Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Octavia Butler

Wow. I began to write a post about the amazing, admirable, inimitable Octavia Butler, definitely one of my top 5 favorite authors of all time and probably the one I feel had "the most to say" regarding important issues, timeless issues. I have read what I thought was a sizable chunk of her list of works. I have studied and read about her life and ideas. A favorite quote of mine, which is just a description she once gave about herself was that she was "an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive." She also described herself as "a Black, a feminist, and a pessimist if I'm not careful." ...Feels like I've thought these types of thoughts and words a thousand times myself (no, not the black part, sillies). I've loved a great many things that she said and even more that she wrote. But what I learned today while doing a "little bit of research" to make sure I stated the correct facts about her life and work in this blog post is that 1.) she has more works than I realized, which I must now go and read, and 2.) that I can not possibly hope to write about this complex, amazing, intuitive and passionate author without doing a lot more research on my subject. I stand humbled before her body of work and the story of her great life of ideas and writing.

If you aren't familiar with the late Ms. Butler (who died quite young and before her time in '06), do yourself a great favor and check her out. I recommend her book, "Kindred," if you're new to her. Don't be put off by the fact that she is often categorized as "Science Fiction." She is way deeper and more interesting than those two words could describe. She will tell you about yourself and your life and your race and your history. No matter who you are or where your walk of life has led you. And yes, no matter what color you happen to be.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weighty Matters (Pun Intended)

There is so, so much going on! So much on my own mind, so much going on around me with the holidays upcoming (or happening now, if you're Jewish!), so much going on in the world at large. I haven't been sure what to sit down and write about first! Haven't been able to sort out my many thoughts about the world, the country, the holidays, my own issues of serious and non-serious natures... So they say, for a writer, just sit down and start writing. I guess that what comes out in that situation is considered the "trash" one needs to unload before getting to the good stuff that really needs to be written. But oh well. I'm sifting through my trash here, and you can read along with me or not :)

I just muted the television, because I have grown completely sick of the Tiger Woods saga. I think he's complete scum. He's sold himself as a solid guy, a family man, a straight-laced athlete in a world where there aren't many of those, and it's just all bullshit. And he's sold that image not only to us, as golf fans and adults, but to kids in his Nike commercials and with his general image. And that's disgraceful, if you ask me. Is that judgmental of me to say? I guess, but it's my opinion nevertheless. I don't want to hear about him anymore, don't want to see him, don't want to watch his beleaguered wife and family pick up the pieces however they decide to do so. For me, it's over. Tiger Woods is shit. Next story?

I guess I've grown a bit tired of the world/national/celebrity news cycles in general lately. Having been home for awhile now with the disability situation, I've had some serious time to watch TV and read. I used to love to have a moment to myself to catch up on the news, politics, local stuff, and yes, to check out US Weekly and those rags. But for the past few weeks, it's all just making me kind of sick. I don't know. I really am working and praying and trying my best to make this holiday one-of-a-kind and special. It has so much potential in my personal life, with all of the beautiful changes that have taken place and continue to do so, that I really know it can be a miraculous holiday season. I'm going to make sure of it. And I guess a daily reading of war and misogyny and politics and infidelity just doesn't go along with that plan.

Don't get me wrong; I'm really sensitive to people thinking that I wouldn't stand up for, vote for, and otherwise stay tuned-in to the issues that are important to my loved ones and myself...and those that I feel are important in our world, for that matter. I would never close myself off completely from knowing what's going on in this country and world. There are many issues, especially right now, that are very close to my heart. Also, I am always praying for and supporting our troops, no matter how many are being sent or brought home, no matter the political crap going on here. I don't lose sight of that. But sometimes, in order to be effective at supporting your causes and to be effective as a functioning human being for that matter, I feel it's important to turn off the constant barrage of news we have available to us. So I'm trying to do that for the next few days or however long I can last without seeing what Nancy Grace has to say ... like I always eventually do!

So, let's see what else is in my scroll of thoughts and opinions! Okay, here's something I'll share with you all. Maybe someone has some advice. I am really upset lately because of the fact that I have been gaining weight. I know that some of you haven't seen me since I was barely maintaining 110 lbs, which was verrrry skinny for my 5'7" frame. But things have changed, seriously now. Before, I had a reaction to a new medicine, along with some really, really serious anxiety and stress in my life ... and that led to my extreme weight loss back then. But to put it all in perspective, I have gained 50 lbs in one year. Last year at this time I weighed 50 lbs less. So, yes, I needed to gain a little bit of weight, but now my Wii Fit meter is telling me I'm like 12 lbs away from obesity. Now, I work out a LOT, and I think I have enough muscle mass that maybe the Wii isn't quite accurate. I mean, you can see by my profile pictures that I'm not obese. But when you're already at a good weight, and you're eating normally and working out ... but still putting on serious weight, isn't something wrong? I'm growing concerned.

