Friday, December 12, 2014

What's the Appeal of Rudolph?

I think I figured out Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I was looking for a place to market my revolutionary Thanksgiving story.  Spider looked like it might be a good choice, so I read the sample issue online.

It featured a frog version of Rudolph.  A little frog with short legs can’t hop and dance like the regular frogs, so they leave her home when they rehearse their show.  

But one day, the frogs get in trouble, and the short-legged one can help them out with her big ideas.

As a red-nosed short-legged wombat myself, I’ve always sided with Rudolph.  Who are these other creatures who seem to run the world?  Why do they get to reject me?  And then, why-oh-why do they think I should help them out on the rare occasion when they think I might be useful?

And why-oh-why do I comply?

I thought this story was written for the oddball child.

Then it occurred to me.  Most children aren’t oddballs.

This story would have a minuscule market if it was aimed at the oddballs.

This story is written for the normals –the creatures who run the world.  It says to this majority – this ruling class – it’s okay to exclude and insult the oddball.  And if you ever should need the red-nose short-legged one, s/he’ll help you out. S/he’ll be thrilled to do so. And afterwards you can go back to ignoring him or her.

Sure, you have to be nice while you are being helped, but it won’t last long and soon your problem will be over and you can go back to normal.

So, no, Spider isn’t the right magazine for my story.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Don't Give the Police an Excuse

Here I was – sounding off about how Michael Brown was unarmed and the only crime the police officer knew about was jaywalking – and then he shot him dead – emptied his gun into him.

A police officer explained to me that I was couch quarterbacking something I knew nothing about.

When a police officer, or anybody else is trained to use a gun for self-defense, the training includes -- don’t start shooting unless you feel threatened, but if you do feel threatened, – if you start shooting -- you keep shooting until the gun is empty. 

This makes sense. In a stressful situation, simple instructions are the easiest to follow.  

I get it.  Almost every day, a white police officer kills an African-American male. I get it. About 30% of African-American males are convicted felons.  I get it – drugs should be legal. I get it, prisons should not be run for profit.  I get it – there is tons wrong with our legal system.

But, being a police officer in a country where guns are easy to get is a dangerous job.  The purpose of guns is to kill.  Mistakes in judgement happen.

I’m a white female.   I was trained as a child – if the police ask you to do something – even something unreasonable – you do it – unless it is something illegal or something that could get you in more trouble later – for example, if a police officer asks you to pick up something that isn’t yours – don’t do it – don’t get your fingerprints on possible evidence.  Expect that the officer may hit you, but that’s better than doing jail time.

Apparently Michael Brown was not trained this way.   Jaywalking is not a lethal offense. Disobeying a legal request of a police officer is a lethal offense, especially if you are an African American male.

I’d like to start by making guns harder to get.  I’d like to start by making sure that everybody gets trained the way I was trained – do what the police say, unless it is illegal.

Vote.  Make sure that the police force in your city or town has representatives from all the races, ethnic groups, and economic groups.  Ferguson has an all white police force, and an all white government.  But the city is 64% African-American. 

And make sure that everybody knows – police are trained to empty their guns if they start shooting. Don’t give them an excuse to start.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blue Cross, Blood and Sweat

Blue Cross wants Blood and Sweat.

Last August, Blue Cross sent me an email that I could have 15% off on my insurance for the year if I got a bunch of blood tests by the end of the month.  I hate being popped.  I hate discussing my results with a doctor who is out-of-date on the latest research and insists that high cholesterol is dangerous for women.  The latest research shows that high cholesterol is protective for women.  But, I got the tests. And I sent the latest articles to the doctor, who ignored them and told me to get more exercise.

I go to my gym at least 3 times a week.  Monday is elliptical.  Wednesday is tread mill. Friday is helix.  Plus any day is rowing, free weights, and mat exercise. I ride my bike all over town. And I do yoga at home, daily.  I’ve told the doc this, but he doesn’t listen.

Blue Cross has a deal that if I go to the gym 120 times in a year, they’ll pay me $150.  I thought I had plenty of time until the end of the year.  Then Blue Cross sent me a letter.  This year, I have to finish the 120 visits by December 12.  

I looked at the calendar.  I can make it.  If I don’t miss a day, I can do it by December 6.

I’m not going to do anything based on the blood tests.  I’m not sure why going to the gym every day for a few weeks matters to Blue Cross.

They’re crazy.  My blood and sweat don’t do them any good.  But, I’ll do what they want in order to save money.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Must Tigers Eat Only Vegetables?

I attended a Mindfulness Workshop at which the leaders read some of their favorite poems. Two lines have stuck with me:

For us to know peace, is it necessary that there be no war anywhere in the world?
For us to know peace, is it necessary that all tigers eat only vegetables?

