Archive for September, 2009

Ruh Roh…

Ok, my new attempt at blogging for the Huffington Post Colorado Edition is finally up. I started with a tame topic, the greening of Denver. I’m building a list of ideas for other, more politics-oriented posts, but finding myself intimidated by the fact that so much of what I have the impulse to write about might easily get me in trouble professionally for in some way being controversial. Maybe I overestimate myself. Anyway, the goal is to start slow, get some momentum and find a comfortable voice on that site, then see where the venue might take me down the road…

Thanks for listening in occasionally.



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I found myself a new television indulgence last night. (Like I need one.) Marce had been telling me about this show but I hadn’t gotten around to watching it until I had a rare evening at home last night.

It’s a show called Hoarders, on cable, about people with the disorder of hoarding stuff. Maybe you’ve seen it on Oprah or Dr. Phil. These are folks who: a) tend to bring home a lot of stuff, and when I say stuff I mean, like, a literal LOT or two of stuff; b) have excruciating difficulty letting said stuff ever go; and c) when pushed by some external source, like a coach/purger/specialist/judge, suffer over every minute decision related to what items can possibly go. I mean, they break down over it, they come apart. Which is how they can end up literally buried in the piles and stank and black mold of their own stuff. One guy on the show last night was going to go to jail because a judge had ordered him to clean up the dozens of broken down cars, scrap metal, and old appliances on his property and he was about to shoot himself in the head rather than make those decisions about letting his stuff go. Seriously: running for the shotgun seemed easier than cleaning up. In another family, a seven year-old kid who was showing signs of hoarding (his mom was also a hoarder trying to overcome it) had a flat psychological breakdown over just the idea of letting some of his hundreds of “fluffies” go.

I’m a whore for these shows.

It’s easy to judge–which, of course, is part of the voyeuristic pleasure of watching Hoarders. As with The Biggest Loser (about a variation on hoarding, when you think about it), you can feel pretty righteous pretty quick about how you’re not a hoarder, how your life could never be that out of control. No one would have to do an intervention on me; after all, the ARC truck pulls up to my front door once a month! I can have people over for cocktail parties!

Then again, I don’t think these shows would work if most of us didn’t recognize a little bit of ourselves, our shadow selves, in these hoarder/’losers’. There’s a part of me, for sure, that gets the urge to shovel Cape Cod chips into my maw at the speed of light, when I’m tired or overwhelmed or stressed. There’s a part of me that agonizes over recycling the stack of New Yorkers I haven’t had the chance to read; that can’t deal with, for example, the patient piles of miscellaneous paper I’m looking at in my office right now. Each piece needs to be filed or dealt with or thrown away, but that’s a fairly overwhelming process, so I only do it every so often, and I’ve consciously given myself a certain leeway. But luckily I have that signal somewhere in my psyche that tells me “when” I’m going to, at minimum, feel embarrassed in front of guests if I don’t deal with the piles. What would happen if some trauma, some depression, turned that signal off and I gave up? What if a loved one died and I could no longer deal?

I shudder to think. So I try to watch Hoarders with more compassion than voyeuristic horror-pleasure, which is a good exercise. Because like those ‘Losers’ who are publicly facing every fear in the world at fat camp to lose the pounds that smother their lives, the Hoarders are trying to work it out, even if it means humiliating themselves in front of millions of people watching and judging.

Besides, do we really get to judge when we’re such a fat, consumption-addicted, hoarding horde? I mean, this nation, which is neither the geographically largest nor the most populated, uses the most energy resources in the world. Or, let me try to be more accurate (and, Jen, correct me cuz I’m Googling on the fly): We’re 5% of the world’s population but use 24% of its resources. Which is to say, we’re sick and wrong, as a whole. The fattest fatties in the world, and the hoardiest hoarders. I read an article in the Times on Sunday about how we’re actually shipping our trash, legally and illegally, in huge containers for Third World nations to deal with. Literally, we’re hiding our hoarding. Something wrong with this picture.

But maybe there’s hope in the fact that we’re trying to let go, we’re trying to lose it, and some part of us wants to change. So we make shows featuring the worst part of ourselves to cathect our collective shame and judgment upon while we learn that change may, in fact, be possible. Are these people our losers, or are they our unbelievably courageous heroes?

Maybe, just maybe, they can show the rest of us the way.

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Four-Day Whimp

Martha Beck, my virtual life coach and personal heroine, has a great book called The Four-Day Win. It’s actually a book about eating well/staying trim, but I’m finding it handy in a lot of basic life categories. The primary tool she offers, based on studies about human behavior, is the concept that it takes four consecutive days of practicing something new to set it, or I guess start it, as habitual. But you have to give your needy, non-task-oriented creature self little rewards for every successful day you’ve done the new thing, and a larger reward for doing it for the four-day set. The happy bribes pay off.

This worked well for me this summer with little things like not eating a whole bag of cheese puffs in a sitting, and showing up daily to writing I needed to get done. So I decided to employ it on a new scheduling plan for the academic quarter. I arranged my classes to be taught every day from 2-4, which leaves me the morning to, theoretically, navigate a new, calmer routine involving early morning Nancy time, two hours of work on my article/book/research, teaching prep, and an hour for some kind of exercise, usually en route to the office.

This is week one, and days 1-3 have gone brilliantly. I gotten a lot done, felt calm, stayed on track, and feasted on little treats along the way like watching Mad Men on On Demand. But today is Day 4, and I find myself filled with STUBBORN RESISTANCE. No idea why I’d sabotage things when it’s all been so fruitful, and felt better than the frenzied pace of my typical schedule. But already this morning I’ve been on Facebook, updated a bunch of apps to my computer, wandered around the house aimlessly, and refused to get my grumpy ass in the shower. Oh yeah, and now I’m writing a post about how I’m not doing anything on my list. Nice.

