Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Candy striper creates writer

And the world has been the same ever since!

When I was in high school, we had a "40 Hours" project our senior year. It meant we had to find some way to do 40 hours of free community service. Personally, it felt like a way for my community to get some free labor out of me under the guise of "expanding my horizons" and exposing me to the good wide world of charity beyond my own border. I called it poppycock, a word I learned from one particular Social Studies teacher. (Of note: this teacher also taught me "hoi polloi," and "rabble rouser".)

My mom worked for a group of surgeons so a natural place for me to go was the hospital. I'd wear the red and white striped uniform and be the cheery, bubbly teenager helping on the floors of patients recovering from all manner of illness and surgery. My natural effervescence and obvious love of humanity and physical human contact predisposed me to such a charitable endeavor. (This is called "sarcasm" for my non-native speakers, or those who are new here...) I filled out the paperwork and went for my orientation.

On the first day, I did these three things: changed the sheets on a bed in an empty room, and learned that when someone says "hospital corners" they mean something specific, I brought flowers to a room where the patient had left for a test, and then I did the worst thing of my entire life up to that point ever. I went into a room where a man was watching TV and refilled his water pitcher. HE SAID THANK YOU TO ME.

There was nothing noticeable wrong with the man. He was sitting up in bed, with his hospital gown on appropriately (ie- no chest hair showing or nip slippage), he wasn't bandaged, or tubed up....he was just some dude, probably recovering from an appendectomy, watching TV. 

And I never went back.

That was too much for me. Who am I - Florence Nightingale?? No, no...that was not for me at all.  

THIS is Flo Nightingale.
We don't look even a little bit alike!

So there I was in quite a predicament. I needed the 40 hours, but how? I thought about trying the zoo, but animals stink and poop. I could have found a spot with the local Senior Center, but again:  smells and poop, and probably some urine...and spittle. I cannot handle spittle. No dice on the old people.

And this is when I found the local mini-paper. Literally, the paper that was published for the residents of my teeny, tiny town. I didn't have to touch anyone, smell anyone, or help anyone. Depending on the subject matter, I didn't have to even talk to anyone! Glory in the highest, here was the place where I could type things onto paper, hand them in, watch them be published and get those hours! I tell you, a writer was born, without all the blood and guts normally associated with birth. (We've gone over my aversion to humanity and its normal stink, right?) 

Writing for that teeny, tiny paper publication was the answer to my teen-aged angsty prayers. And it set off a chain of events that would lead absolutely nowhere for 20 years. Pretty cool huh?

So when you feel like you've read enough of my drivel, when you find yourself wondering, "How much more of this crap can she possibly publish?" thank my local high school and its insistence that I work for free. But stay far, far away from me and don't be asking for water. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Buddha in my Belly
Photo credit:

Sometimes I wake up in a state of total panic. Sometimes I go to sleep in a state of total panic. Sometimes I do both in the same day. It's really no way to live, and it's something I wish only on my worst enemies. Let's face it, I'm no saint...and I kind of hope that wretched people feel this miserable. I shouldn't feel this way about others and occasionally I work on being more compassionately connected to the people I loathe, but mostly I wish for them the same state of "flying apart at the seams" that I feel.

It does occur to me that maybe I'm the recipient of some loathing and *that's* why I get to feel this way, but I put those thoughts aside. In addition to chronic anxiety, I also possess a healthy dose of narcissism. Whatcha gonna do? People are complex creatures, no?

More and more I notice something around me: people who are legit in pain (people I like no less!) and how scary it is to move beyond the pain we know into a new possibility. I see people stuck in jobs, in relationships, in whole modes of thinking about the world, which leave them truly trapped in their self-made cell. Change is really scary, that's certain, but it's also the only way out of misery.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns... We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.                    -Tara Brach

Tara Brach is a teacher of Buddhist meditation and a clinical psychologist. I imagine she's the type of person who likes to hug other people. (Please note: I do not. There is nothing wrong with a high five to say hello or good-bye.) She teaches, through the practice of mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy, how to stop being in that small space of conflict. Because whether you realize it or not, if you're stuck in old patterns which do not leave you feeling nurtured and well, then you're in a state of conflict. 

She says that we need to "intentionally stop...our rushing around" and for just a few moments "simply pause and notice our inner experience." In that moment of pause, it's possible to "become conscious of...the feeling that something is missing or wrong." And it's here that we have a choice in response, but only if we pause. When we let go of the control we think we have in our life, of being in charge of every possibility and every outcome, "we can meet our vulnerability with the wisdom of...Acceptance."

How cool is that? You know, being vulnerable to what feels like chaos, or like the hippy dippy notion of "going with the flow," is what's going to happen anyway. There is very little in this world that we actually control in the truest definition. Other people create detours, economics create diversions, geography, health and scheduling can stop a plan dead. There's no real control to be had if we look with a clinical eye. 

Breathing, at the most fundamental level, is really all we can control; and even that is beyond our control if we insist upon doing it wrong. So taking a moment in each moment to pause, to breathe, and to NOT react for just one moment, may be all we need to break out of the rut and the usual mold of bad decisions. Of course that means letting go of our filthy dirty security blanket and letting it get some fresh air and means we might have to trust someone else or something else. 

But it also means that we might get a different outcome than the one we've always gotten in the past -  the one that causes us to wake in a panic, go to sleep in a panic, or spend our days trying not to fly apart at the seams.

So try it out, and from me to you: high five!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One Hundred and Thirty


So I'm sitting here today, pondering a self-diagnosis of lupus (due to some recent bruising I can't explain) and I feel like I need to put up a funny one, because people get sick of my pontificating and spewing my leftist liberal agenda at them. My house smells like a boiling fish head, mostly due to the fact that there was, recently, a fish head being boiled on my stove top. 

