Sunday, August 29, 2010

Diet- the four letter word

A couple of years ago when I first realized that I was terminally bored, there wasn't much I could do about it. It was the middle of my daughter's senior year in high school and we had several college visits planned, plus various other things, that meant I couldn't commit to a job or anything else.  So I decided the one thing that I could do would be to work on getting in shape.  Which was something almost completely different for me-- other than a brief stint with aerobics in my twenties, I've been almost entirely sedentary my entire life.  Due to lucky genetics, when I was younger I still managed to be in pretty good shape, but the older I got, the less genetics counted, and the more pasty-looking and pathetic I became.  I didn't exactly know what to do about it-- I'm a couch potato, a geek, a nerd, a booklover.  I don't do exercise. 

Or at least I didn't.  Because I had to do something, and that was the only thing I could think of that was manageable at the time and that felt like enough of a change.  I was clear on one thing:  it wasn't going to be about losing weight.  And it hasn't been.  I'm in much better shape, and my clothes fit better and I look better, but I weigh pretty much exactly the same as I did when I started. In fact, there have even been a couple of times in the midst of this that I've gained weight. 

What I started with was the treadmill.  I got some good music for my iPod and I just started making myself do it three or four times a week. On the days I didn't do the treadmill, I tried to do something else-- either go for a walk, or do yoga or stretching or something.  Always with the iPod going-- that turned out to be the trick for me:  having music I enjoyed listening to so I didn't really think that much about what my body was doing.  At first I had to drag myself to do it, but before long I was almost(not quite) looking forward to it. 

And then I even started looking for ways to make it more challenging.  I started doing ab work on some of the off days-- which was a challenge, because anything that pulls on my neck leads to migraines, and it took awhile to find a set of ab exercises that doesn't put any strain on the neck.  Then about a year ago, I added free weights while I was on the treadmill.  Nothing fancy (a year later, I'm still using 3 lb weights, just more repetitions), but it was enough that I could tell a definite difference when I would go to lift something.  And a funny thing happened.  It turned out that actually being stronger physically made me feel stronger emotionally, too.  It's been a good thing for me.  I find that I miss my routine when we're out of town and I can't do it.

But, as I said before, it has been unrelated to my weight, and I haven't changed my eating habits at all.  In fact,  they've gotten considerably worse.  I guess I've been using the exercise as an excuse to eat more, and more unhealthy stuff.  Then this summer started.  It has been stressful, to say the least.  My dad's illness, the intensive class I was auditing during the month of June, all the travel (three trips via plane!  that's more than I usually do in a year! plus all the driving to UTown, and a trip to Seattle to help my daughter move in to an apartment), and being in charge of a week-long family reunion in mid-July-- I've been stressed.  Although I was still exercising, I wasn't taking very good care of myself otherwise.  About halfway through the family reunion, I noticed that I was just stuffing food in my mouth.  All day long.  I'm not sure why that was helping me manage the stress (or even if it really was), but once I noticed it, I could watch myself do it.  All day long. 

and predictably enough, my weight ballooned.  I don't weigh myself-- I hate to obsess about the number-- so I'm not sure how much I actually gained, but when the pictures came back from the family reunion, I was shocked.  How did I let it get that bad?  I looked like the Michelin man. 

So.  I know from previous experience that I can't diet.  That would be another post, but since it's a topic that bores me, I probably won't write it.  I've stepped up the exercise a little, and I'm just trying to not overeat. And to make healthier food choices.  It's working pretty well so far-- I finally did weigh myself last week and I'm already back down to the same weight I've been for several years now.  But I wouldn't mind seeing if I can ditch ten pounds or so.  I still wouldn't even be back to the weight I was before my now-13-year-old son was born, but I would probably feel better.

This was actually going to go in a different direction when I started, but maybe I will save that post for tomorrow because this one has already gone on too long.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


This summer has been full of opposites, some of them real, some that exist only in my head.  Three days with my dad, then three days with my mom.  A morning spent at the Christian camp I used to attend as a kid, experiencing in a brief period some of both the best and the worst of the religion of my childhood:  best-- that soaring sense of joy and community that comes with corporate worship; worst-- the slick, overprocessed packaging of something that was never meant to be smooth and glossy.  A fun, relaxing week spent with my conservative, religious extended family, followed shortly by a fun, relaxing week with my husband's secular, more sophisticated family (with my family, we made it through about a six-pack and a half of Mike's Hard Lemonade in the entire week.  With my husband's family, every day my brother-in-law would start making the gin and tonics about 4:50-- or as my husband says of his brother's work, GIN and tonics).  My dad proving once again that he only sees what he wants to see when he looks at me; my husband heading straight for the computer when I told him there was a new blog post I wanted him to read sometime in the next few days.  My dad's terminal illness; the wedding of some dear friends' daughter, whom we've known since she was 3, and the beginning of her new married life.