I find the juxtaposition useful as well as charming.

It is easy to say that feeling responsible for the world is a good thing. 

It is less easy to give orders to tigers, and expect them to be obeyed.

The juxtaposition allows me to see the warmongers of the world as tigers.  This does not mean that war is okay.  It just means that I acknowledge war as part of this world, just like tigers.

I can vote and advocate for peace.

I can also admit that my life goes on just fine when I don’t read the newspaper and don’t inform myself about the wars.

The peace that really matters to me does not depend on wars or tigers, but on how I treat my fellow humans, be they warmongers or tigers, or other peace-lovers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I've Become Part of the Problem

I have been known to make mistakes on my taxes. The feds and the state send me corrections to my taxes, usually in their favor. They show me where I made my errors, much like a school teacher.

So, this year, I was pleased when the city of Philadelphia put up a self-calculating tax form. All I had to do was copy numbers from my schedule C – total income and total profit.  The form calculated the rest.  I paid the city what it said I owed.  I thought I was done.

Yesterday, I got a letter.  Underpayment $29. Plus late fee and penalty.  Pay $32.87 by November 11, or the bill will go up.

No explanation.  No copy of my tax forms with corrections.  Just a bill.

And since they calculated the tax in the first place, it seems to me that if there is an error, they made it.   Yes, I did double check their math and I did calculate the same tax. It is unlikely that they and I would make the same mistake, if there is one.  So, I doubt there was an error. I suspect that the city wants more money and they know if they send every small business in the city a bill for a small enough amount that we’ll all pay it and not try to fight them.

I feel dishonest paying that bill.  I’ve become part of the problem – I no longer fight for my ideals if they cost $32.87.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Taking a Mindfulness Class

 I’ve been stressing out lately, playing scary scenarios in my head, rehashing conversations that went badly, even my dog quickly bored of playing with me.

I decided to take the Mindfulness class offered at a nearby hospital.  Jon Kabat-Zinn has a good reputation, as a man who was trained as a Buddhist meditator who figured out how to teach meditation without the Buddhism.

I’ve meditated before, on a regular basis, but this program was reputed to offer something gentler.

I’ve heard the words: be kind to yourself, before.

But then there was always the strict set of instructions: how to sit, how to breathe, how to think about thinking. Yes, when I can get it all together, it does feel like a vacation from stress.  I was looking for a gentler way to get the same or better effect.

The program has this, and it has its own stresses. I’ve got a personality clash with the teacher. Plus, as a long time yoga student, I resent the mechanical yoga script that the teacher uses.  I think she got it from headquarters – this is a franchised program – which makes the poor yoga class even more wrong – it’s not just my teacher messing up, but teachers all over the world messing up. Yoga is so much more than getting into various postures. It is a way of being in the postures, feeling the body, the areas that tighten up and the areas that relax. 

I get it – Kabat-Zinn is a trained meditator – not a trained yoga teacher.  But I wish he’d hired a yoga teacher to write that script.  When I mentioned this to the teacher, she gave me “permission to do your own yoga routine.”  I wasn’t asking for permission.  I was pointing out that the class could be improved with a yoga script prepared by a real yoga teacher. I even found her two good routines on YouTube, and sent her the links.

Anyway, the course has ways to deal with being upset, disappointed, angry, frustrated, and all the other emotions.  I particularly liked the week in which we were asked to write down one unpleasant event each day, and then write how it felt in our bodies.  The goal is to be able to notice the physical sensations that come with emotions, and recognize what is happening – maybe in time to avoid yelling at somebody.

These feelings come and go – the program helps students get used to the changing terrain that is our bodymind.

I've been taught be-kind-to-others forever.  Don’t accuse other people of cheating or lying. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they are cheating and / or lying, they’ve got stresses, they are doing the best they can.  Be nice to them. 

But I’ve always been under strict instructions that I must never cheat or lie or do any number of “bad things.”. And it seemed to me that I was not allowed to be kind to myself.

I’m finding that if I take the time to approach an angry disagreement while keeping in mind that we're just two people getting upset -- then it’s not such a scary big deal.  We can deal with this, and get on with our lives.

This works way better for me than, I’m-supposed-to-be-kind and they’re supposed-to-be-scary.

I like the mindset of this program – explore what it is to be human, have likes and dislikes, fears and joys, and recognize that everybody else has these, too.  

There is no need to pay for a class at your local hospital. I wish I’d known that before I signed up. The class is available free online:

The only reasons to seek out a class is if you want other people to practice with, or if you want the pressure of homework assignments to make sure you do the work.