Monday, April 14, 2014

The Bygone-Era Bear -- Writing Down Memories

Many people write memoirs. This is not to same as writing an autobiography though. An autobiography is an all-encompassing and generally time progressed account of one's life. A memoir can be short or long and recount a single event or thought or a series of connected events. I started thinking of this topic when I was looking at an old friend a couple of days ago.

I have known him for most of my life and he has been my most constant supporter for all of those years. He is a wonderful listener, great at mopping up tears, and he is never stingy on the hugs. I am, of course, talking about my toy bear. His name is Pooh (but not Winnie-the). He is named in honor of that very famous bear of very little brain.

Yes, I still have my bear. He still hangs out on my bed, although he has been relegated to the foot of the bed rather than the head. He is the head of a whole group of bears that have entered my life in years since. There is the bear I was given after surgery years ago to help me cough. And the bear I received on a job for a job well done. Bears that were gifts from friends. They are his posse and keep him company while I am busy being an adult.

He is old. Very old. Most of his tongue has worn away, part of his plastic nose is missing, there is a splotch of blue paint on the back of his head. Dear Pooh has been through numerous surgeries as I have mended the areas were his fur has worn out. He definitively has that Velveteen Rabbit thing going on. There is a little patch of fabric under his tail that is as new as the day he came out of that ugly Christmas box that was yellow with red figures on it.

My pairing with him was brought about by my godparents (the first set, I had two pair) after my first bear had died tragically in a vomiting incident. That was back in the days when stuffed animals were not washable. It had been a horrible few months during which I had tried to transfer this relationship to other stuffed animals to no avail. When this Pooh arrived (basically he is really Pooh Too) it was love at first sight and we have been together ever since.

Perhaps part of the reason that I was so drawn to thinking of Pooh so hard in the past couple of days is because my godmother passed away recently after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's Disease. I haven't seen her or her husband in many years, but through the best toy I have ever owned they were always a part of my life.

Why do I still hang on to this piece of the past? Because he has been such an important part of my life. I was an only child and he was the closest thing I had to a sibling. It embarrassed my grandparents to know end when I would drag him along to go out to dinner and then insisted the he also have a booster seat to sit in. My mother allowed it because she knew how bored I would be during dinner with four adults.

Pooh was the only emotional support I had during my parent's divorce and nasty custody battle. He was there for me when my mother went back to work and I spent long hours alone. He was always there for everything. Now that my parents have both passed away and I never married or had children, he is still a strong constant in my life. I may no longer need to hold on to him to sleep, or talk my problems over with him, but he is a bit of reliability and stability in my life. Just seeing him spending his retirement years at the foot of my bed gives me a feeling of emotional security.

Pooh has always supported my dreams, both realistic and foolish. He kept me company through my early writing attempts and never tried to talk me out of my dreams of being a writer. For a short time I tried to turn his life into a story -- in it he drove a VW Bug and lived in a house on a corner. While that tale never took off, he didn't take that personally. He has never told me to lose weight, or find a boyfriend, or wear more (or less) makeup. He always accepted me just the way I am. Writer's warts and all.

There. That was a tiny memoir. Now what are you remembering these days?

The Poor on Poverty

There has been an awful lot of talk by Republicans about cutting back on programs that help the poor and so-called "entitlements." These "entitlements" are programs we have paid into for years. "Entitlement" suggests getting something for nothing. People receiving these benefits have all put into the pot the same as everyone else.

Let me back track just a little. I have heard the poor called lazy in these discussions and that is why their benefits to help provide food and a roof over their heads and a chance to see a doctor when sick. These people have the image of the poor just sitting back and raking it in. Having become very poor myself I can attest to the fact that you cannot be poor and lazy at the same time. It just takes waaaaaayyy too much work. Let me illuminate those who aren't knowledgeable:

While looking for a job, keeping home and family together, and the usual daily duties that we have all accumulated, we are also filling out mountains of paperwork to prove that we are poor. This does not just happen once and we are set to go. We have to repeatedly fill out the same paperwork every few months to make sure we are really still poor (this is because of the people who do try to abuse the system -- only about 2% of recipients -= and we rail against them not the system). We have meetings we have to wait for. We are in a constant scramble to figure out where the next bit of help will come from.

We spend hours on the phone trying to unscramble the problems that are bound to occur in making sure that any bureaucratic system is bound to encounter. Paperwork gets misplaced, computers get data entered wrong, and things can get inadvertently over-looked. The people who run these systems are only human and are often overworked since their places of employment are understaffed -- often due to budget cuts.

