Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's all gonna be okay

Oof. It's been an interesting few days. I read that book that had me all freaked out about everything in my little universe. I tend to go a little overboard at times, and this was one of those times. But sometimes going overboard is okay. Maybe because when you call for help (even if not to a real person but just to the world more generally), you get responses that serve as little life preservers. It's all simply a matter of asking.

While freaking out, things started happening. I spent Saturday night just meditating. Not in a new-age Buddhist way, necessarily (though that would have been okay, too) but just in a sitting back and letting go kind of way. I decided to pay more attention to my own self-negativity and counteract it when I found myself thinking this way. Then things got interesting.

1) A friend had called on Friday, and I hadn't heard the phone. I noticed the call later on, but didn't notice the voice mail. She called again when I was out on Monday, and that time I noticed a voice mail, so I heard both back to back. The first one was just a sweet simple message that she had thought of me and found something I had given her a long time ago when she was struggling. She wanted me to know how much that meant to her and that she was glad to have me for a friend (um, one who hasn't yet called her back, but I digress). I cried a little at that. The other message was an offer to give me something she had from her mom who recently passed. Very sweet.

2) Then I had another voice mail (I have a habit of not leaving my cell phone where I can hear it--so sue me). It was one of my cousins who just wanted to say that he thought it was great that I had lost weight and that he and his spouse are trying, too. It was just a spontaneous call from a cousin I don't normally hear from, and it was so very sweet and thoughtful. And made me feel really good, too.

3) I was talking to some friends about my prior post topic of anxiety, and they both completely related. They understood and could provide similar stories, so now I don't feel so unusual or crazy. We're all highly functioning adults, so maybe the anxiety doesn't really rule us after all. Maybe I can let that go now.

4) The author of the book that had me freaked out quoted a poet named Mary Oliver, and the quote was really meaningful to me. I had been given a book of her poems from a friend awhile back. I struggle with really understanding poetry, for some reason, so I had started it but not finished. After reading this quote in the food book on Sunday, I went to my shelf to look for the Oliver collection. I couldn't find it anywhere. I figured it would turn up eventually and forgot about it. Then on Monday, I went to my nightstand cupboard to look for a pencil (I'm always losing them). I had cleaned the nightstand out a couple of weeks ago, so I knew there was one in there. I found it, but then I noticed a book in there, which I hadn't recalled putting there; I thought I'd put all the books back on my shelf. I pulled it out...it was the Mary Oliver poem book. I opened it up, and the only poem that was dog-eared (I do that for ones that I particularly like) was the poem that was quoted in the food book.

5) I got an email from a childhood friend who has been very ill, and things are really starting to look up for her. Tests are coming back in her favor, she's feeling great, and her kids are adjusting to school...her daughter even wants to play the flute like I did! Yeah! I was hoping for good news, but the email radiated it from every letter. I just really needed to see that well-deserved peace from her to remind me that all those angst-ridden teen years, those years of anxiety, also produced some of the most joyful and meaningful experiences of my life, and that they will continue to do so for many many many years.

So, from moderate despair came a series of messages of hope. It shows that my attempts to start afresh and be the happy person I deserve as much as anyone to be are not going unheeded or unnoticed by god or the universe or whatever label you want to put on it. Now I just have to keep it up...that's the hard part.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This can't be good.

I'm reading a book called Women Food and God about how women use food and diets to mask the bigger emotional problems in our lives. So far, it's more geared toward binge eaters, which I have never truly been. I've eaten way too much on way too many occasions, and I've used food as comfort plenty 'o times, but I don't think I qualify as a true binge eater. Anyway. Beside the point.

There was a bit early on in the book where the author talks about how we need to go back to that time when we were children when we remember being free from anxiety and worry and were able to cry and get over it without it being a big deal. Before life became filled with emotional instability and constant worry. Then we will be able to start rethinking ourselves and our relationship to food. She said, "Do you remember when..." and listed all of that, and after thinking for a minute, I realized, "No. I really can't remember then."

Now, I suppose it may partly be because that was quite some time ago, and I was little and little memories are often a little fuzzy. But the times I remember quite clearly from when I was four and five years old are filled with anxiety, doubt, and fear. Fear of school. Anxiety about getting in trouble. Worry about doing something wrong or badly. Anxiety that something would happen to me or my family. That God would be mad at us for tearing up our sidewalk, which he specifically put there when he created the world. Anxiety about being grabbed and stolen by the people lurking under the bed (okay, that one's pretty common, right?). I was terrified to spend the night at other people's houses without mom and dad, even when it was a house I knew well and with people I trusted (which turned out not always to be true, but that's another story).

