Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Brown guilt

I was talking one day to a friend who is Indian American (as opposed to American Indian. Make sure you have these terms straight). We're both attractive, single, brown-skinned, dark-eyed women who are open to finding a relationship with a man. I was talking to her about men I'd recently dated, who included white, Black and Latino men, and said I hadn't found anyone I was particularly interested in. I mentioned one date who I tried to stay friends with, but platonic friendship hadn't worked because he wouldn't stop flirting. He was Black and highly educated (I like degrees).

My friend said it was good I wasn't dating him if I wasn't interested, but she also said it was good that I wasn't dating him because he was Black and I wasn't. She talked about how American racism kills, imprisons or otherwise socially destroys so many Black men that it's difficult for Black women to find Black men who can meet them where they are, educationally, professionally and socially. She said that if I were to have a relationship with an educated Black man, I'd be taking someone off the dating market who would otherwise be available for an educated Black woman and that wouldn't be right. 

I said, "Well, I married a white man. Didn't that take a white man off the market?"

She said, "No because white men aren't in danger like Black men are. There's no shortage of white men to date."

I said, "Oh."

I'd heard about the shortage of Black men for Black women to date, but never put in such bald terms with respect to me as a brown woman. At the time I had profiles up on the dating websites OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish and I was getting attention from Black and brown men (not as many white men). As my friend's words sank in, I began to feel guilty about all the Black men I'd gone on dates with. Should I stop? Was it wrong? Was I participating in some weakening of the Black community by dating Black men? Should I stick to my own kind, plus white guys?

The answers to these questions still evade me. I've gone back and forth about it and I guess my lack of romantic interest in anyone keeps me from having to truly face the question. I guess I'll find out where I really stand if I actually become romantically interested in a Black man. Until then, the question is moot, especially since I've removed my profiles from OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish. I got frustrated by men who were more interested in texting and messaging than meeting in person. 

I've puzzled and fumed over this problem of men who won't meet me in person. My current theory of what happens is that a man (of any color) is lonely and wants to meet an actual live woman in person, so he goes online and initiates a correspondence, but then either gets cold feet or realizes he doesn't really have time for dating, so he doesn't suggest meeting in person. But he's still lonely, so he keeps the correspondence going. On the other end is a woman who would like to meet in person and doesn't have the fear or time constraints he has, so she'd really like to meet in person! But he stalls and stalls and finally the woman moves on.

I got sick of that dance, so I bowed out. These days I'll just have to meet men the analog way: face-to-face, while living my daily life (although I'm sure I'll return to online dating after I've had a break from it).

So can any women of color, especially Black women, weigh in with an opinion about my brown guilt question? Or can any men tell me if I have the scenario correct about what's going on with a dating-website man who won't meet in person?

Upgrade remorse

I was talking to a friend who regrets upgrading her iTunes application because now her phone won't charge with the adapter she was using. Many of us had upgrade remorse last month when produced a terrible version of its app that didn't allow us to watch anything on our mobile devices. It took Hulu weeks to get an app out that worked properly, so in the meantime I did NOT update my iPhone. It was bad enough that I couldn't use Hulu on my iPad. Over and over I wondered, "Why did I update Hulu on my iPad? Why?"

I also regret upgrading my laptop iOS version. I dislike the way iPhoto and iTunes function now and I was perfectly happy with them before. And that's upgrade remorse.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A mother's mental illness

Fariha Roisin describes her experience growing up in Living With My Mother's Mental Illness. If you have a few minutes, please read it and let me know if your childhood was similar to Roisin's experience. I wonder how many people grew up in similar circumstances that most people don't know about because it's taboo to talk about things like this.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Don't follow that dream

During a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Jon Krakauer said his 1996 climbing of Mount Everest was a mistake. This is startling because in his 1997 book Into Thin Air, he explains that reaching that summit was a dream he'd had all his life. In many ways, it even seemed that everything he'd done up to that point had led him to fulfill that dream, and his book describes how he was one of few people in his climbing team to reach the top and survive. Given that Krakauer is famous for surviving that tragic climb and writing a book about it, it's particularly telling that he said: 
Jon Krakauer
Climbing Mt. Everest was the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life. I wish I'd never gone. I suffered for years from PTSD and still suffer from it. I'm glad I wrote a book about it, but you know if I could go back and relive my life, I would never have climbed Everest.