Medicaid didn't cover some treatment you had been advised that they would, or they changed the rules without telling you and won't approve your prescription for insulin, or dropped you for a couple of months for reasons unknown. While the Internet is loaded with pics of people on food stamps (now SNAP) benefits with fridges loaded with food, the truth is that it doesn't quite cover the total food bill. So we scrounge and spend time getting help from food banks that aren't able to keep up with the demand of additional poor and declining donations. In addition to food, those same benefits do not cover such crucial items as toilet paper, tissues, shampoo, soap, or deodorant.

We spend hours on the phone searching for help in other ways. We call churches and other charitable organizations to find help with rent, car repairs, household repairs, clothing, and so forth. These things are not covered in any way by government programs (some assistance if you have children). I am currently face with a list to see if I can find help purchasing new glasses. Apparently the Medicaid coverage on glasses is so small vendors lose money providing such items. So I must find some place that has a charitable partner to help out.

Instead of waging a war on poverty, the one that started during the Depression, there seems to be a faction out there (primarily Republican) who are out to wage a war on the poor. Most of these people also seem to be Christians. They are Christians who seem to ignore the parts of the Bible where we are encouraged to help the poor. We are taught to have compassion for those less fortunate. However the love and compassion for others for these people only extends to those who don't need help other than a ride to work or when moving.

Let me be clear here. I have been looking for a job for more than two years. I have been hit with a slew of health issues (seven surgeries in six months). And I work everyday. Not just Monday through Friday. I work seven days a week writing for two websites. Since this is freelance, this work is not covered by minimum wage laws. I love writing and doing this work, but it just doesn't pay anywhere close enough to live on. So I keep looking for a job. At least a part time job to help pay the bills minimally. Because of health issues I can't work on my feet or I would be serving up fast food in an instant to get my income going.

Being poor is not some sort of free ride for people who don't want to work. We work. We work hard. For the most part we are people who want a job and will take one if offered. These programs are not an "entitlement." I have paid into them with my tax dollars for over 30 years. They are not an "entitlement," they are a safety net for when things go south. Thank God it is there. And thank God most of you will never need to use it.

I don't ask for pity. I ask for respect and to not be judged adversely just because I have hit a REALLY rough patch in my life. We need these programs and NOT for lazy people. If I hear anyone calling the poor lazy again I am going to have to take them out (verbally).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lesbian Lessons

For years there have been millions of debates over gay rights and slowly people are starting to realize that gay people are just like the rest of us. . . well, hell they are the "rest of us." People are people. And weird things happen to people.

I am not gay. I have wonderful friends who are. I have no problem with anyone's "gayness." Well, gaydar" for me to pick up on the fact that she belonged with another woman years before she made history by coming out of the closet. For me it was a huge relief when she did.
okay, one problem. It is Ellen DeGeneres. Dear, sweet, funny Ellen. Oh, not with her now. Back when she first had her own sitcom and was playing it straight. Every time they had her character in a straight love situation it freaked me out. It just didn't feel right to me. I have just enough "

Earlier this week I had cataract surgery on my left eye. My friend Randi has been doing chauffeur duty. On the day after surgery we went to lunch before my day after eye check. We were sitting at our table at IHOP when another woman stopped to chat with us for a moment. Neither one of us will turn down a good chin wag with anyone, so we chatted.

After a few minutes of chatting I realized why the woman was talking with us. She was a lesbian and she thought we were a couple. Usually people mistake us for being mother and daughter. Randi is considerably older than I am. In this case she was also totally clueless. I was getting a chuckle on the inside. The woman was very nice and fun to chat with, regardless of the reason. Since she didn't address this directly, I didn't choose to correct her view. It didn't matter to me.

She veered into gay rights once just briefly, but since she assumed we were on the same team, she didn't need to preach to the choir. After she had gone on her way and Randi and I had taken off for the doctor's office I told her that we had just been mistaken for a lesbian couple.

"Oh, I don't care about that!" she said.

"I know, I just thought you'd be interested to know what was going on there. You know, the subtext," I responded.

We chuckled a little. It was interesting to get an idea of how some people see two women who don't wear makeup or high heels. It also gave me some sort of insight into a part of my father's life.