I'm sure I must have felt secure some of the time, and I certainly had reason to feel so. I had a safe and loving home and family life. My teachers (with the exception of my 2nd grade one) were compassionate. I was never told I was bad or dumb or expendable. But truth be told, it's all kind of overlaid with this feeling of the need to tread lightly because things weren't right or safe.

It certainly explains why I spent so much time bursting into tears for no darn good reason until I was about 11. By that point, I had finally learned the art of keeping it in because it was hard to make friends with people who knew you were a nervous freak all the time. Looking back, even the kids across the street, who were my only real friends as a young child, made fun of me. One night after dinner I was waiting for them to finish up dinner so we could play. They were at their kitchen window facing the street and my front yard, where I waited. They started taunting me for reasons I couldn't fathom, and I started to cry. I went in to tell Mom, who by this point was understandably exasperated with my constant crying, and she told me to go up and tell them to knock it off if it bothered me. Instead I just stayed in my room and cried and played alone. Perhaps that was when I began my path of hiding my tears to keep people from knowing--and therefore disliking--me.

So here I sit. I'm 33. I live in fairly constant paranoia and anxiety. Just like I did then. Maybe I just never had a period in my life where that wasn't normal, which is why it's so hard now, despite my best efforts over the past few years to change it, to be the person I know on some level that I deserve to be. Maybe that's why even after all this weight loss, I still feel the anxiety of being overweight, unattractive, and socially stupid. Maybe my posting this on the web is a step toward not hiding it...maybe that's a good thing. But maybe not.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why I still shop at Target

I know a lot of people who are currently boycotting Target because the corporation donated a chunk of money to a conservative PAC that supports a governor candidate in MN who holds strong anti-gay views. It's come up a few times in conversation, so I decided to write down my thoughts on it.

Before I begin, though, I want to stress that I vehemently disagree with the MN candidate's views on gay rights. I'm an ardent supporter of marriage and other civil rights for gay and lesbian people, some of whom are my friends and students. I will fight for the rights of all of them to have the same rights I do as a straight person.

That said, here are the reasons why I am not boycotting Target, in no particular order:

1) Target has a history of treating employees with dignity, including gay and lesbian employees who are eligible for partner benefits. That doesn't erase the current problem, but at least it indicates an interest in basic equality as a company-wide policy. WalMart, the most likely alternative to those boycotting Target, barely gives their employees benefits, let alone domestic partner benefits. The big picture still leaves me leaning toward Target, albeit with a skeptical eye.

2) Speaking of WalMart, where I live, I pretty much have the choice of it or Target for the basic stuff that gets me through (e.g., health and beauty stuff, cleaners, etc). So...am I to shop at WalMart, which often treats employees like crap, that has a history of class-action lawsuits based on racial discrimination, gender discrimination, AND sexuality discrimination? That has a history of union-busting in order to keep employees suppressed and unorganized? I don't think so. And neither should these people boycotting Target. The old cliché rings true: it's cutting off your nose to spite your face.

3) Further, unlike Wal-Mart, Target has a strong record of supporting the community through donations to education systems in their communities as well as charitable organizations. My dad works for the Salvation Army, and Target frequently donates money and products for poverty relief in the local community. I personally disagree with the SA's stance on homosexuality as well, but at least they are a private, religious organization, not a public one. What this means, then, is that Target does a lot of good in the community that is being erased by the over-hyped boycott.

4) Then there's the issue of making Target the...target...instead of the larger issue of the Supreme Court's recent ruling that corporations can donate like people. That ruling will have huge repercussions in our society. Corporations often don't have the best interest of people in mind, unless you count their shareholders (if they are publicly traded) and/or their corporate leaders. Target's reputation for being reasonably responsible in their communities and to their employees doesn't erase that they are a giant corporation. Corporations are most likely to push for candidates who will help their bottom line first (not to mention the pocketbooks of their leaders). Most of those candidates will be Republicans, who tend to have more pro-corporate policies. They are also more likely to have anti-gay stances, as well as similar stances on other social issues. That means Target is one of about a bajillion companies in this country that will be pushing for candidates whom I won't like. Am I to boycott all of them? Or just Target? Why one and not the others?

Shouldn't we instead be spending our time fighting the Supreme Court ruling and the political process that now heavily favors corporate interests over our own? Shouldn't Target be an example of the problem, not the be-all-end-all of the problem? Shouldn't we be focusing more broadly on the corporations who actively resist treating gay and lesbian employees and customers with respect? In short, fighting the larger problem rather than the symptom of the larger problem?

5) This whole thing smacks of a left-wing reactionary response rather than measured response to social problems. This is reason number one why I resist every day the urge to find myself on a political fringe. People on the fringes of the right and left are guilty of emotionally lashing out rather than intellectually reasoning. This one happens to be on the left side, but if Target responds too much in favor of the gay and lesbian rights side, you know full well the stupid fringe right folks will do the exact same damn thing the left is doing now. And we're all the poorer for this behavior. We all become blind to the real issue in the mud-slinging.