It's been very nearly dizzying at times.  All summer I've been rocking back and forth between the two poles I talked about earlier this year, the poles of belief and disbelief, of some sort of loosely interpreted theism versus atheism tempered by spiritual awareness.  but cheery-o (thank god for cheery-o) said something in an e-mail that has helped me out here.  I don't even remember exactly how she phrased it, but it made me realize that whichever pole I'm occupying at any particular moment, the underlying impulse is the same.  The impulse to experience .......... oh, yuck, I'm trying to think how to say this without sounding pious and I can't figure out how to do that so I'm just plunging ahead anyway. The impulse to open myself to experience, the desire to find something outside myself that resonates with what is authentic within me.  I guess I'm back to what I've been saying all along, which is just that I'm trying to learn how to experience the spiritual side of who I am without needing an intellectual explanation of what it means, of what the dogma surrounding it "should" be, without needing definitions and a catechism to explain it all.

I'm wondering if maybe this is what Keats meant when he talked about negative capability:  "that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."   (googled that)  I had forgotten about it until it came up in briefly in one of the classes I took last fall.  Unfortunately, it was an idea he didn't develop much, it is only mentioned briefly in a letter to his brother.  Interesting, yes?  I think of it as being in abeyance, suspended between thoughts.  Waiting for the chord to resolve, and trying to learn not to need it to resolve.  Living in the moment without reference to past or future (Tolle).  Or to put it in Buddhist terms, learning to shut off my monkey mind and just sit with whatever comes up.

not sure where I'm going with this, just rambling.  I start classes next week, so it seemed like a good moment to look back over the summer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It Starts. (aka Orientation)

I'm sitting in the atrium of the student center at the university, having just gone through the one-hour orientation session the English Department held for incoming master's students.  I'm trying to remember what kind of orientation we had the last time I did this, and since I've already admitted how old I am, I will even confess that it was in 1983.  But I can't remember.  It was too long ago.

I do remember a woman named Mary from that program.  She was probably in her early forties--younger than I am now--but to me at age 22, fresh out of undergrad, she was ancient.  The ink was barely dry on her divorce.  She had a couple of teenage kids.  And she was so, so excited to be in graduate school.  It was the kind of excitement of someone who has been given a Get Out of Jail Free card and is looking about in wonder and amazement that all of this has been here all along, while she was slaving through whatever it was she had done before.

We were not fans of Mary, those of us who were young and smugly, unknowingly arrogant about where we were going and what we were doing (even if we weren't exactly sure what that was).  Even though she was older than us, she seemed naive and backward in a way that made us uncomfortable to be associated with her.  She asked breathless questions. She could often be found after class talking earnestly to the professor about who knows what.  If the professor assigned a 5-7 page paper, she wrote 18 and handed it in bound in a formal report cover.  If we were supposed to read Tom Jones, she read Joseph Andrews, too, "for perspective." The rest of us were still thoroughly of the undergrad mindset where one does the least amount of work possible to achieve the desired grade.  We had Things To Do.  We were Busy and Active and Involved. She seemed, honestly, a little pathetic.

You can probably already guess where this is headed, because oh, yes, I have become Mary.  (Except that I will never write a paper that's longer than it's supposed to be.  Not my thing.)(oh, yeah, and I'm still married.)  It's a funny feeling.  I want to tell them that even though I don't know the buzzwords that let everyone know that you are in with the cool crowd, I am a smart person.  I am not a complete loser.  I have raised children, I have filed my own taxes, I have owned a home (three of them), I have held jobs and made money and been a productive member of society.  But I know it's useless, because I remember how I looked at Mary.  There is nothing she could have done that would have convinced me that she was One of Us.