My father, though 100% Scandinavian, was very Semitic looking. He was mistaken for being Jewish on occasion. During World War II he was in the army and one of his fellow soldier went out of his way to make my dad's life miserable. It turned out that the soldier had assumed that my dad was a Jew. Once that misunderstanding was cleared up the guy thought dad was just fine. Something that really ticked dad off. Years later I was telling my Jewish chiropractor about the incident and took a picture of my dad in for him to see.

"Oh, my God! He looks like my uncles!" he exclaimed.

Being taken for someone you aren't at face value can swing both good and bad, harmless and harmful. It is based in stereotypes and erroneous thinking. In the wrong hands it can feed hate and fear. It can have devastating consequences. In the case of Eileen, I like to think that what she was mistakenly sensing as lesbian, was really a sense of kindred spirits.

If someone has assumed that I was a lesbian and treated me differently because of it, I have not had such an overt experience of discrimination. I fervently hope that this is because we are learning to accept people for who they are.

I don't wear makeup because even the hypo-allergenic stuff bothers my eyes. I no longer wear heels because I once actually broke a foot falling off of them and being overweight makes them uncomfortable. I am a feminist, like many women in my family over the past couple of centuries. I haven't dated in a while but am not totally opposed to doing so should a nice guy with a sense of humor, a good heart, and an open mind came along. None of this makes me a lesbian, but may make it appear so to someone else.


Looking back on the incident I have just one lingering feeling -- that Eileen would probably make a good friend.

Also, you never have heard, and never will hear, me say "that's so gay." Except for that one to make a point.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dancing With Pavlov: Trying to De-Condition Conditioning

Okay, this sounds terribly psycho-babblish, but I did study a lot of behavioral science in college and I did work for a number of years in industrial psychology and sociology, so I come by it honestly. Of late I have had a major face plant right in the area of conditioned response. Most of you will have
heard of the Russian researcher Pavlov and his team of dogs that learned to respond to the promise of food at the sound of a bell. I am currently trying to woof down the reverse course.

Over the last week and a half I have had cataract surgery on both eyes. While they are in there they insert a lens to help improve vision overall. So I am no longer exactly nearsighted. And herein lies my problem!

I have been wearing glasses every single day of my life since the fifth grade. It is totally ingrained in me to reach for my glasses upon waking in the morning, to push them up if something in the distance isn't clear, to look over them to get a good look at something small, and to remove them at night. Now that I no longer have them I am still acting as though I still have them.

I hunt for them on waking until I remember I don't need them. I try to look over non-existent glasses to get a better look at something close up. I have punched myself in the nose any number of times trying to push those same invisible glasses up. I claw at my face to take them off at night. Worst of all, not being able to see well enough to read.

Okay, it will get better. Behavior modification is not outside of my psychological repertoire (though personally I am more of a Jungian, by why confuse you more?). My eyes are still in the process of healing and they will change a bit more. They will settle down to a new normal. Chances are that I will need glasses again to correct astigmatism and that pesky not being able to read thing. I have bought a cheapy pair of readers so that I can see for the most important reading in life -- like checking my blood sugar and taking insulin. But still I struggle.

I think it was easier being conditioned to that rather than to recondition myself. Partly because I was so young the first time around that just about everything in my life was about becoming conditioned. Now I keep wanting things to go along smoothly and having to learn to see the world in a new way is anything but smooth.

I have discovered a whole lot of new things with these new eyes -- that there are cobwebs on the ceiling that I hadn't seen before, and the inside of the car windshield is badly in need of being cleaned, and that my eyes are more sensitive to the changes in my blood sugar than I had previously realized. The last one could be a good thing. It may help me keep a closer "eye" on my sugar level.

Like most thing in life getting what I always wanted -- to not need glasses -- is a mixed bag. At the moment it is difficult because of all of the things I need to re-adapt to these new things. On the other hand I love being able to lie in bed and look out the window at more than a blur. There are beautiful visions ahead of me. I just need to de-condition my previous conditioning and stop responding to that bell that just isn't ringing any more -- at least for now.

On the New Age spiritual level I am wondering what it is that I am now willing to see that I wasn't before. Time for a good meditate. Om. . .

Friday, September 6, 2013

Zingers - Love or Hate?



There are things that are politically correct and things that are not. Over the past few decades we have learned the face of bigotry against different races, religions, gender, gender identification, and disabilities. For the most part we agree that we must be kinder in the way we treat people in these areas. The one area that we are still struggling is the way we treat fat people. It seems that it is still open season on us, despite the fact that the bulk of the country is overweight (pun not intended but appreciated).