And here is where I admit my vanity. I was planning to ask the doctor about it today. He is a specialist in headache and neurological issues, but I thought I'd still run it by him, given that he knows my medicines and my recent general health history, and all of that. But I got too shy and embarrassed!! I admit it, okay? My doctor is decent-looking, and he's really, really thin! Also, he has all these books (okay, like two) on the book shelf in his office about nutrition and stuff. So I flat out was too embarrassed of my "weight problem" to ask him. I KNOW!!! Even thinking that thought makes me see how stupid and petty I was about the whole thing. But I couldn't do it. I'm currently looking for a new general doctor (I don't have one, and haven't for years), so I just figured I'd ask THAT doc about it. And I hope he/she is fat and therefore can understand. Then again, if the doctor has a weight problem, can he/she really be trusted with weight advice? Actually, I say yes. I've met many doctors and nurses and even police officers who are great at what they do, but fail miserably at applying their job knowledge to their own lives. But I digress somewhat ...

So there you have it. I now weigh 15 lbs. more than I have ever weighed in my life. I think a bit of it has to do with my being home these past few months and therefore the activity of just walking around and going to and from a job is lost. But still! Except for when I'm sick (in which case I don't usually feel well enough to eat), I am active. And as I said, I've been working out hardcore the past month or so; usually 6 days a week, I do some kind of activity at least.

I guess I'm kind of scared. I know writing on here isn't going to do anything about that. But I don't know whether weight gain can be a symptom of any serious (or non-serious, even) diseases???? I've heard it can mean Diabetes, but that seems a very remote possibility for a number of reasons for me. Maybe I'm just about to turn 34 and my metabolism has gone to shit? I don't know. Anybody ever have this issue? Oh, and P.S., while I do work out a lot, I admit I don't have the healthiest diet, if that matters.

Well, that is all for now. There are many issues and topics here for all to enjoy :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Smoke-Out / The Seventh Circle

When in doubt, write what you "know," isn't that what they always say? Well what I'm knowing these days isn't nothin' nice, let me tell you. But I've decided it might just be helpful to myself, and to others who read this as well, if I write it all down.

I've quit smoking. Yes, really. And yes, for good. I mean, let me just say - out of respect for reality and unpredictability in life - I never say Never, nor do I ever say Always. But just short of saying those words, I am done smoking. Not very many people know me well enough to understand; but the way that I work is this: I hem and haw and turn an idea over in my head for what might seem like forever. To others, it probably seems I've been smoking, and sort of flirting with and talking about quitting smoking, for a very long time ... so long, that most people who don't know me well (which is just about everyone) have probably given up on the idea of my quitting. But I have always known this day would come. I tend to get an idea of what I want to do, a goal. And I hold it, sit with it, sleep on it for many nights, write about it, talk to others about it, research it, try it out a few times using different methods ... all the while knowing inside that I will realize in my soul when the time is the Right Time. That's just something about me. It's just how I work.

I decided last week that it was the Right Time. I don't know how many of my readers are smokers or ex-smokers, and how many have never been addicted to the "habit." But those who have smoked might understand this love affair I had at first and for a long time with my cigarettes. Ohh yes, I loved to smoke for a long time, most of the time. If it wasn't an activity that was damaging to me, I might still do it. There were many occasions when smoking was fun, social, when it distilled some social awkwardness, and when it just helped with something that was going on, be it a big stress or a little annoyance. I don't know the statistics on how and why people of my generation got started. I don't know when. I have anecdotal evidence, but even in that case, not enough to draw any solid conclusions. Feel free to share with me: How / When / Why did you get started smoking? How long did your habit last? Or do you still smoke? Hey! Remember you won't get any judgment outta me. I'm not even one week into nicotine abstinence :)

I'm just writing about what I know, didn't do extra research into statistics or facts for this one; it's my own experience. I started smoking because of a guy. Yes, lovely readers. Yours truly, a woman who considers herself educated, enlightened in as many ways as possible, cultured, worldly, and definitely feminist ... nevertheless picked up a cigarette so she could sit on a bench, prolonging her lunch break one day and talk to a man, stars in her eyes and everything.