OK.  so now that I've gotten that out of my system.  I should also say:  it's not so bad.  I don't mean to whine.  I'm not here to socialize.  I can just keep my head down and do my work and get it done.  Oh, wait, I forgot where I live.  That should have been "get 'er done."  *smirk*

So.  orientation.  It was, for the most part, a description of the timeline we should (ideally) follow if we plan to complete the MA in two years-- which I would like to do.  So it was useful.  A little intimidating, but useful. I'm not planning on setting the world on fire or coming up with any original insights that will recalibrate my field of study, I'm planning on finding a topic that interests me and researching the heck out of it and writing it up.  (get 'er done, right?).   So sticking with the timeline would actually be a good thing.  Now I just have to find a topic.

Monday, August 23, 2010

to speak or not to speak

And if your first thought on reading the last two posts was, "Oh, poor thing, she is going to get crucified in graduate school," all I can say is: the same thought has occurred to me.  But I do know how to keep my mouth shut.  Sometimes it's not a choice-- if I open my mouth to speak in class, chances are good to excellent that I will draw a complete blank on what I was going to say, or fumble it so badly that I make no sense, which tends to make one very wary about speaking up in public.  But sometimes it's a decision you make to protect yourself.  The chances of me turning the tide on this issue as a lone graduate student at a somewhat obscure university in the northern rockies are slim to none, so what's the point of making myself look like an idiot?  And besides, I do understand the shock value of raising this point with kids who are 20 years old and have never thought about gender issues in any serious way before.  I can't exactly say I think it's a bad idea.

mum's the word, I guess.

But it brings up the whole issue of "speaking your truth," as they call it.  I'm really bad at this, by the way.  A therapist pointed this out to me years ago (I should keep a count of how often that phrase appears in this blog) in marriage counseling.  I have a really hard time just saying what I'm thinking or feeling, let alone wanting or needing.  She called this "reporting out."  You have to say what's in your head, "report" it to your partner, because they can't read your mind.  Those of us who are introverts and are used to thinking, thinking, thinking a million miles a minute without telling anyone anything have a hard time switching gears and realizing that sometimes for the sake of the person/people you're with, you just need to say what you're thinking.

A corollary of this is a core belief that my opinions don't matter.  I could easily try to pin this on my fundamentalist upbringing (where ignoring your own perceptions about life and the world is so much taken for granted that it might as well have been something they put in the water), but mainly I think it has to do with your personality.  Some people are just born thinking that their opinions matter.  Even when they're well aware that it's just an opinion and that other people might disagree, they have no problem believing that it's important for other people to know what they think.  That would not be me.  I have this blog where I type out my little two cents, but one of the main reasons why there are so few posts from the last couple of years is that it's so hard for me to believe that it matters if I say what I think.  And if you got me in person and tried to talk about any of this stuff, it would be like pulling teeth.

Is this going anywhere?  It doesn't appear to be, but in fact, there was a point I wanted to make when I sat down to edit this post, besides telling you all sorts of random things about my brain that you didn't want to know.  Which was:  a couple of years ago, I heard a poet in a panel discussion say something to the effect that our perceptions are the only thing we have that is truly our own (excuse plural/singular problem but that's the way I want to say it).  The thought floored me for some reason.  It comes to mind frequently.  And to loop this back up to the place where this post started (see, I told you it was going somewhere), it gives me an enormous sense of empowerment to know that a) my perceptions are MINE, dammit, and you can't take that away from me, and b) I can CHOOSE when I want to share those perceptions and when I don't.  I can choose to share my difference of opinion with my husband because I love him and even though we might disagree in the short term, for the long term health of our relationship, he needs to know how I feel.  I can choose NOT to share my opinions in a classroom setting because a) I know I'm not going to change the professor's mind, b) even though I disagree, I do understand the issue and I don't need to have it re-argued for the umpteenth time, and c) I don't want to look like an idiot.

Apologies for all the a)s, b)s, and even a c) this time.  I got on a roll there.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

in which aunt BeaN beats a dead horse

I actually woke up thinking about this this a.m., so I'm going to type it out so I can get it out of my head.  But I'm having a really hard time figuring out how to make my point.