There is a fine line between telling a joke and making fun of someone. A lot of people don't know where this dividing line lies.

First of all, for all of the idiots out there -- you don't need to point out our fat to us. We have already realized this fact from the sobbing sound the scale makes when we step on it. Also, don't think that humiliating us is what it will take to get us to lose weight. If that actually worked this would be among the skinniest on earth rather than the opposite. You also need to look in the mirror. You could be the pot calling the kettle fat.

There was a recent kerfuffle on line about a guy who took a woman's photo from her blog that showed her holding a sign that said "This is what a feminist looks like." He reposted it with a comment that it was just as he figured -- indicating that only fat women and perhaps women without the perfect airbrushed look would be a feminist. Yeah. Tell it to former Playboy Bunny Gloria Steinem. This kind of crap attitude is a large part of where feminism stems from. But I take this guy with a grain of salt. He is undoubtedly the loser he was accusing this woman of being. Hello! Pot, it's the kettle calling!

Oh, yes, you could be handsome and well-muscled as all get out. But inside you are small, gnarled, and distasteful, possessing the need to make others feel like less so that you can feel like more. Humor should not come at someone else's expense. You delude yourself by mistaking the desire to hurt under the mask of the desire to be funny. Shame on you!

Now, I can take a real joke. I love Gabriel Iglesias's five (and now six) levels of fat -- big, healthy, husky, fluffy, and DAMN!!!! More recently he added Aw, Hell No! to the list. Now I could delude myself into thinking I am any of the first three. I, like Gabriel, am fluffy. I have verged on DAMN!!!! at one point, but have lost a few lbs. to get back. I did not do it for vanity's sake. I did it to improve my health and mobility. Of course I still need to lose weight and want to, but it really is easier said than done.

Just recently I got into a fit of joke telling about my weight with a Facebook friend and fellow writer.  I was having a blast. I love being funny. So I copied my jokes and will share them here with you:

My figure is more like Jabba the Hut's than it is like Princess Leia's. The whole look worked better when I was younger and not so, ummm, spongy. (This was in relation to the fact that I have three Princess Leia costumes hidden away in an old suitcase.)

Last time I tried to wear a halter top in public five guys went blind. And that was with a jacket over it.

I thought of buying myself a tent to wear, but the sporting goods store didn't carry my size.

I didn't wear a costume for Halloween one year and everyone thought I was going as Miss Piggy.

I went as the Flying Nun and people took bets on just how high the wind speed would actually have to be to get me off the ground. An F5 tornado was the final consensus.

I tried to go down to the Mall one Halloween as a skinny person but the police kept trying to break up the crowd.

Last time I went to the beach some guy with a harpoon showed up. I had a whale of a time.

Last time I went to the beach some guy with a harpoon showed up. I had a whale of a time.

I went jogging without a bra once and gave myself a black eye.

People used to try to give me support by telling me to keep my chins up.

If you laughed, good for you. The intention behind these was good-natured fun. It was also done through a bit of self-deprecation. People like Gabriel Iglesias and I can do that  because we understand that we are pointing at ourselves and not others. In like kind, he will make jokes about Hispanics and I won't. Since I am not Hispanic I do not have the background to go there. I could, on the other hand, go to what it is like to date a Hispanic. 

One of the keys to being funny rather than hurtful is to make it accessible to people. Make it key into their experiences or the experiences of the people close to them. The power of intention also comes in here. My jokes are not intended to hurt anyone. I point the finger only at myself and hope that other people, especially the fluffy ones, can identify and maybe feel a little kinder toward themselves.

And to the poster child for feminism -- you go girl! Leave the jerks out there in the dust where they belong. For the guys who get it -- bless you for you are truly men. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

YouTube for Writers

There are many tools available to writers out there. One that you may not have thought of (but I hope you have) is YouTube. When you stop and say "what would it be like to do. . ." there is an excellent chance that someone did and filmed it. You don't want to use exactly what you are seeing, but use it as a seed you plant in your imagination and let it grow. Chances are that you will come up with something even better.

You can learn what it is like for people who own an exotic pet, how to build a variety of different things, cook, clean, be a jackass, and innumerable other things. Having these things as a visual reference can be much quicker than reading through pages and pages of text. Now is you need to do in-depth research and lots of precise facts you are better off with reading all those pages, but for a quick burst of knowledge a video is just the thing.