Oh, but I know there are very few among us who have not done a similar thing. Some of us have done things that we are so very ashamed to admit: be it sleeping with someone to gain status or professional gain, using sex or sexuality to score drugs or money, or using the same to make someone else jealous ... We do these things. Or some of us maybe haven't gone that far, but we have almost all done something we are not proud of, that we would not want our friends to know about, the motives for which we would never want to be made public. Maybe like me, some of you have drank or smoked or done drugs when you really didn't want that for yourself, because it helped you get close to someone you liked or close to a crowd you thought was important. Maybe you took risks sexually or physically to be "cool" in front of such people. Contrary to the way we all try to act on a daily basis in our peer groups and in our families and in our churches, almost every single human has made these types of mistakes, at least once. I don't say this to remove blame or judgment from myself; I know people who want to judge will do so, and I don't care. I'm just pointing out how, when it comes down to it, we are all so very much alike and together in our human struggle. I guess going through this journey and suffering through this withdrawal and the pain of it has forced me to think about these things.

Today was Day Six. In respect of full disclosure, I did utilize the nicotine patch. But I haven't wanted to do it the way they recommend. I know many people quit "cold-turkey," and I have found that isn't the way for me. Attempts to do so (remember I said I've tried a few things in the past, a few "dry runs" so to speak) have resulted in emotional break-downs, crying jags and damn near psychosis for me. So I knew that, while I am willing to take on the struggle and the pain of quitting, I am not willing to be driven to insanity; not when there is a safer way to do it. So I did four days of the Step 2 patch (there are 3 steps, meant to be done over the course of 12 weeks). That was, dare I say, pretty easy. I was moderately cranky, but it would come and go. I found that if I stayed busy working out and active in general, then I was basically fine. Being social was not fun for me, so I've been lying low until I'm through this first week or two. And fortunately for me (and a big reason I chose this particular time to embark on this Quitting Journey right now), my life and work right now allow for me to spend pretty much all my time alone if I choose to do so. Well, as I said, yesterday was Day Five, and on that day I started with the Step 3 patch, which delivers 7 mg of nicotine over the course of 24 hrs. This one hurts! No, it doesn't physically hurt, but it has been TOUGH. NOW I'm feelin' it, people. NOW it sucks.

I don't wear the patch for the full 24 hours, because (and this is mentioned in the patch literature) it gives me extremely vivid dreams and sometimes nightmares. It's all good if the dreams are vivid, but nightmares can be very upsetting when they are SO real and memorable. Plus, if I were smoking, I wouldn't be smoking all night, while I slept, so I think I should go patch-free during sleep. I made a deal with myself that if I wake up in the night, especially near dawn, and am extremely uncomfortable from withdrawal symptoms, I will put on a patch for the day at that time.

So here we are. I am not turning back. 7 mg is going to have to be alright, and if I'm uncomfortable and crabby and whatever until I get used to it, then I am. I mean, yes, they recommend doing it more slowly, but then again, people quit without any patches all the time. I want to do something in the middle. When I decide I'm done, I'm done. As I mentioned.

Finally, I wanted to mention how I went from loving my social, stress-reducing, sometimes-even-fun smoking to loathing it and wanting to quit this instant. I imagine that each of us has a different experience and yet, similarities must exist. For me, a lot of negative things started to occur and outweigh any perceived positives that I thought I was experiencing from smoking. First of all, smoking had obviously become this proverbial monkey on my back, an addiction, something that I had to do to feel okay, to keep from getting crabby, irrational, and weepy. I mean, hey: that is the epitome and definition of a drug addiction. I don't know why it hit me when it did, but is just did: I grew tired of being addicted. I grew tired of dragging the monkey around on my back.

There were many occasions when it became difficult to manage my "habit." One of these was any time we went to visit and spend time with my dad. He is adamantly opposed to smoking and furthermore claims that it unbearably irritates his allergies or lungs or sinuses or something. To give you an example, he began refusing to set foot inside my mother's house this past summer, because he claimed he could smell the remnant smoke from her letting my brother and I smoke occasionally in her house. I personally think this is just his way of making a point in his melodramatic fashion, but that's another story altogether. Let me just add that my father is far, far, far from having his own extremely destructive (to the self and everyone around him) habits and addictions; this fact renders him ineligible to take such an ostentatious stand against the activities of smokers. And might I add that the man is certainly no stranger to a bar, where until a couple years ago (in our state), smokers were welcome and ubiquitous. But enough on that. The rule at his house is no smoking, so there's no smoking there. Fine. I've always been one to respect the rules of someone else's place, someone else's car, someone else's belongings, etc. But it made it damn hard to sit calmly and focus on all the "fun" we were having at family events when I was counting the minutes until I could politely get the fuck outta there and have a smoke for God's sake. I used nicotine patches sometimes to quell the cravings, but I don't know ... something about being there just made me want to smoke, dammit. So it was always a problem.