So.  Try this.  Let's say you tell a group of older women that women in their twenties are more attractive to men than women in their fifties.  You lay out the biological reasons why this is (supposedly) true:  women in their twenties are potential producers of children, so on average they are more attractive because their ability to attract men ensures the survival of the species.  After most of your group of older women cringe inwardly and think, "Oh, God, I know, I know" (kidding), there are the following reactions.  One goes out and gets plastic surgery and starves herself into oblivion and manages to look ten or fifteen years younger than she is.  One goes out and finds a dozen gorgeous 50-year-olds and a dozen unattractive 25-year-olds, lines them up, and says, "SEE? It's not true."  Another takes the opposite tack and searches (to the ends of the earth) for the five men on the planet who think older women are more attractive than younger women. (kidding!  kidding!)  One finds a 50-year-old woman who is having a baby and says, "See?  Your point about the biology is wrong."  But one of them says, "So what?   Maybe it's true, but I'm happier now than I was when I was 25, I take better care of myself, and I like the way I look.  Big deal."  And she ignores the whole thing and walks out.

So which one has done the most to subvert the cultural bias about women's attractiveness?  The last one, of course.  At the very least, she's the happiest and most content of the lot.  The others are all consciously or unconsciously shoring up the idea that it matters whether or not older or younger women are more attractive.  And that's how this argument (the one from the previous post) feels to me.  We feminists, when we argue so vociferously that there is no biological basis for the cultural differences between the genders, are unconsciously shoring up the idea that those differences are important, that it matters that men are (or are not) stronger or taller than women beyond the bare statement of the fact.  OK, so (usually) men are stronger than women.  That has no bearing on anything outside of a situation where physical strength makes a difference.  Like when I need help to lift a cooler full of drinks and ice into the back of my car. :-)

???  let me know what you think.  I'm pretty sure there's a hole in my logic here somewhere but it's escaping me at the moment.

Friday, August 20, 2010

in which Aunt BeaN tries to dig herself out of a hole

I'm a middle-of-the-road sort of liberal, but I live in one of the most conservative areas of the conservative heartland.  An area where if you're even willing to have the word liberal used in your general vicinity, folks are pretty sure you're plotting with the United Nations to take over the world.  Around here, it is more common than not to be anti-government, anti-Democrat and especially anti-Obama, anti-choice, pro-gun and whatever other similar adjectives you can think of to string along there (though not necessarily Republican-- there was a lot of support for Ron Paul around here during the last election).  I've lived here for 18 years.  I have a lot of experience with being a liberal who lives in the midst of conservatives.  We moved here from an area that was drowning in universities-- I heard once that the town where we lived had the second highest per capita number of PhDs in the country.  So we were in the middle of the sort of academic liberalism that thrives in that kind of community, and we were part of it.  But when you move out of that environment and into the hinterlands, you discover that a lot of the stuff that makes complete sense in an academic environment doesn't make any sense at all to those who haven't been indoctrinated to think that way.  (Although I detest many of the things that Ann Coulter says, she has a point about liberal academia that I don't think you get while you're in the midst of it, because you're so caught up in how right it is, how things should be.  Or at least I was.  I guess I shouldn't speak for anybody else.)

So anyway.  The point I'm trying to make here is that there are things that have become commonplace to say among feminists/liberals that just don't play in the rest of the world.  And when you say them, you leave yourself wide open for a Glenn Beck follower or an Ann Coulter devotee to make mincemeat out of you.  and I think this is one of them.  If you say "There is no biological basis for gender differences," all they have to do is point out that women have wombs and men have Y chromosomes, and many physical characteristics (like strength and height and muscle mass) have definite bell curves that tend toward one gender or the other--all of which are things that are going to have an effect on behavior.  Not to mention the fairly well documented evidence for what happens when you pump lab rats full of testosterone or estrogen, each of which is more prominent in one gender or the other.

So if you want to say that "the genetic state of being male (or female) has so many infinitely different ways of being expressed in any individual person's life that there's really no point in trying to define a set of biologically based gender traits," you've made a good, valid observation and one that is worth thinking about.  Your conservative friend might disagree with you but you could have a really interesting conversation about it.  But that's a different thing than saying that gender traits have no basis in biology.

Does that make sense?  I'm honestly not sure about this issue, and I am fascinated by it.  Let me know what you think.  You can always comment anonymously, or you can e-mail me or call if you don't feel comfortable posting.  I think there is going to be a follow-up to this sometime in the next couple of days because I didn't say everything I started out wanting to say, but I think this is all for now.

feminism, the ongoing adventures

So I wrote those posts about feminism* earlier this year, and then wasn't happy with them because they didn't seem like quite what I wanted to say, but I never really figured out how to fix them, so I just moved on.  But on one of my many trips this summer, it occurred to me that the problem I was having was that I wanted to write one post about feminism and have it say everything I wanted to say.  In hindsight, that is silly, because it's a huge, complex topic with many different ways that it impacts my life and the way I think.  It has to be an ongoing conversation, and it will be, not the least because I'm taking two classes this fall that will involve feminist literary criticism.  So I decided to put those posts back in place (two of them had been moved), create a label for posts on feminism, and turn it into an ongoing discussion.