I am always hearing writers saying that they are at a loss for an idea for their next project. Another thing you can make use of YouTube videos for is story ideas. While I get the occasional idea for articles I write, it can also make great fodder for coming up with ideas for fictional stories. There is no guarantee that you will come up with a story idea, but think of all the fun you will have doing the research.

You can also scout locations this way. View a variety of world locations to prepare believable descriptions of where you characters live, work, or travel. You can research what people in China say when making a dog barking sound. Find out what it looks like to drive into a telephone pole, jump from an airplane, or descend into deep cave. 

A word of caution here, you can get mired down in looking through videos. Unless you are just browsing randomly for ideas, knowing precisely the sort of thing you are looking for can shorten you searching. Also knowing that you have been looking for too long means that you are on the wrong track can help. Bail on your search and try a different angle. Be sure to use plenty of key words to help narrow your search. It may take some time, but you will learn to tell when your search is going nowhere and stop yourself from wasting more time in fruitless pursuit.

Sometimes the best way is to do an overall Internet search for your topic and then zero in on videos that come up in that search. Along the way you might find other pertinent ideas and information that you may not have realized that you need.

At any rate -- happy watching!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

X-Files

I'm not really big on journaling. I know that many people swear by it, but I find it time consuming and I tend to devolve into a list of what I did that day. I can do that by just keeping my to-do lists from each day. When I was a teen they tended to be focused on the latest boy I had a crush on. While that served a purpose, it wasn't all that helpful to me as a writer.

However, there are three things that I do write down and keep a log of.

One of these is a diary of the odd things that happen in life -- big and little -- that don't fit in to the normal pattern of things. I can go weeks, months, or even years between such things. And I do mean odd. If you have been reading my blog you can probably tell what some of them are. For example, I will write about the time I saw a UFO, found a python in my bathtub, locked my keys in the car while they were still in the pocket of the shirt I was wearing, or was charged by a buck while raking leaves in the my yard. I will also keep track of the cat throwing a dead mouse in my face while I was still asleep in bed and of the past life regression therapy I went through. These things are an important encyclopedia of life.

I don't need to keep track of what I had for breakfast or what I felt about it at the time. I do want to capture those offbeat moments. They can even be the more sedate that getting stung by a wasp on the pussy while in my own bathroom. They can be about the day two friends and I went into the mountains and set my mother's ashes free to return to the Earth Mother.

My journaling is for the extraordinary moments of life. The real keepers. These are the moments I will return to when writing in the future. Those other moments happen daily and I can reach out to them at any moment.

Another thing that I will journal about are dreams. I am not into taking them all down, but the ones that stand out are important. I don't need to make a note of the dream where someone was watering my
piñata, but I will keep track of the one about a girl who lost her memory and was only healed by the appearance of the family cat. That is the stuff of literature. I will also keep track of ones that give me insight into myself and my relationship with myself and others. These can teach me not only about myself, but how to write a meaningful dream sequence.

A recent example would be the dream I had in which I had taken up cohabiting with Patrick Jane (The Mentalist, played by Simon Baker). My father (who passed away 14 years ago) was in our apartment having a fit at me for living with him and not being married. I defended myself to him (which was difficult in real life) and my right to be loved. He finally stormed off and I turned back to Patrick, complete with all of my own insecurities about whether it was really possible for anyone to love me. There was another woman somewhere in the picture so I finally asked him if he really loved me. He looked very deeply into my eyes for a long moment before responding "Yes, I do." I was thrilled.

I awoke from this dream with some warm feelings about Simon Baker/Patrick Jane that lasted temporarily. What was more important was that some part of myself that was represented by him had given myself a level of approval that I was desperately needing -- so much so that I shut down the negative voice (Dad). 

The third thing that I will "journal" is the story ideas that come to me. Sometimes they come fast and furious and other times not at all. This is a way to keep a well of ideas to refer to when I need a new idea. I don't need to worry about not having an idea because I have a large record of them. This is especially important with the approach of each November and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

NaNoWriMo is the annual challenge to writers for them to write a book (50,000 words) in a single month, Many of the writers who do this approach the month of November with trepidation for not having any ideas. This will NEVER be a problem for me. To all of those baffled Nanos out there -- yes, I am willing to share.

Some of these ideas can be kind of strange, but I catalog them all. I will undoubtedly never use them all, but they are there for me should I need them. I do a similar thing with article ideas, but that is recorded by bookmarks for websites.

You will never find me straight journaling about doing the laundry, but you might find me creating a humorous essay about it. That is a different blog post.