Then, as mentioned, Illinois enacted a law stating that smoking indoors, anywhere, would no longer be tolerated. The rule is that a person smoking must remain 15 feet from any doorway, window or air intake vent. This translated to a whole lot of smokers freezing their asses off for about half the year; these winters are brutal, in case you haven't been! At my various workplaces, at bars, and at other various locales, I joined the other addicts wedging footholds in the frozen snow, puffing away, switching smoking hands every few seconds to save ourselves from frostbite. The truly dedicated learned to smoke with no hands at all. Perhaps the worst humiliation was the looks and comments we would get about how stupid and asinine we were. And you know what? Yeah, it's dumb to stand outside in the freezing cold for no reason. But we have an addiction to a drug, and the fact of the matter is, if we don't get that drug, we will get sick in a manner of speaking. That sickness reveals itself in different ways in different people, but it's withdrawal all the same. And frankly, I've seen many people do dumber things out in the cold for far dumber reasons. No matter that I've quit and don't intend to smoke anymore, I do not intend to be one of those who judge and mock what I do not understand and have not lived.

A lot of other annoyances piled on. Cigarettes cost plenty; although I found the gas stations and other vendors quite willing to do just about anything to create discounts, make use of coupons and anything else they could think of to bring the price down. In the 6 years I have been a smoker, the actual price paid did not fluctuate much. But c'mon, it's a waste of my money anyway. I know that, and this weighed on me as the years went on and as I fell on some difficult financial times as well. What else? It just is a pain in the ass after awhile. What was once a fun and sociable hobby became a ... well, a pain in the ass, yes. Needing that smoke is a - pardon the pun - real drag. Everyone's a little different, but I was someone who would wake up needing nicotine. I was rolling out of bed lighting a cigarette. The drug having control over me like that began to piss me off. I want control over me; no one and nothing else should have that power. And then there was the rationing and the constant maintenance of The Supply. Ugh. SO MANY times I underestimated how much I would smoke on a given night or weekend or whatever; and you better believe I have left my warm, cozy home at all hours, any hour you can name, to go get cigarettes, because I was out ... or was going to wake up and be out ... or was going to be out halfway through my workday ... on and on, the monkey on my back.

So for the past year or so, I've been preparing mentally. I've researched the methods, I've tried a few things as I mentioned, and I've just plain thought about it and tried to get myself ready. I tried to imagine what the perfect conditions for my quitting would be and whether they could be attained. And last week, while I sat here having my billionth cigarette, I thought: It's Time. It ain't gonna get better or more ideal than Now. And so I embarked on this journey.

I'd greatly appreciate any stories or experiences or knowledge that my readers have to share about this topic! I am getting close to letting go of my last crutch, that 7 mg patch. I have 5 days left on that, and then I'm on my own. I'm really focused and excited about the benefits, truly. According to everything I've read, my skin should get better, of course my cardiovascular system should reap wonderful benefits, and everyone I've ever heard from or spoken to about quitting has said they actually FEEL healthier and just good. To me, it's a no-brainer. Smoking was not the least bit enjoyable anymore. It was all negative, save for that small relief of having a puff when I was "needing" one. And now I can look forward literally to a better life. That's awesome, isn't it!

A loved one recently lamented to me that he just "hates to see [me] suffering like this" in reference to my withdrawal and all of the different symptoms that are accompanying it for me; I have not had an easy road, to say the least. But I told him this, and I truly believe it: This is not suffering like my migraines or my ADD issues or any of the life challenges that I have faced in the past several years. This, to me, is more like fasting for religious faith or dealing with aching body and muscles because you're training for a triathlon. It's for a much higher purpose and not very big at all in the grand scheme. I am having some bad days and expect at least a few more, but I fear not.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Good, Bad, Annoying

I have had enough! Our government is fighting, with members individually attacking others "across the aisle" (or sometimes on the same side) in personal and completely non-productive ways. Washington state recently saw a brutal murder of four members of its law enforcement community. When I hear the vast majority of "commentators" (a term used here in the absolute broadest sense) on radio or TV, I have begun to feel sick. I wish to take a News-Hiatus, but I feel I should pay attention when the President speaks about continuing this war and whatever-the-hell else. Then again, maybe I'm not in the right frame of mind even for analyzing his speech or his actions. To put it frankly, the news is making me sick.