Maybe more treats is the answer. Maybe I have to shift things around today. At any rate, resistance to change reared its cranky head this morning. But I’m determined to make it through the fourth day intact. I suppose.

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Role Model

PaquiPaco has his priorities in the right place. He sleeps in the same spot every night, gets up just before dawn, stretches, then goes outside and quietly watches the sun rise. (Unless it’s snowing, when he still wakes and gets some exercise around the house.) He comes back in around 7, eats, and then goes to the backyard to sit in the cool morning and spy on people and animals walking by.

Paco doesn’t drag his butt out bed grumbling, fix himself a caffeinated beverage or go trolling for one at the corner coffee shop, and then look at his email and get in a bad mood because there’s already too much to do before he’s even gone outside. He doesn’t toss and turn thinking about all kinds of nonsense at night, thereby making it difficult to wake in the morning. Paco doesn’t waste time, then run around like a crazy person trying to get all the details together in order to not be late for work.

Paco doesn’t work. He sits, he watches, he goes on rounds, he eats, he sleeps. But he pays a lot of attention. His waking life is meditation. Unlike mine.

Paco knows something I easily forget: that if it’s a beautiful, warm, breezy night you go outside and chill on the porch in the dark. You don’t lay around on the couch surfing TV and feeling overburdened. You don’t flip flop in your bed. The other night when I was opening the front door to let him in because I was going to sleep, I realized how beautiful it was and took a detour: I turned off the porch light and sat my butt on the porch floor in my pajamas in the dark. The breeze made the most beautiful sound through the trees on my property; I could smell my roses; everything was calm. Paco was so excited that I was finally doing the thing that made the most sense, enjoying his ritual with him, that he pranced along the railing above my head, his fluffy body practically cooing happiness.

There’s no back to school week for Paco. Paco has no responsibilities, thanks to me. Still, he reminds me what it looks like to just be. To be present. To pause in all this running around after stupid stuff and be present.

Time to join him in the garden, where I can finish my tea without multitasking.


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I have more for you soon, but for now, as I focus on trying to revise an article before school starts next week, let me share this with you:

Yesterday on impulse I treated myself to a massage, with someone I didn’t know, who turned out to be an excellent massage therapist. (Her name was Ginette, but we both agreed something like Gina would be more suited for her. Her French father saddled her with the name Ginette Antoinette, but that’s another story.) At the beginning of the massage, I mentioned the R.A. She asked me if I had tried apple cider vinegar. I hadn’t, because in all the web surfing I’d done, I hadn’t seen that particular home remedy come up. (With different words in a search, though, I have since found it.) I chuckled a bit inside, because my 81-year-old dad has been singing the praises of that particular pucker-inducing, anus-tightening nectar for a number of years. Ok, so some old-fashioned cure-all, I thought. Whatever. But, then again, what the hell; my left wrist and random, assorted toe and finger knuckles have been in steady pain for two months now, and especially in the morning.

So after the massage I head over to Whole Foods and finally locate the brand Ginette specified: Bragg’s, because it is unpasteurized and unfiltered, and has “the mother vinegar” in it, whatever that means. (Looking up the mother, it reminds me of the Kombucha mushroom “mama” that makes a “baby” in every new batch of Kombucha tea and is some kind of microcosm of all good in the universe, but is kind of glossy and gross to look at. I went through a bit of a Kombucha phase at 29.) Also, Bragg’s packaging looks like something you’d find at the Ma & Pa store round about the Scopes Trial era. Alchemists and county fairs–that sort of thing.

So last night before a session of therapeutic painting in my basement romper room, I took some big swigs of the ACV, diluted, as suggested, with water and a little honey to make it sufferable. As soon as I tasted it I had this instant flashback of my late grandmother, and had to text my mom to see if there was any empirical reality to that. She confirmed that Grandmamma was a major advocate of ACV for all kinds of health benefits. (Then again, Grandmamma ascribed to the theories that direct sunlight cured just about any wound, and anyone could learn to see without glasses.) Anyway, I drank about half of the glass I poured myself. Maybe with a small vodka and grapefruit soda chaser, while I was at the business of self-medicating.

I then enthusiastically painted a bunch of unattractive, schizophrenic-looking things and forgot about the ACV.

Until this morning when I woke up and, stumbling into the kitchen to feed the whiny cats, suddenly became aware of the fact that my wrist hurt less and had a greater range of motion than it has since this damn RA started. WTF??? I seriously had forgotten the ACV until that moment. But this is the first thing I’ve tried that has actually made much of a difference in the pain, and I’ve been taking 500 mg of Naproxin (Alleve) twice daily for 6 weeks now, plus fish oil, primrose oil, and assorted other vitamins. From one “dose,” I’m not kidding, I noticed a distinct difference. Nor do I think it’s a placebo effect, as I’ve felt more positive about other supplements I’ve been trying, since there’s more out there about them and some of them have shown results in scientific trials. Weirdly, although I have now found all these detailed testimonials about ACV and arthritis on the web, the damn stuff has not been run through any RA-related trials. Why do you think that is? Could it be because a quart of Bragg’s costs about $5 at the store? Might a lot of people stand to lose a lot of money if an ordinary elixir did the same or better than all that stuff they’re selling us?

Anyway, obviously time will tell and I don’t want to whip myself into effervescence or a full-blown campaign against the arthritis industry until I see what happens long-term, with 2 doses a day over time. But still. I haven’t taken my Naproxin yet, but I did suck down some more pucker potion, and my wrist still feels much, much better than it has all summer.

Go figure.

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