So there you go. I am working hard not to spend more money than I need to in general, but when I need to buy, I don't feel guilty shopping at Target. I will continue to advocate for full and equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, but in a holistic, realistic way...not through emotional protests and boycotts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Customer Service with a Stare

Tomorrow night I am cooking dinner for the poker group I go to. I had a majority of the stuff in my cupboard, but I needed enough that I decided to head over to Woodman's, the local budget grocery store. I had planned to go Friday, but just got a bug up my butt and went tonight instead. It's less busy at night, and I was bored.

I went through the store and gathered all I needed (plus some). By the time I got to the checkout, I figured I had about $25-$30 in my cart. The guy started ringing it all up with that vacant-scanner-swipe-glazed-over look they all usually have. When it was all through, he said (vacantly), "That'll be $115.##." I about crapped myself. I said, "That can't be right! I didn't get $115 in groceries!" Which, frankly, should have been obvious. Who buys some cheese/dairy, some fruit, and some disposable utensils and spends $115? It was three re-usable bags not terribly full! Vacancy, my friends. The checkers are glorified cows who have no clue what they are doing.

The guy looked at me--you guessed it--vacantly. I just looked back at him while he slowly processed this. I was clearly an obstacle between him and going home. He finally looked at the receipt. I, being intelligent, quickly found the error. The top half of the receipt was stuff the guy in front of me bought and I had $87 in "prior balance" from his stuff. The cow-man brought over a manager to look at it. She, too, had the vacant look, so I explained the situation.

The guy protested that the prior customer had taken a receipt, so it must not be his mistake (uhhhh....right). The manager finally said to the bagger, "Sorry, Megan, you'll have to unload her bags so he can scan it all again and start over."

That's right, my friends. She did not apologize to me for the error or the delay. She did not even further acknowledge my presence. She simply apologized to her employee for having to do more work because of her colleague's vacancy and walked away.

I couldn't believe it. I have a low opinion of people, but that one got even me. I don't expect to have my ass kissed, and I didn't expect any kind of compensation, but a simple apology to a customer seems reasonable, right?

Optimism is futile.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dena, The Blogger, Part Deux

Hello, my millions of readers. :P Just thought I'd mention that I'm starting a second blog because I need more things to distract me from working.

Since I've lost weight, I've had lovely friends and family ask me how I've done it. I decided that, instead of writing each person individually, I'd start a blog to gather information and have fun. With any luck, it will help keep me honest and healthy myself as well as helping other people. Feel free to follow both blogs, as I'll be writing on both. They'll just have different foci.

If you're interested in the new blog, you can find it here: Newly Thin Dena

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teenage "Rebellion"

There was a terrible accident in Iowa last week. A group of teens were out in the wee hours of the morning and got caught up in a flash flood. One of them couldn't escape the car and died, despite her friends' attempts to get her out. I can't imagine the terror all of them felt, and the regret the survivors must feel for being out when they knew full well they shouldn't be.

The thing is, of course, that none of us have much right to judge. We have all done stupid things, made bad decisions, been overconfident in our "right" to a long, healthy life. And not just when we were teens. The girl who died in the accident had snuck out of the house after returning for her curfew, which falls into the category of a stupid thing, but hardly one that is unusual or particularly evil in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, the thing about this story is that it has me reflecting on my own teen years and the stupid things I did. What's amazing is actually how few of them I did. Not because I was so dang smart or virtuous, though. I was as dumb and arrogant as any teen...so why didn't I extend my "parents' rules are stupid" philosophy into the common pitfalls of teenage rebellion? Why didn't I defy my parents beyond some serious back talk and eye rolling? And (to be honest) some less than kind thoughts about them. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. I stopped doing that, I promise!!)

The only thing I can figure is that it comes from them. Despite my views of their dumb rules, I knew, understood, and respected them deep down. My parents were great about balancing freedom with restraints. I remember Dad once telling me that they followed a kind of farming/livestock rule of child rearing, which sounds a little suspicious on the surface. The philosophy was that kids need fences and boundaries to understand the world and their place in it. It's a parent's job to build the fence with enough room to run without getting too far away from the barn. As the child grows, the parent must rebuild the fence a little further out to accommodate the growing intellect and abilities of the child. This way, the child learns a little more through a gradual broadening of the responsibilities of the farmyard. By the time a child is a teen, there needs to be a big area where the kid can explore and make some stupid decisions, but still within site of the parent/farmer who can help redirect them when the need arises.

