I'm leaving on my road trip in one week days and I am insanely excited. I'll be documenting it all on my travel blog, for those of you who want to follow from home.
Northern Lights | My new trip on Roadtrippers.com!
See you on the flip side!
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
“You sure do like the bad boys.”
That was a comment from a coworker visiting my cube. Don’t worry. It wasn’t someone sexually harassing me or editorializing on my love life. It was a very literal comment from a fellow nerd.
It was because of this:
Walter White. Bane. The Alien, a tribble, and Arya (who is not as much a bad guy as a badass). Those are my desk buddies. Excuse me, but they are not toys. They are collectable action figures. OK, they are toys. And for the record, only 50% of them are actually boys. Arya is most certainly a girl (according to my niece, you can tell by the eyelashes). The Alien is a Queen, and she would be happy to discuss it further with you. The tribble? Well, truth is, I haven’t examined it that closely.
But, all joking aside, my coworker did pose an interesting question. Why am I attracted to the bad guys?
The short answer is: I’m really not. Not in real life. I won’t ever buy a Ray Rice jersey. I don’t read books about Charles Manson or Dick Cheney. I don’t give two shits what Sarah Palin has to say today, tomorrow, or ever.
The more involved answer is that—like it or not—the bad guys are attractive.
For the record, I have both a Superman and Batman shirt. I dressed as Wonder Woman last Halloween. I do love a good hero. Thinking about that for a moment, I can see an interesting trend. I like to collect the bad boys. But I like to BE the hero. I am sure there is some psychology student’s thesis in that.
And to be fair, I don’t have the really scary villains displayed on my desk. The ones made of the purist evil. Even that prickly little Alien, she was only trying to protect her kids. And, really, those humans were invading her space.
But I don’t have the Jason Voorhees trading card. I don’t really care about Lex Luthor. And I never want to be near a plastic clown toy from It.
Aside: Here is proof that clowns are Satan’s little helpers. When I was about Kidlet’s age, my Dr. Sister and I both had these cute clown dolls with big, painted-on smiles and silky outfits with ruffles around the sleeves. Dr. Sis was pretty attached to hers, and it got a little grungy—as cherished cuddle objects are wont to do. It was the early days of cable television, and we were often sent into the deep, dark woods of daytime HBO unsupervised. And it was there that everything changed in our young lives… One day, we were watching Poltergeist… with that horrible clown doll… I mean the one parked in my sister’s lap, not the one on the TV trying to strangle the fictional kid living in the haunted house.
But hells yeah I love Loki, Darth Maul, Keyser Soze. OMG. Is there a Keyser Soze action figure?!? I must have it!
I think my point is this… I abhor evil for evil’s sake. I don’t understand it and I want to be far away from it. There has been real, true evil that has touched my life. Sometimes it is the organic evil of encroaching disease. Sometimes it is the man-made evil that I have unknowingly unleashed into my life and the life of my Kidlet. I know what real evil looks like. And I want nothing to do with it. Not in the real world or in the world of make-believe. In my literature, film, and pop-culture consumption, I have never cheered for the true evil.
But, as is evident in my office cube, I have a clear and overt attraction to characters who are strong, and brave, and even brutal, if brutality is called for. I don’t always agree with their methods or their causes. But these super bad boys (and girls) are doing what they need to do to survive. I understand why Dexter kills, why Deadpool is a mercenary, why Catwoman steals.
I get that. I even, in some ways, admire that. And yes, I do like those bad boys.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Kidlet was accepted to join a competitive team of kids in the FIRST LEGO League competition. FLL is a ridiculously cool program focusing on science, engineering and problem-solving for kids 9-14 years old. In other words, the kids who we will all be working for in 25 years.
But like everything in life, with participation comes meetings. At least this meeting had brownies—something lacking in that morning’s project meeting at work.
I looked around at the mostly moms and some dads that were listening to the team coach go over expectations and practice schedules. And I couldn’t help but notice… One of these moms was not like the others. One of these moms just didn’t belong.
One of us was wearing a sleeveless roller derby shirt with a prominent—if inadvertently displayed—tattoo on her shoulder and a diamond in her nose to match the ones running up her left ear.
True, one of the moms seated nearby was sporting some ink. A tiny outline of a heart on her foot, about the size of a dime. Hardcore.
One of us was wearing a short skirt that revealed all the bruises on her legs, caused by both falling while attempting a turn-around toe stop and by injections of Avonex. And it was a good thing that the bruises were there. They kept people from immediately noticing that neither time nor the energy was spent shaving the aforementioned legs.
True, one of the moms was telling us that the reason she was looking frump was because she was coming from yoga class. And, oh, are these brownies gluten-free?