This man fulfilled a lifelong dream. He achieved international recognition by reaching the top of the biggest mountain in the world, and he regrets it. It's stunning and it goes against some of our most quintessential American attitudes: follow your dreams, don't give up, take pride in your accomplishments. Why does he feel this way?

For the most detailed answer, read his book, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. It's clear that Krakauer carries a lot of survivor's guilt about the horrific events of May 1996. The first time I read his book, I simply read it as an adventure story, and it's definitely a page-turner. But after hearing him say he regrets being a part of that climb, I re-read it and this time I saw why he wishes he hadn't gone.

This time I noticed Krakauer's subtle criticism of the culture of Everest-climbing. Sometimes it's no more than mentioning the salaries of the guides and porters that help clients who pay $65,000 each to reach the summit (in 1996 guides might have earned $10,000 to $15,000 for a single climb. Porters earned no more than $2,500). Sometimes it's his description of the illnesses people risk at high altitudes (such as brain swelling, hypoxia, and dementia). But more directly, he points out that in order to reach the top of Mt. Everest, you need an almost delusional view of your physical strength and stamina and you can't be slowed by even serious symptoms of altitude sickness, frostbite, intestinal illness, etc. He writes,

The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I'd been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering it struck me that most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace.

I don't know what that means, but it sounds suspiciously Catholic. Through suffering you become a better person? Mainly what I get from this passage is that climbing Mt. Everest isn't an enjoyable experience. You do it because you are hellbent on standing on that summit, no matter what. And the problem with no matter what is that it sometimes includes actually dying.

Krakauer describes his state at the end of the period he spends acclimatizing to being 27,000 feet above sea level (this is how he feels before he starts the real push towards the top of the mountain):

I'd lost nearly twenty pounds of muscle, largely from my shoulders, back, and legs. I'd also burned up virtually all my subcutaneous fat, making me vastly more sensitive to the cold. My worst problem, though, was my chest: the dry hack I'd picked up weeks earlier in Lobuje had gotten so bad that I'd torn some thoracic cartilage during an especially robust bout of coughing at Camp Three. The coughing had continued unabated, and each hack felt like a stiff kick between the ribs. Most of the other climbers in Base Camp were in similarly battered shape...

As they climb higher each day, mistakes become more costly and serious injury becomes easier. Breaking concentration for even a second can result in death, but at those altitudes, the brain doesn't function well, the body can't receive nutrition well and sleep is impossible. So Everest-climbers get to the deadliest part of their adventure when their bodies and brains are most depleted and handicapped. Krakauer also makes clear that getting to the top isn't the accomplishment people imagine: since it often takes your body's full resources to get to the summit, descending the mountain is even more dangerous because now you have to go all the way back down with your figurative gas tank on empty.

Krakauer's narrative plainly describes his own summit fever -- the loss of perspective that makes a person head for the top even while their body is failing them -- and he makes no excuses for himself. But he comes down from Everest a very different person. He had always known mountain climbing could lead to death, but he'd never really believed it. He can't stand knowing that he made it back to camp while others froze to death. He can't stand wondering if his presence as a reporter doing a story on guided climbs had an effect on the (poor) decisions made by the guides. He can't stand that he was a part of such a horrific experience that ended with so many people dead.

I was struck by an emergency helicopter rescue that happens at one point. It reminded me of how angry people were years ago when a couple was sailing on the open ocean with their family, and they got into trouble and the rescue cost thousands of dollars. People were furious that the couple had risked their children's lives like that, plus they had cost taxpayers so much money being rescued. I wonder why people aren't outraged by the risks people cause themselves and others by climbing Mt. Everest. How much did that helicopter rescue cost? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year go into Everest climbs that could be put to better use?