But I hadn't gotten around to either doing that or saying that when the issue of gender morality turned up on today.  I plunged in and stated my case badly and probably in a way that was offensive to some, so I'm feeling the need to say more.  So .... I'm working on the next installment in the conversation, which is just one more of what is sure to be many.  it should be up later tonight or tomorrow.

and a postscript, as long as I'm talking about blognews.  At one point I had decided to move literary stuff-- including my grad school adventures-- to another blog.  But over the summer, I've decided that I don't have the energy to manage two blogs, so I bagged that idea.  Plus there wouldn't be much left over to post about here, since I'm betting that being in school this fall is going to take up most of my energy.  So just in case you caught that post (which is now deleted), NEVER MIND.

* and btw, when you click on one of the labels, you get the posts that have been tagged with that label in reverse order (in other words, most recent first).  So if you want to read them in order, you have to start at the bottom and read up, so to speak.  I've tried to figure out how to change this, but according to blogger's help center, there's no way around this at present.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

functional what?

Cheery-O has a fascinating post up right now about "functional atheism."  It's a Parker Palmer phrase.  He uses functional atheism to describe someone who says all the right things about believing in God, but then acts as if God doesn't exist.  In other words, s/he might acknowledge publicly that God is in control, but then acts as if nothing will happen if we don't do it ourselves.  I may not have described that very well.

So he's using the word "functional" to describe someone's actual beliefs as displayed in the way they act, rather than what they say they believe.  Which then, of course, got me thinking about what my own "functional" beliefs would be.  If you didn't have access to any of my stated beliefs, but you just followed me around for a few days (sadly for you, the main thing it would be is boring), if you were watching my walk and not my talk, how would you then describe my beliefs?  and let me tell you, that is one scary train of thought.  I would go on to describe what you might see, but it's a little too embarrassing.  It's worth thinking about, though.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

in which I wallow, but only for a moment

As I've said about a gazillion times, we've been out of town or out of internet-range or just dadgum busy a lot this summer.  So I haven't been keeping up with some of the things on the web that I usually check on a regular basis.  I had skimmed through enough a couple of days ago to realize that there had been quite a-- um, well for lack of a better word-- brouhaha in the one blog community I read daily, but I didn't have time to read through the comments, and I hadn't really figured out what happened.  So this morning I sat down and spent a couple of hours reading through a whole bunch of posts.  The stuff from this week was so interesting that I never even made it to last week when I was actually out of town.

One of the things that fascinates me most is how this group of women (and it is mostly women, though there are a few brave guys that occasionally post) are all engaging exactly the same issues that I've been working through myself.  On the one hand, this is comforting (I'm not alone), and it is also encouraging (I hope it is indicative of a sea change that's going on in a far broader context of how women see themselves and the world).  There are probably a couple dozen that post regularly, and another couple dozen that post occasionally, and who knows how many more who read but never post-- that's at least a couple hundred women who are out there thinking about this stuff.  Watching all those interactions is what has me hooked on reading this blog.  Lucy, the owner of the blog, is amazing, funny, and wise, but it is the community of responses in all their amplifications, disagreements, asides, snickers, and differing perspectives that is what really makes it worth reading.  And it astonishes me how often the issues expressed are almost exactly the same things I've been thinking about, too.  If I didn't already believe in some sort of collective unconscious, this would probably do it.

But on the other hand, in terms of my own blog, it is discouraging.  Because I have this very strong feeling of "What's the point?" now about several of the posts I've been meaning to write.  When we got back from vacation last weekend, I actually sat down and made a list of half a dozen posts I'd thought up while I was sitting at the beach and watching the waves roll, and only one of them hasn't been covered in some way over at that community.  And of course, since there is an entire community of women built up over there, they've said it far better, more eloquently, more wittily, and with more perspective than I will ever have.  I don't think it's jealousy--I'm familiar with that one, and this doesn't feel like that.  I just feel discouraged.