You have probably cracked my secret code by now. Yes… This oddball woman I write of is actually me. It is hard to believe, I know. I will give you a moment to ponder and accept this. It is true. I still haven’t shaved my legs.
The other moms in the room were all very lovely women. Very nice. Very accommodating and helpful. Very willing to share the secret to chewy—not crusty—brownies.
Aside: For all you readers living outside the great state of Utah, you might think I am painting this picture with too wide a brushstroke. Let me assure you, I am not. I won’t go so far to call the Wasatch Front moms Stepford wives. Maybe Stepford-ish or Stepford Lite. Wait, that sounds more like a beer…
You will have to take my word for it. I am the odd (wo)man out. And, for a kid, it is hard enough to be hurdling towards puberty without also having to deal with having “that mom.”
We all can think back and remember the classmate of ours who had “that mom.” The one who got to watch R-rated movies (yes, kiddo and I watch our favorite Christmas movie—Die Hard—together every year), was never in trouble for cursing (Kidlet has had to deal with a shit-ton of things that would stagger most grown-up. I think he has earned the right for an occasional swear word), or always stayed up until all hours (I have neither the time or inclination to drag Kidlet to bed by his ear. If he is tired in the morning, it’s his own damn fault).
So yeah. I am “that mom.” Making my kid “that kid.” And who in the hell wants to be “that kid.” I felt really bad about it. I want his life to be just a little bit easier than mine was. I want him to feel good about himself. I want him to be successful in school. Academic but popular. Cool but nerdy (in the best way possible). The kid that you want to both cheat off of and go skateboarding with.
But I had made him “that kid.” I was feeling a little down as we were climbing into the car for the drive home.
“I’m sorry I’m not like the other moms,” I started. But before I could launch into the speech I had structured in my head—an explanation that it is OK to be different, but that I never wanted to embarrass him in front of his friends—he said this:
“I know. It’s because you are a bad ass. I like that about you. It’s awesome.”
And he went on reading his Lego League handouts, not giving it another thought.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
I have started—then deleted—this post at least a dozen times. I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the things I want to say. I can’t seem to capture and hold all my thoughts.
But it's in the ether today. I have unavoidably viewed the Ray Rice video so many times that I have lost count. I have memorized it. I know exactly when that huge fist begins to rise up. It is a repeating loop playing on every news site I visit. And now a repeating loop in my head. Every time I see Ray Rice violently assault his now-wife Janay, my thoughts are shaken up and reordered. And I am sure that is nothing compared to Janay’s thoughts today.
It is just such an ugly instance of what is most certainly one of the worst parts of humanity.
Across the country, people are asking how this woman could sit next to this man at a press conference. How could she defend him? How could she stay?
Why doesn’t she leave? Because it isn’t that easy. It isn’t that simple. I know from my own personal experience. We are not always able to extract ourselves from a volatile and dangerous situation. At least, not without a huge cost to and risk of our safety and security.
About ten years ago, I worked as a grant writer for the Legal Aid Society. This non-profit group consisted of both lawyers and paralegals who worked for far below what they could earn in a private firm. They did it because they knew what they were doing was important. They help victims of domestic violence obtain protective orders against their perpetrators. They do everything they can to help these people, and the only thing they can give them for armor is a piece of paper signed by a judge. That is the only shield that they can give these victims to arm themselves.
We need to do better.
I really didn’t intend to make this post about why people stay in a dangerous home or relationship. There is an amazing, powerful discussion happening about that very topic in cyberspace right now. Go to Twitter and search for #WhyIStayed. Take 15 minutes and watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s hugely powerful TED Talk.
"Why I Stayed" is absolutely a conversation worth having.
But here is the thing: it doesn’t matter why she stayed. Not one bit. What matters is her situation today. Right now. What matters is her feeling supported, not judged and abandoned. What matters is her safety and the safety of her children.
This is a huge issue to tackle, and I certainly do not kid myself by thinking I can even scratch the surface of this ubiquitous, nefarious problem. I don’t know how we can ever truly protect those in our society against the people who intend to do them harm. And that is such a helpless feeling. We fight with such weak weapons. A restraining order isn’t bulletproof. Hell, it isn’t even fistproof.
One thing we can do is actually punish those who do the harm in hopes of protecting the victims and serving as a deterrent for further abuse. But… That hardly ever happens. Not really. What if we, as a society, prosecuted acts of domestic violence with the zeal that we incarcerate college kids caught with a joint?
We need to do better as a society. We owe ourselves that much. We need to provide safe exits, family support, and substantial legal penalties.
Instead, we blame victims and make jokes.
And we do laugh. We need to admit that about ourselves. We make light of it. All in the name of comedy. It starts with Ralph Kramden. “One of these days, Alice… Pow! Right to the moon!”