And this is exactly what they did. I was their little lamb who had a small range when I was little. I was free to run, but always in site of the house rules. When I jumped the fence, I was lovingly grabbed and put back in. It was explained to me why I was grabbed as well as what the consequences for jumping were. As I got older and became a full grown sheep, I had more space to run, but I still tried to jump now and then...and again they patiently (usually!!) explained why the boundary was where it was. What's more, the punishment was never being locked in the barn, deprived of light and freedom to roam. I was given a talking to that focused on building my logic and respect for them and the parameters they set.

The result is that as a teen, I had no need to rebel against anything unjust. Sure, I didn't always like their rules, but I had been taught so carefully, lovingly and (most importantly) respectfully that I felt little need to shove anything back in their faces. I had enough room to run and enough security that they would take care of me so long as I stayed in sight of the barn. I didn't have to love it all the time, but I had every opportunity to understand it. And, when faced with something I saw as unjust, I was secure enough in my relationship with them that I could usually tell them about it and we could come to an understanding. Not always exactly how I wanted it, of course, but always with my feelings under consideration.

My 16-year-old self would likely scoff at this writing. That's okay. She could be kind of a bitch sometimes. :P My 33-year-old self knows it's true; proper reflection and distance make that possible. My overall thinking here is not to imply that the parents of that poor girl in Iowa did something wrong or were bad parents. I know nothing of them or their family. I just had to ponder on why I never snuck out of the house after curfew within my own particular family and personal history. I'm sure her parents love her as much as mine do me and did even when I was a bitchy 16 year old.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Making Changes

The past few weeks have been filled with some serious thinking about the way I eat. In reality, it's actually a long-time casual topic of reflection that has been put at the forefront of my mind since I read "Omnivore's Dilemma," a widely read by Michael Pollan book about the modern food system.

The book has made me realize several things about the way we eat. For one thing, I'm more acutely aware of how often food is advertised and marketed as being "real," "made from real ingredients," or "all natural" (and variations thereof). What does it say about us that we are meant to be excited and pleased to see our food be real or natural? Shouldn't ALL our food be real and natural--shouldn't we expect our food to be real and natural? Additionally, I have a more complicated and nuanced understanding of what "organic" is. The word has lost much of its meaning and is actually not a serious guarantee of anything better than non-organic. I've never bought into the craze that organic is by necessity better, but now I am clearer on when and why organic is and isn't better.

Then there's the issue of how much corn we consume in the various food products. I have known this for some time, but I'm more concerned about it, as well as the impact that it has on the economy and health of the state I grew up in--one of the leading U.S. growers of the crop.

But the issue most important to my life, and the thing I've been reflecting on the most, is the issue of how we use and consume animal products...meat. I've read several articles about the atrocious living conditions of animals in the modern meat production industry. I've also seen first-hand the cramped quarters these animals live in--you don't live in the Midwest without seeing confinement facilities for hogs, cows, and poultry. I've long had an uneasiness about the process of raising animals for meat, but reading "Omnivore's Dilemma" has pushed me past the point of uneasiness.

I hope that I'm an ethical person, and I want to be a person who is humane not only to my fellow humans but also to the animals who are part of this world. I do not see a moral problem with eating meat, but I'm increasingly convinced that my sense of justice and morality cannot, and should not, include participating in a food system that allows animals to be confined in too-small spaces, fed foods (i.e., corn) that their bodies aren't meant to process, and given hormones (along with the fatty corn diet) that forces them to grow faster than their bodies are able to sustain. The reason those chicken breasts you buy are so enormous? Because of hormones and corn...the chicken it came from probably spent most of its life unable to walk on legs that were not meant to carry so much weight.

These animals are living short, miserable lives so that we can eat meat cheaply. The low cost of meat has a very high cost in our moral obligation toward other creatures. If I want to be the moral and ethical person I know I want to be, I have to make the decision to eat accordingly. And so, I have decided that I will only purchase meat from animals that I can trust were treated humanely, allowed an opportunity to experience a life that is in line with their natural desires to be outside and eat a healthy diet (i.e., not just corn). I also want to eat meat from animals that were not subjected to growth hormones that force growth that outpaces their skeletal ability to support it. It's less about my health and more about their basic right to a decent life.

This means a fairly radical change. Buying meat is now more expensive (which means eating far less of it). It also means scanning restaurant menus for vegetarian options because most won't serve meat that isn't from the industrial food chain. This means a very challenging dilemma when going to visit family and friends. I'm not sure how I am going to deal with all of that, but it's something I'm going to have to figure out. I don't want to be complicit in a cycle that is so unfair.

On a side note, there's also the issue of how the industrialized meat is processed by people working in terrible conditions at great risk to their well being. That's an issue that merits an even longer discussion.