Which is odd.  I'm trying to sort through this and figure out why I should keep going.  I mean, I'm probably not going to quit, because I've had a blog for almost seven years now, so obviously there is something about it that works for me.  But it's hard for me to expect anyone to want to read it.  If it's just derivative, just re-hashing the same old things that someone else is doing better, then what's the point?  I can't tell you how many times over the past six months I've thought about closing down this blog and starting another one that nobody knows about so I can be boring and derivative and no one will have to know or be bothered about it.  Which is SO bizarre.  I mean, what would be the point of THAT?  Just blogging to the universe, with no one to read it?

And when I had that thought, I sat there practically with my jaw hanging open and realized-- is that what this does for me?  is it a substitute for prayer?  I'm spilling my guts out there and hoping that God gets it?  Oh. My. Gosh.

Well, OK, that is original.  Nobody said that over there.  lol.  ok, now I'm cracking myself up.

I turned off comments on this post because the last thing I want is for my poor readers to feel compelled to boost my sagging ego.

OK, I picked a bad day to link.  I will fix it to a better one sometime soon..  Hope no one was offended by the inanity.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

climbing out of the victim rut

This post has been bouncing around in my head on and off for months now.  I haven't written it yet because there are so many things to say that I just don't even know where to start.  But a couple of nights ago I stood in line at Baskin Robbins behind a woman who was picking up a birthday cake and I watched her react in the classic victim mode, so I thought that would at least be a place to start.

I've been in therapy for many years, but other than a "checkup" appointment last fall, I haven't really been in therapy for years now--probably at least five or six, and if you don't count marriage counseling, it's been more like ten.  But I've had several wonderful, wise therapists over the years and their words bounce around in my head all the time.  One therapist years ago pointed out to me that I often react like a victim in situations where I really am not a victim.  So, something happens that I perceive as negative or not in my favor, and instead of doing something about it, I (essentially) pout.  I go into Mute Outrage mode.  Inside I'm thinking, "You shouldn't treat me like that, that's not fair, that's not right, you are a mean person," but on the outside I'm doing nothing and saying nothing.  I'm not proud of this, believe me.  But I'm not going to be able to say what I want to say if I don't 'fess up here.

So this woman right in front of me in line is picking up a birthday cake.  It was kinda late, about 8:30 or 9 p.m., and I was there with six kids who just wanted ice cream cones.  It was busy, as Baskin Robbins always is on summer nights, and we'd been standing in line for about 10 minutes-- not a terribly long time, but long enough that no one was anxious to prolong the experience.  So she asks for her birthday cake, and the guy at the counter, who turns out to be the manager on duty although he couldn't have been any older than 25, goes back to get it.  The cake had been made, but it hadn't been decorated.  The woman purses her lips, and says, "Well, I need to have it decorated," and the guy apologizes but explains that the person who does the decorating has already left for the day and there was no one there to decorate it.  The woman purses her lips again and does a sort of silent fume thing.  The guy tries to make a joke about how there is no way she would want him to decorate it since it would be a disaster.  Then the woman turns to me, and says furiously, "It was supposed to be ready. I called them yesterday and ordered a decorated cake."  I kind of half-smiled at her helplessly, because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, and I wasn't sure exactly how she expected me to respond.  The manager is still standing there with the cake in his hand, waiting for her to decide what to do.  She kind of huffs and says something again about how it was supposed to be decorated, and then turns back to me again.  I wondered what she expected me to do?  Was I supposed to take up the fight for her?  join her in her outrage?  There was no way I was going to walk out of there in support of her when I have six kids with me who still want their ice cream and I don't know her from Adam.  So she gets this really disgusted look on her face, and spits out, "It's not much of a birthday cake if it's not decorated!" but she gets out her credit card and pays, muttering under her breath the whole time, then takes the cake and practically stomps out the door.

So in my head I'm thinking, OK, this is great practice.  She went right into Mute Outrage mode, but it's not me, so I can think about what I could have done differently without being emotionally involved in it.  The therapist in my head says what you should do is calmly and clearly state what you want/need, without backing off.  Calmly and clearly is the key-- so you're not being a bitch, you're just stating the way you see the situation and what would make it OK for you.  So, she could have said (politely), "I ordered a decorated cake.  This cake is not decorated.  I expect a discount."  Or she could have said (politely), "This is not what I ordered, so I'm not going to buy it," and left without it.  If she was experienced at this, of course, or if it never occurred to her to go into victim mode, she could have taken advantage of the situation and demanded the cake for free, but I'm never going to be able to pull that off--that would have involved making a huge fuss and holding up the line for another ten minutes while she argued it out with the manager.  I'm not interested in that kind of response, although I can understand why some people go there.