And why do people do it? Krakauer mentions different motivations, and I understand things like celebrity, money and career advancement. What I don't get it is ego motivation. It's not that I don't understand ego (as anyone who knows me can agree). I just don't understand ego that's willing to risk death of self or others. That's the most selfish kind of egotism. If you want to prove to yourself and the world that you're the best, the bravest or the coolest, there are many ways to do that, but climbing Mt. Everest means not only putting your life in danger, but being responsible for the lives of everyone who's on the mountain with you. When the party that Krakauer is with experiences disaster, other teams have to help them with rescue attempts and oxygen donations. Krakauer was damn lucky that there were people willing to give up their resources to help him survive, but that sense of responsibility for others is part of what makes it so hard for him to find peace afterwards. His book describes many moments when someone made an oxygen-deprived decision and put someone else's life at risk, and he pillories himself for his own such decisions. As hypoxic as his brain was and as difficult as it was for him to function up there, he just can't forgive himself.

I guess that's what it comes back to for me: unless you do it solo (which would be either suicidal or delusional), climbing Mt. Everest means putting yourself in a situation where you'll be responsible for yourself and others, when your brain is at it's weakest due to oxygen-, sleep- and nutrition-deprivation. You're heading into a hideously high-risk situation when you're guaranteed to be at your worst, and you're doing it while connected to a bunch of other people. I don't even understand how regular, sea-level doctors can confidently make life-or-death decisions when they haven't had a good night's sleep, so this Everest arrogance is completely beyond me.

By the end of the book, I felt disgusted that the entire world thinks climbing Mt. Everest is such a great thing when it looks to me like the height of self-destructive grandiosity. Testing yourself emotionally, psychologically and/or physically can be brave, but it becomes selfish when it endangers the lives of others (not to mention the family left behind after a climber dies). As often as people feel disgusted when someone wastes resources by getting themselves into trouble unnecessarily, isn't climbing Mt. Everest the biggest instance of getting yourself into trouble unnecessarily? And endangering others along with you? (I'm not even going into my disgust with the exploitation of the Sherpa population or the soiling of natural resources.)

Bleakly, Krakauer's 1997 book concluded that the tragedies of 1996 were unavoidable and would happen again (they did). He wrote, "In fact, the murderous outcome of 1996 was in many ways simply business as usual." He identifies people who climb mountains (and he is one) as not having typically good judgment. The global climbing community rewards and admires those who take the craziest risks and are lucky enough to get away with it. Those who ignore the pain signals of their bodies get the farthest and that's considered good. It's actually offensive to me as a woman with mental illness that my behavior and thinking are considered crazy when that kind of ego-driven, destructiveness counts as showing strong character. I, with my depressive episodes, am considered a nutjob, while the entire world admires Mt. Everest summiters, who often pass the corpses of previous climbers as they gasp and labor their way to the top.

But Krakauer is a little less crazy than his colleagues because he recognizes that the price he paid to make his dream come true wasn't worth it. He made it to the summit and back without losing a single toe (one of his teammates lost a limb but still didn't make it to the top), but he still thinks it would have been better to let this dream go unfulfilled. The price he paid was emotional and psychological and it has never stopped. He published Into Thin Air in 1997 and at the end of it he admits how painful it has been to live with the memories. He wonders how long it will take him to recover. It's a good thing he didn't know in 1997 that almost 20 years later he'd still be recovering.

Jon Krakauer had a cherished, childhood dream that he followed all the way to the top of the world. When asked during the Huff Post interview for advice on climbing Mt. Everest, he said, "You should be willing to turn around." (His book shows that it's the ones who turn around and don't reach the top who are the smart ones.) It's great to grab a hold of some dreams with both hands, but it's just as important to know when to let one go. I say don't lose sight of your dreams, but also don't lose sight of the price you're paying to get there.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Arm yourself and never be afraid

I'm not talking about arming yourself with a weapon. I'm talking about arming yourself with the physical skills to protect yourself against assault. Here's why it makes more sense to learn self-defense moves than buy a gun:

  • A gun can be separated from you, but you'll always have your body attached.
  • If you rely on weapons to protect you against rape and assault, you'll forget how powerful your own hands, legs, voice, etc. are and you might not use them.
  • If you learn to protect yourself with your own body, you'll be able to fight back even if you wake up naked in the middle of the night with an assailant on top of you. Yes, that scenario can end safely for you!