This is because my 11 year old wants to make an authentic French meal tonight, after sitting through "Julie & Julia" with me the other night. Thank goodness his father (and coincidentally, my husband) is a former sous chef for a popular, albeit closed, French restaurant. 

Anyway, back to lupus and being funny: it's almost certainly a scientific fact that one cannot be funny in a place that smells like boiling fish heads. Of course, enter the 7 year old who wonders out loud, "Will the eyeball of that fish boil right out?" I don't know dude, but sign me up for the stock that you make with boiled fish head-eyeball broth. What the hell is wrong with the French? Merde

And now I'm tasked with writing a 130th (that's right: ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTIETH) of these things for you, and I don't even really know who you are. I mean, who even cares by now. If you've read all 130 then, first off, let me apologize for all the time of your life I've wasted that you're never getting back, and second, let me add one more to the pile of wasted time. 

Here are a few things I've learned recently that seem a little wonky.

Trader Joe's is owned by a German named Karl Albrecht, and there are 4,000 of them worldwide, worth about 70 billion dollars globally. The funny little monikers on the TJ's brand are no joke: Trader Ming and Trader Giotto are for real. Albrecht owns the Aldi food chain too! 

Chick-Fil-A thinks only heterosexuals should eat chicken and waffles fries. That's all I'm saying about that.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, it may or may not make a noise, because a tree fell in my back yard and people WERE around to hear it and it still made no noise. Wonky, huh?

Psalm 137 : 9 (NIV) says, "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."  I don't know what that means, or what the Psalmist meant when he wrote it, but it's seriously weird. 

My house now smells like creme brulee, which is way better than boiled eye fish head. I think we can all agree on that one.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fake outrage and the Olympic spirit

Fake outrage and Olympic spirit

Ah, the Olympics. Such a grand time for our nation! We parade out men and women who are paid nothing for the sport to which they dedicate most of their lives and we watch them for a few minutes every four years and claim national pride and love. Also we like to cry at the stories of human endurance and the spirit of triumph because we make their journeys so expensive and difficult that they're murderously sad. And then we get to fist pump American tenacity. I love us. This year, we have an added benefit: mock outrage that the uniforms were made in China! And anyone who jumps on this bandwagon gets a gold medal for not using their brain.

Here's a super duper quick lesson: (I didn't spend a lot of time here because this is a fake "problem" with fake "outrage.") The average textile worker in America made a whopping $575 A WEEK in 2011, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations. Oh those American workers, in hot factories, demanding higher wages, probably requiring safe environments with machines that won't accidentally cut off their arms. Compare this to the Chinese textile industry where a 23% raise to one company's workforce resulted in a 2,000 yuan per month wage. And just because I'm very, very nice I did the conversion for you. 

Americans fat cats: $575 per WEEK US dollars
Chinese job stealers: $313 per MONTH US dollars

Awright. So I think we can understand now why we've lost all our jobs. $575 per week equals $2,300 per month, compared to a Chinese income of $313 per month. Gimme a break. We're the land of Walmart shoppers! We don't want to pay $25 for a shirt made in America so an American could be paid a still sub par wage at $2,300 a month! We'd much rather pay $4 for that shirt and blindly go along thinking about all the Walmart workers we're helping to employ than remember we helped send a Chinese worker the $313 a month that THEY need to survive. 

Holy crap...I just led us into a "we're part of a human family" sort of discussion. This isn't where I meant to go, because obviously I'm trying to remind everyone that WE are the reason why jobs are shipped out. 

Hang on, let me cycle back. I don't want to pay a lot for my crappy t-shirt. Or my crappy melamine plates, or my crappy toys. I plan on throwing all of them away in a few months and so I don't care how well they're made. Ergo, I want to pay as little as possible for them. I continue to choose products made in China to increase my bottom line, and here's a newsflash: so do corporations! 

I don't know if the populace at large gets this, but corporations are here to make money. For themselves and for their shareholders. When I buy from them I encourage them to continue their business as usual. It's not all about the tax breaks they're getting for outsourcing, although that's part of it because increases their profit margins. And, as much as we hate to admit it, because when we grandstand we like to suddenly reclaim our Norman Rockwellian heritage, we all might have to agree with Will Cain. He's a columnist for and he said, "I know you can find some companies that are based in the United States that can manufacture clothing, but we just don't do this. It's not what we do anymore - we do ideas." 

Poor Ralph Lauren was going to have to find some outfit (ha!) in Nebraska or something to manufacture this one-and-done project for Olympic athletes and pay through the nose. He's donating all this apparel for Pete's sake. He can't afford American wages at $575 a week! And yeah, I get it that those American workers could've held on to their jobs for an extra 6 months and that company could send out a flyer saying they made the Olympic uniforms, but you and I STILL aren't buying their $25 t-shirt next week when we want something new to wear for the block party. We're planning on dribbling ketchup down the front of it and throwing it away with the paper plates and plastic spoons and forks (also made in China so I can get 1,000 of them for 99 cents. Dude, I already said I'm throwing them away.)

So why the outrage? Why the mock indignation? We're pointing a finger and conveniently forgetting that the three wrapped around our wallets are pointing right back at us. These Olympic uniforms are no different than the American nurse's uniform or the American pilot's uniform....or the American textile worker's uniform for that matter. It's all freaking made in China, because that's where Americans make their stuff. 

It's time to move on from an issue that was never worth talking about in the first place. Now go back to the point I made about the "human family" thingee....I wanna end there.