transformations my child had done:

Clever use of pencil sharpeners to hold those silly little golf pencils

Clever use of pencil sharpeners to hold those silly little golf pencils

 

Cheap windchime kit ingeniously morphed into a mobile with straws, paper clips and little paper shapes.

Cheap wind chime kit ingeniously morphed into a mobile with straws, paper clips and little paper shapes.

Once there was room, I moved all the little bins and put in these cheap plastic shelves from Daiso and then arranged her stuff. Lappy went up on a riser with the keyboard tucked underneath.

See how much better it looks? Well, it’s not Pinterest-worthy but still. In my house, this counts as serious progress. Especially since the kid loved it.

"After"

“After”

Hard Conversations

Last month I took an online course facilitated by Patti Digh and Victor Lee Lewis called “Hard Conversations: Intro to Racism,” because I wanted to learn more about systemic racism in the USA and what I can do to be an ally to people of color. During the course of the learning, we covered a number of topics, starting with basic advice about how to listen deeply, understand that “it’s not about you,” empathy vs sympathy and non-violent communication. We watched the movie “The Color of Fear,” and the documentary, “A Class Divided,” and saw a number of educational YouTube videos by people like Chescaleigh, Kat Blaque and Akilah. We got into upsetting topics like the murder of young Emmett Till, the corruption in Ferguson, redlining in the housing industry, police brutality, and also touched upon Black Lives Matter and various activists in the new civil rights movement. We were reminded to take self-care days, and to grant specificity to the other, lest we fall victim to the danger of a single story.

From what I could gather, the majority of the participants were European Americans like me but there were also people of color present. You can’t fully understand other people’s experiences unless you have a somewhat complete knowledge of yourself, and white people in America tend to ignore their own whiteness, so we also got into discussing things like: what is whiteness? what’s wrong with saying you’re ‘colorblind‘? what are ‘white privilege‘ and ‘white fragility‘?  Additionally, we discussed microaggressionscultural appropriation and biracial identities.

I’ve shared all these links to videos and articles to give you sort of a mini-version of what we learned, and if you have the time to go through the links at your leisure, I highly encourage you to do so. If you’re really into this topic, here are a couple of bonus videos: White Man On White Supremacy & Fear of a Black Nation and A Brief History of White Privilege, Racism and Oppression in America | Legalize Democracy excerpt. And check out Michelle Alexander‘s book (or at least the review for) “The New Jim Crow.”

I’d like to share some of the things I learned which were especially eye opening for me personally:

  1. Racism is subtle. I grew up thinking racists were a small minority of clueless white people who just hadn’t made it past the turn of the 19th century in their thinking. In reality, racism is pervasive in American society, yet you may not be noticing it. And this failure to notice can be more damaging than a KKK march. After all, you can’t fix something unless you can admit it is a problem.  Some examples: You might live in a progressive city and hire minorities at your company, while paying them less than white people for the same work. You might live in a diverse neighborhood, but when you walk by darker skinned people, you automatically pull your purse closer or avoid eye contact with them. You might be working retail and unconsciously spend more time and effort with your pale skinned customers under the assumption that they have more money to spend, while at the same time side-eying your darker skinned customers with the idea that they might be fixing to steal something. And this is just the beginning.
  2. When someone tells you their story about how they were hurt by something that happened to them as a racial minority, it really isn’t helpful to chime in with your own anecdotes about a time when you experienced something that felt like prejudice to you. People don’t feel listened to when you keep bringing the attention back to yourself.
  3. Most people of color are more comfortable talking about race than most white people. Pretending to not see someone’s skin color doesn’t actually help anyone.
  4. I also realized that I have long felt a sense of not really relating to my race or ethnic heritage, and that being able to ignore my race and ethnicity is actually a kind of luxury. No one looks at me, sees my Italian background and jokes about the Mafia, sees my German background and jokes about the Nazis, sees my Russian background and ribs me about the Cold War, sees my British background and makes a crack about the Revolutionary War, or sees my Polish background and jokes about how dumb I must be. My whiteness is considered the “default” so I have the luxury of being able to forget about it. Not so for people of color in America.

Ultimately, the deepest takeaway from this course is the reminder that we are all connected, and if one part of the human race is suffering, then we all are suffering, even if we don’t realize it. And, we all have an obligation to do what we can to help relieve systemic injustices that keep us from being free. In that sense, this understanding fits in well with my Buddhist values.

The course calls itself a “firehose of information” and it was indeed, but I looked forward to each new page of links to articles, videos and audio interviews.  If you would like to sign up for the next session, you can do so here.

 

 

Something I recently learned about chronic pain

“Pain depends on how much danger your brain THINKS you are in, not how much danger you are really in.” – Dr. Lorimer Moseley

After several years of chronic upper back pain, my doctors had done all they could for me, and sent me to Carolyn McManus, a specialist in managing pain with mindfulness. I learned some things from her I wish I’d known thirty years ago.

Once an injury has healed, if you continue to feel pain in the area for months or years, this is happening because of the messages your brain is sending to the area. A feedback loop is created when you think things like, “There’s that pain again, will it ever go away? Maybe I will be like this for the rest of my life! I wonder why my doctors can’t find anything wrong? I better take another Tylenol…” By thinking these sorts of thoughts, you are effectively making things worse. The new hypothesis of chronic pain indicates that emotional memories modulate our experience of pain, and the result is “a brain that has learned to filter emotions, actions, and reward through the lens of pain, rendering the brain addicted to pain.” (From this research paper)

Professor Lorimer Moseley has a fascinating YouTube talk called “Getting a grip on pain and the brain.” He explains how a person can continue to feel pain in a body part, even when they no longer have that body part. Damage to a body part doesn’t have to be painful. Conversely, you could be in a lot of pain without any tissue damage. He tells a story that may feel vaguely familiar once you realize once he’s getting at: pain accompanied by fear and worry is significantly worse than pain accompanied by a relaxed acceptance.

It’s important to understand that this theory does not mean “pain is all in your head.” The pain is real. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that thinking negative thoughts about it isn’t doing me any favors. By continually focusing on the area and how it feels, I’m not only tensing up the muscles inadvertently, but I’m also burning neural pathways that make it easier for me to go down this same negative thought spiral again and again.

The solution, then, is mindfully being aware of the “sensation” you’ve labelled as pain, and noticing that it comes and goes, just like a cloud in the sky. “You are not your pain” to quote a book of the same name. There are other suggestions as well, which you can find either in the book and other links I just mentioned.

This focus on mindfulness and meditation resonates with my practice of Buddhist meditation to some degree. In fact, it could be argued that Buddhists who have reached a high level of attainment have managed to eliminate pain and suffering…after all, isn’t that what Shakyamuni Buddha was said to have done for his own mindstream? Look at this real life example from the life and death of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, as described by his Doctor (minute 27:50 of this documentary).