In 2013, I took a self-defense course from a nationwide organization called IMPACT. I used IMPACT Chicago, but check the main website for other locations. My experience with their excellent training is here, but here's the short version: I'm not afraid anymore when I come home to my apartment in the big, violent city, where I live alone. IMPACT taught me how to take a man down no matter his size.

My weekend IMPACT training was powerful in part because it taught me the following:

  • Most sexual assault occurs with no weapons involved at all.
  • The reason criminals don't need weapons is that we've been programmed to believe that women are powerless against men.
  • Half the battle is re-programming yourself to know that you CAN win a physical battle with a man, mano a mano.
  • Learning how to use leverage (like in wrestling) and how to use a hard part of your body to smash into a soft part of the attacker's body is the key to walking away from an attack that leaves your assailant on the ground.

I'm five feet, two inches tall (157 cm) and currently weigh 155 pounds (70 kg), but I'm confident that I can defend myself even if man suprises me in my own home. No more fear when I come home at night.

Here's the information about one of their upcoming programs (IMPACT Chicago does several a year, in different locations):

September 25, 26, 27:
Knapp Center
3145 W. Pratt Avenue
Chicago, IL 60645

Friday 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

If these dates don't work for you, you'll find other scheduled training sessions listed on their website. Or call them at 312-971-7119 or email

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Four ibuprofen every three and a half hours. I even set my alarm to wake me up in the middle of the night so I wouldn't wake up to PAIN.

Keeping the air conditioner on high so I can use the heating pad while it's in the 90s outside (30s Celsius).

Staying home a lot so I can use my menstrual cup, which I love using, except that I need a real bathroom for emptying it.

Wishing I were a few years older and already in menopause. (In 1979, at age 12, I wished I'd been born a few years earlier so I could have been old enough for discoteques. I still wish I'd been born a few years earlier!)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Continuing adventures in fibroids

(My original post about my fibroid tumor is here.)

So I decided to go with the Lupron treatment for my uterine fibroid tumor symptoms, but in the two weeks since my doctor appointment, their office has been having a hard time getting the paperwork through. The cogs of the insurance company move aggravatingly slowly, and in the meantime, I'm getting another period. F&#%!

It makes me hate being a woman, hate having a uterus, hate being young enough to still be menstruating. If getting my period had been this painful when I was in my 20s, I don't know what I would have done. I'm sure suicide would have been even more attractive to me, and much more often. Fortunately, my period didn't cause me much discomfort for most of my life. The real pain didn't start until I was in my late 30's, which is when I went on the pill. I went off the pill just last summer, tired of its side effects and determined to get my hormones in balance naturally. Even though being on the pill took care of my cramps, I don't want to go back on it. I hear too much about serious side effects (including death) with the pill, plus at the age of 49, I'm not a good candidate for it. Few gynecologists put women over the age of 40 on the pill because the side effects become more dangerous with age.

Since menstruation became a long-term health crisis for me, I've become more drawn to things like BuzzFeed articles about the ordeal of menstrual cramps and illustrations that express what having a period feels like (one Buzzfeed article quotes a woman referring to "Lucifer's waterfall." Yup.). It seems that menstruation is extremely painful these days for many young women. Has it always been that way? I don't remember my peers being in agony when I was a teenager, college student or young adult. Getting our periods was a drag, but it didn't cause us to miss class or work.

Have fibroids gotten worse for the current generation of menstruating girls and women? Is this an American thing? Is it our crappy high-sugar/high-starch diet again? I know, I know: no studies have found a link between blood sugar/insulin levels and cancerous cells or fibroid tissue, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It means no long-term studies have been done on a possible sugar-cancer link (although a link has been found between insulin resistance and PCOS). And no such studies are going to be done because the American food industry is too heavily invested in keeping Americans hooked on sugar and starch.

All I know is that my cramps are much better when I stick 100% to no sugar, no grains, no dairy and no caffeine, but who the hell can live that way indefinitely? One hundred percent? Especially when even that doesn't make the pain go away completely? I can imagine maintaining this diet most days of the week for the next 20 or 30 years, but 100% every single damn day? I can't do it, even though my failure means that every month I swallow about 50 ibuprofen pills over two or three days and still don't stay ahead of the pain.