That is the beginning of minimizing the pain of domestic violence. It desensitizes us to the idea of a man hitting his wife. And it leads to Giant Bags of Douche Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy reminding all the Fox News viewers that if you intend to punch your girlfriend, you would be wise to remember that there are cameras in the elevators. Best take the stairs, they advise.
Does the Honeymooners sitcom really give tacit permission to those jackasses on Fox to make jokes? I think it kind of does, yes.
Things around here need to change. But I’m not holding my breath. I guess, like everything else in life, we need to tackle this in small bites. Excuse the football pun.
This is where my thoughts come to rest most. At least for today. I’m not going to ask why Janel stays. That isn’t the question I need to be answered right now.
I want to know why the NFL reacted to the assault of a woman by one of their employees only after it became a public relations problem for them. I think we all need to take a few minutes and chew on that one before we tune in this Sunday.
These days, most employment applications ask: Have you been convicted of a crime? We should all demand that the NFL ask the very same questions of their players as they do of the woman who answers their phones.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
If there is anything less satisfying than buying new tires, it is buying a new furnace. But that is exactly what I did this last weekend.
My Grandpa Mustache always said that I should always sleep with the window cracked so I didn't wake up dead. As it turns out, he was onto something. When Furnace Guy was loading my old equipment into the back of his van to make room for my shiny, new, energy-efficient Amana, he showed me a giant crack in the heating element. That crack--as it turned out--allowed the escape of toxic carbon monoxide gas into the basement of my house. Where I sleep.
Furnace Guy said: I’m surprised you woke up.
You know that feeling you get when you ALMOST get into a car accident? That surge of adrenaline that makes your heart race and your head spin? That was my reaction when I learned that my furnace was trying to kill me. I experienced a crazy high. I had escaped a near death experience without even knowing it.
Even though I was fully awake and upright, and even though I was watching the murderous furnace being hauled away, my adrenaline surged through me.
And that surge--my friends--is caused by a chemical compound called epinephrine. This is a drug conveniently manufactured and delivered by our very own bodies. Let’s all take a moment to thank our medulla for bringing home the good stuff.
Like our fellow vertebrate animals, we experience the flight-or-fight response when we are faced with a threat to our survival. We are programmed to want to survive. It’s hard-wired into our brains.
Aside: How fascinating would it be if the MS chewed up my fight-or-flight wiring? If that ever happens, I am totally pitching it as a reality TV show. It can be a cross between Fight Club and New Yankee Workshop.
Anyway, I’ve been called an adrenaline junkie more than once. And maybe I am that. But I am not really a daredevil. Are those things mutually exclusive? I’m not sure. I think I can define it like this: I love roller coasters but hate heights.
Yes, I know. It’s weird.
But I understand why I love coasters. They make me feel…well… alive. I feel alive when I am cresting the peak of that first, can’t-turn-back-now hill. I feel the exhilaration overpower the fear. And make no mistake that it is real, true fear. Instinctual fear rooted in the back of all of our caveman brains.
Maybe the thing that gives us that adrenaline high is feeling the fear that something stirs, and then doing that thing anyway. What if the reason we stand for an hour in a line to ride the coaster is not for the actual ride? What if it is about overcoming the fear enough to step into that metal car and strap in? That is where the true victory lives. Not in the passive act of sitting still while the coaster cars click their way up that hill. It’s in the basic act of committing yourself to the ride. It’s quite a simple thing, really. Courage is just deciding to do it, then doing it. That’s it.
It felt a little scary knowing that my major home appliances had taken out a hit on me. But I’m not too worried. That furnace better get in line behind brain plaque, derby girls, and fifth graders.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Sometimes I see something, read something, watch something that will simply refuse to vacate my thoughts. It happened again this weekend, when I watched the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. It hasn't stopped bouncing around my golf-coursed brain.
This thought-provoking movie is currently available on Netflix. Sometimes people ask what they can do to help me. Would you like to know how you can help? Do me the favor of investing 1.5 hours to watch this film before you send your hard-earned money to a fundraising organization. Because we are doing it wrong.
Thankfully, I don't have Stage 4 breast cancer that has metastasized to my liver. I am not trying to prepare myself for my impending death. I am in no way comparing my silly little brain lesions to having my boobs cut off while I simultaneously poison the remainder of my body in an attempt to halt tumor creep.
I don't have breast cancer. I am lucky enough to only have MS. Which is a cakewalk compared to any stage 4 cancer. Because there is no stage 5.
There is one thing that I pulled out of that amazingly educational documentary, which applies to MS as well as cancer. And it is this: we are using the wrong words. We are chasing the wrong things. We are funding the wrong science.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. illustrates how corporate America has hijacked the most predominant symbol of the disease of breast cancer. That pink ribbon is everywhere. Ford Motors, Avon, even the NFL have all participated in the awareness campaign.