But it wasn't until I was driving around today that another possibility occurred to me, which is the one that immediately made the most sense.  She could have just let it go.  She could have realized that getting your cake decorated is a small thing, paid for the cake, picked up a tube of decorator frosting at the grocery store and done it herself.  Or if she needed it right then, she could have chopped up a couple of candy bars and sprinkled them over, or some M&Ms, or crushed up Oreos.  Or she could have just showed up with an undecorated cake.  The thing is, when you are habituated to respond as a victim as I seem to be, you get a little paranoid.  If something happens that doesn't go your way, you think you're being mistreated.  But sometimes there's not a problem.  Sometimes it's just life and it's no big deal.

I think it's a little embarrassing that I'm only learning this at age 49 (because yes I did turn 49 a couple of weeks ago). But you know, I'm pretty sure that the woman with the birthday cake was at least a year or two older than me, so at least I'm not alone.  There's more to say about this topic, but that's all for now.

p.s. obviously the manager could have responded differently (and more helpfully), but that's besides the point for this discussion-- you can't change the other person, right?  you can only change how you respond.  and just for the record-- he couldn't discount the amount of the decorations because apparently if you buy the cake, having birthday greetings written on it is free.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

the caffeine addict

I have migraines.  I wrote about that quite a bit in my first blog, because that was back in the days when I was having "chronic" migraines (which, if I remember right, is defined as 15 or more migraine days per month, and I had months with 20-24.  Ugh.  It was awful).  I'm not sure why they were so bad back then, but I'm grateful those days are over.  I think it might have just been exhaustion-- I enjoy my children more and more as they get older, and the early days were, shall we say, not pretty.  I was definitely not one of those moms who treasured the baby days.  Give me a houseful of teenagers any day.  Wait, I'm getting off topic here.

So anyway.  For awhile, I was so grateful not to be having "chronic" migraines that I didn't mind that I was still having 8-10 a month.  But a couple of years ago, I got tired of even that and decided I had to do something, so I got off caffeine.  I've written about this before, so I won't go into detail here, but it was an unpleasant experience.  For awhile, I couldn't really tell if it had made a difference, because getting off caffeine (of course) resulted in having quite a few more, and more severe, migraines than I was having before.  But after I'd been off for a few months, I started to notice that although I was still having migraines, they were less frequent and much less severe.  In fact, by the time I'd been off a year, I was down to 5-6 days per month, and those were usually easily handled with a maxalt and half a percocet.  I still had migraines, but they were no longer debilitating.

But the thing is, I really miss coffee.  And iced coffee and lattes, and mochas, and frappucinos.  And Diet Dr. Pepper and iced tea.  And I never did give up chocolate, although I try not to eat it very often.  So I've been somewhat careless about the whole caffeine thing, I admit.  It was difficult to take it very seriously, because I was still having migraines, for one thing, and because there was never a direct correlation between ingesting caffeine and having headaches.  I would not have caffeine for a week or so, and then have some, and nothing would happen.  It didn't really seem to make much difference.

This summer I've been travelling a lot, and that's when it's hardest to avoid caffeine.  But since it didn't seem to make that much difference, I wasn't too worried.  By the time I returned from the second trip in early July, I had had caffeine every day for about ten days.  And-- I shouldn't have been surprised-- I was having headaches almost every day again.  Not too terribly severe, but bad enough.  So when I got back on a Sunday, I decided I had to get strict about it again, and by Wednesday, I was in bed all day.  It was that bad.

After two weeks of no caffeine at all (and no headaches), I had some on Sunday. And once I'd had some I figured it didn't matter if I had more, so I actually had, um....., well......, quite a bit.  Monday I was fine, but today I woke up with a migraine-- a fairly bad one, that has not responded well to the usual meds.