So let's talk about some FLUFF, shall we? I mean, the nitty-gritty of what really matters: celebrities acting out, holiday music, TV shows with a glorious lack of substance (except for humor; that's allowed), and such...

Does anyone know whether they still do the CLEO Awards? Isn't that what they used to call the awards for television commercials or advertising in general? I remember as a child I would watch something called the CLEO Awards; I recall seeing hilarious commercials rewarded during the program, as well as recognition for commercials that had become so well-known as to become a part of our social fabric in some way. Well, I haven't seen it on TV in years, but I have a lot of commercials that I would recognize!

Just go ahead and let me know: Am I unique or strange for watching commercials and really loving them (or really hating the bad ones)? I mean, I get into TV commercials; I am curious about and fascinated by the ways that people use to sell their product or service. I am amazed when I see something so NOT funny getting a lot of airplay, or even moreso, when I find that the ad is selling a lot for the company. Let me explain what I mean.

I HATE: There is a commercial with only two actors, an oldish man and a middle-aged-looking woman. They are walking through the halls of what looks like an abandoned Capitol building or museum. They are dressed in strict business attire, like full suits. We never see more of them than an odd view from above; it's nearly an aerial shot! As they walk, the woman's voice states something to the effect that their firm has effed up on something tax-related. Sorry, that's all I get from it. The guy simply asks what they are going to about it. This is when the woman says, "They're bringing in B.D.O. [indistinguishable]'s already on it." That's the whole conversation, and then a voice-over guy says simply, "Those who know, know B.D.O." Um, okay. I guess that I am not one of those who know. But if you are trying to sell your service, shouldn't you be addressing the fact that people look at that and have no effin idea what the hell you're talking about!

I LOVE: The holiday Garmin commercials. They brought endless joy to my TV watching last year, and I was so happy to see that they created a couple of new ones so far for this year. The ads always feature someone driving along through their town, with a voice singing a song to the tune of "Hark to the Bells." Only the words are changed into hilarious and frantic issues one faces while driving around trying to complete holiday errands. I remember the best part of last year's, in my opinion, was when the lady driver pushed a button on her Garmin GPS thingy to find the closest salon. As she did so, she glanced in the rear-view mirror at her eyes, while the song lyrics went: "Find salon now. Have a uni-brow." Most of the situations are silly, and it drives the point home perfectly and succinctly. As the ad fades to show the brand name alone on the screen, you hear a single young chorus-type voice: "Garmin-dot-com, Garmin-dot-com" to the fading tune of "Bells." I think these commercials are genius and also fun.

I'M CONFUSED: ...One commercial that I have recently begun to see on TV is for the Dodge Ram truck. As the truck is filmed doing all of these impressive turns and spin-outs and driving through mud and whatever, the voice-over guy is saying, "I am Ram. And my tank is full." It's obviously supposed to be the catchy slogan of the truck. But what does that mean? Why would that sell anything? The first time I saw it, I was with a friend, and we both agreed: "Don't remind us about the tank and having to fill it and the price of gas..." But it gets weirder. Interspersed among the footage of the truck maneuvering around are pictures of great minds from our history such as Albert Einstein. Is this just a blatant attempt at associating random, impressive people with the truck?! Am I meant to think Hmmm...If I buy a Ram, I'll be like Einstein (don't ask me how, I just will!)? The most offensive commercials on TV are the ones that insult my intelligence like that. So I won't be purchasing a Ram anytime soon.

And finally, I have had a love-hate relationship with that "Progressive Lady," as she is commonly called. Do you know who I mean? She's very chatty and made-up, a characature of a perky sales woman. And she does the ads for Progressive Auto Insurance. I used to be really annoyed by her, but I have found her funny in the more recent ads I've seen. I mean, I don't fall out laughing, but they are cute and amusing. However, while taking an online consumre survey recently, I realized that I had never put the ads featuring this lady (whose voice and visage I could now recognize anywhere) were indeed for Progressive. I marked on the survey that I could not recall seeing a TV ad for Progressive! It was only a few minutes after I completed the survey that I saw one of these commercials on TV. And I noticed for the first time that they are ads for Progressive. Weird.

Well, in conclusion, I am just a person who finds TV ads infinitely interesting. Am I the only one?