Aside—Is it a coincidence that the NFL started telling their players to wear pink cleats at around the same time as they were having PR disaster after PR disaster, usually involving some misogynistic act? Just askin’.
I have, myself, participated in the pink ribbon campaign. I know that, given two similar products, I have always purchased the pink one in hopes that a little money goes to the Komen Foundation. And, in fact, the money DOES go to Komen.
But they are spending it wrong.
Since its inception, The Susan G Komen for the Cure foundation has raised around $1.5 billion for breast cancer education, research, and health services programs. That would be billion. With a B.
Can you spot the problem? I couldn’t. Even though it was staring me in the face. It’s right there in the name of the organization. While we are all busy running for a cure, hardly anybody is trying to chase down the cause.
Of all that money, only 10% has been dedicated to researching the causes of breast cancer. And far less than that has been earmarked for environmental cause studies. In the 1940s, 1 in 22 women would experience a form of breast cancer in their lifetime. Today, it is 1 in 8. What has changed? Could it possibly be the environment we all live in? These days, we are all breathing polluted air, ingesting chemically-altered foods, and drinking from plastic water bottles. Grandma didn't do any of that.
Interestingly, MS is on the rise as well. Especially in women. It used to be that for every man diagnosed with MS, two women were. Now the ratio is 1:4. And the rise of pediatric MS diagnoses is alarming.
In capitalist countries, there is a growth of organizations with the main function of raising money in the name of a disease. And the message that these organizations are shouting is almost universal: Find a Cure.
But these are the wrong words.
We keep using the wrong words. I understand the urge to dress in ribbons and tutus to run in a group of like-minded crusaders in solidarity of “warriors” and “survivors.” And there is no denying the enormous amounts of strength and bravery that any person diagnosed with a serious disease must summon.
But here is why the Survivor Warrior is the wrong image to convey. It implicitly relays the idea that—if people try hard enough—they can beat This. What ever the This is. It tells people that they must be cheerful, optimistic, and strong. It leaves no room for the very human emotions of anger, sadness, and fear. We say that people who die from their disease have “lost the battle.” As if they just didn't fight hard enough.
Calling people fighting a disease “survivors” suggests that the disease is somehow their problem to conquer or their consequence to live with. It is little more than sleight of hand. Quick! Come watch us give out awareness ribbons from the corporate-sponsored booth. Then you won't find yourself examining all the things that are outside your control.
So much energy, research, and money is going into keeping us diseased people around for a longer amount of time. Tamoxifen, Avonex. Tenofovir. These drugs keep us Walking Diseased alive. They slow down the progression of our illness. But keeping us alive is not the same thing as helping us live.
Since the Reagan administration, our government has been shifting the responsibilities of our health and welfare to private entities. Corporate America is now in charge of making you well. The immediate and enduring result of this is the monetizing of a cure for diseases, not the research of disease prevention.
These corporations really do want to make you well. Or at least better. They wouldn’t want you to be completely healed. There's no money in that. And they certainly wouldn’t make a profit if you had the audacity to never get sick to begin with. Not when they can squeeze 10 more years of medication costs from you at $1200 a pop.
Do I sound cynical and jaded? Good. Because I am.
Can you imagine if Dr. Salk was working today for one of big players in pharmaceutical research? With the board members of those research groups representing pharmaceutical manufacturing, chemical production, and energy industries? We would still have a polio vaccine, I am quite sure. But it would cost $250 and need to be updated yearly for the rest of your life. Thank goodness we all have universal health coverage, right? Oh, wait...
Somewhere between 1950 and 1980, our society swerved off course when it came to taking care of the well being of each other. And now we need to make a course correction.
Instead of dressing up in silly t-shirts and painting ribbons on our faces to walk three miles with the purpose of spreading words and finding cures, we should all—every single one of us—start painting signs and marching on Washington. We should stop buying pink blenders and start educating ourselves about GMO foods fertilized by Syngenta. We should stop mailing in yogurt lids and start mailing furious letters to our Congress, demanding they make laws forbidding companies like Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals from simultaneously profiting off cancer drugs and the synthetic hormone given to dairy cows, which is known to be carcinogenic.
Yes, they really do that. The Breast Cancer Action Group calls it Milking Cancer.
When we are donating money to a cause, our hearts are in the right place. I know they are. But we are doing it wrong. We do need to join together. But not to celebrate or support. We need to become a single voice, demanding answers. In the 30 minutes it takes to run a 5k, you could email your two Senators and your Representative. Tell them that we are nothing as a society if we cannot do a better job of taking care of one another.
Here is how to find your congressman’s contact information:
We all need to make sure that the money we collectively raise goes to the correct research. Don’t hand your hard-earned money without demanding to know what your investment will yield. We can all act to make sure that the research we are funding is doing it right.