So.  It's finally occurring to me that I really can't have caffeine.  I'm slow.  It should have been obvious.  I hate it.  I want to whine and complain.  Everyone else can have caffeine, why can't I?  But there it is.  Grow up, AB.  thank goodness Diet Dr Pepper comes in Caffeine Free.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Reading Report - July 2010

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (which will be shelved in the SciFi/Fantasy section, although it is neither in any traditional sense).  I don't remember when I first became aware of Gaiman-- I know when I first saw Good Omens, the novel he co-write with Terry Pratchett, that I knew who Pratchett was but all I knew about Gaiman was that he wrote Sandman, the landmark comic from the 90s.  Then a couple of years ago I read Stardust after loving the movie made from it, and last summer I read and enjoyed Neverwhere.  So last fall I ordered American Gods, but I didn't get around to reading it until I picked it up to take with me on vacation last week.  It's the story of a man the reader knows only as Shadow, who finishes his three-year stint in prison just a few days after his beloved wife is killed in a car accident.  He takes a job working for a man known as Wednesday, and what follows is the complicated, many-layered story of Wednesday's efforts to unite the old gods, the gods immigrants brought with them from the old country, in a fight against the new gods, the gods of commercialism and television and high speed travel.  It's a brilliant idea, and Gaiman carries it off well.  Shadow works perfectly as the touchstone, the moral centerpiece of the whole thing. He doesn't really understand what's going on (nor does the reader until near the end), but he maintains his integrity in a way that is both stoic and warmhearted.  He is utterly endearing. Four stars out of five-- it would be five except that occasionally the story nearly collapses under the weight of its portentousness (is that a word?).  (defintion of portentous, kyped from ominous; arousing awe or amazement; marvelous; ponderous or pompous; self-important which is pretty much exactly what I want but in noun form).

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  I've read it before, I'll read it again.  Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite, but this one is a close second.  How can you rate a classic?  It's off the scale.

Last Exit to Normal by Michael B. Harmon (YA).  I found this one while poking around on Amazon and looking for something for my son to read instead of re-reading Harry Potter for the fourth or fifth time.  Last Exit is probably a bit old for him, but it sounded so intriguing that I ordered it for myself.  It's about a 17-year-old kid named Ben whose life imploded four years ago when his dad announced that he was gay and his mom moved out.  Ben has acted out by smoking (cigarettes and pot), drinking, and generally becoming a troubled teen.  When the story opens, Ben, his dad Paul, and his dad's boyfriend Edward are in the process of moving back to Rough Butte, Montana, Edward's hometown.  I could quibble a bit about his depiction of a small town in Montana (since I live in one, too).  And Harmon makes Ben into such an interesting, terrific kid that it's difficult to understand sometimes why his dad is so mad at him (a question a teen reading this would probably not ask since adult anger probably always seems inexplicable).  But those are small things.  This is one fascinating story.  It would be a great book to throw to a bunch of intelligent, opinionated teenagers and just sit back and listen to them hash it out.  All kinds of issues are raised about parenting, responsibility, homophobia, loyalty, and friendship.  If I were a teenager reading it, I'm sure I would think it was one of the best books I'd ever read.  But as an adult, and particularly as a mom, it was so frustrating that none of the adults in Ben's life would step up to the plate and take care of him.  Good grief.  I could go on and on here-- and I probably will because this book will show up in at least one other post-- but I guess I'll stop for now.  It occurred to me that the author probably still relates more strongly to the teens in his stories than the adults, or maybe he just tells the story that way because he is writing for teens.  But I would have loved to know what was going on in the minds of Paul and Edward (who is in some ways the most interesting character in the book), not to mention his mom, who barely appears.  Four stars.

and on the plane:  My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne (historical romance).  I loved Bourne's first novel, The Spymaster's Lady, and I thought this one would be either a sequel or something similar.  But although they share a couple of minor characters, this one is quite different.  Jess Whitby is the daughter of a shipping magnate who has been imprisoned because the authorities think he is the infamous spy who goes by the name of Cinq.  Jess is determined to find out who Cinq really is to clear her father's name (and save his life).  It perfectly filled the bill of keeping me absorbed on the plane, but I didn't like it nearly as well as Spymaster's Lady.  The hero has almost no personality beyond the fact--which is brought up (ark) again and again -- that he is instantly and constantly aroused in the heroine's presence.  But Jess is fascinating, and the most interesting part of the book is her backstory, which is revealed bit by bit as the novel progresses.  Three stars.

a note on ratings:  I used to do stars, then I stopped doing reading reports at all for awhile.  When I started back up, I switched to grades (A to F), but I'm going back to stars.  It just feels too uncomfortable to give grades to published authors who are way better writers than me, no matter how I feel about their books.