The Lupron injection should stop my period, which I was really looking forward to, but the insurance company is as constipated as Congress, so yesterday I ordered another remedy I haven't tried yet: Menastil. Dr. Christiane Northrup mentions it in her book The Wisdom of Menopause and I'm back to trying any non-prescription remedy that might reduce my cramps. (Please let this be my last period without medical treatment!) So here I go, back into slippery goddamn madness (damned insurance company!).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

American Language and Culture Coach

Do you have a co-worker who recently moved to the United States, has limited English, feels lonely and struggles with American protocols and social customs? Do you know someone who's trying to build their new life here, but needs better communication skills to get the job they want? Do you have a neighbor or know a parent whose native culture is different and who has trouble making friends? Do you work in a place where more than one language is spoken and it's causing problems? Do you have employees of different cultural backgrounds who aren't communicating well? My new business can help.

Last winter I earned the certification to teach English to speakers of other languages. With this training, plus my background as an ESL teacher and tutor, I imagined getting a job as a TESOL instructor, but I'm going in a different direction: I'm taking clients for my practice as an American language and culture coach. I work with individuals to strengthen their grammar, pronunciation, and conversation skills, PLUS I help them adjust to life in the U.S. whether that means understanding their workplace culture, learning how to make friends, decoding American behavior and expressions, figuring out how to successfully apply for jobs or academic programs, or tackling any goals they have, whether personal or professional.

For businesses, I learn the specific culture of the company and train their English learners to work more smoothly within the team. Working with me, these employees become better communicators, gain insight into and understanding of their workplace, and become more productive. I help build professional bonds, remedy poor communication and help everyone succeed.

Basically I want to reduce loneliness. Whether the problem is personal isolation or feeling alienated at work, I want to help immigrants and the people who hire them. My personal connection is that I'm the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, but it's more than that. I'm passionate about building community, I enjoy teaching English (ah, grammar!) and I love talking about Americans. Oh, we Americans are a fascinating bunch and I've spent a lifetime observing and anaylzing us (I'm American born, but I maintain the objectivity of a thoughtful, marginalized person).

Keep watching my blog for the rollout of my new business name and website! I'm so excited about this.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Crying is good

Sometimes I cry not because I'm upset. Sometimes I cry when I feel very happy or relieved. We're all familiar with tears of joy. We've seen people weep with relief and gratitude when they find out their loved one is still alive or when they finally receive desperately needed help. Crying can release all kinds of emotions.

Sometimes I cry when I sense I'm hearing the truth. I'll hear words that resonate so deeply with what I emotionally know to be true that tears well up. I don't know why it is or if other people experience this. Americans don't like to cry and we don't like to talk about crying, so I have no idea how many people have a tear response to hearing things that touch their heart.

If the good news or healing words resonate very deeply and strongly, I might even go into full weeping. It's what some people call ugly crying: crumpled face, tiny eyes, wrenching sobs, big nose-blowing. Someone watching might think my heart is breaking or that I'm in great emotional pain, but it's actually the opposite. I'm feeling things like joy, gratitude, relief, familiarity. Sometimes, in a way, it feels like coming home. They're good tears. Does anyone else do this full-out weeping in a positive way?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Sears Tower Skydeck

I've wanted to visit the Sears Tower (not the Willis Tower) ever since they installed the sections of the Skydeck where you can stand on a glass floor and pretend you're suspended 103 floors above the ground. I finally made it last night.

The path out of the building, strings you through a gift shop and a place to get food. On my way through the gift shop, I had to get a picture with this spheroidal thing that honors the Chicago Bulls basketball team:

I occasionally enjoy being a tourist in my own town.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Chicago Fibroid Clinic

Someone from the Midwest Institute for Minimally Invasive Therapies commented on a recent post and sent me a link to the Chicago Fibroid Clinic. I'm passing it on for anyone who is suffering with fibroids and considering a hysterectomy. What I forget is that the uterus and ovaries do a hell of a lot more than try to make babies. They produce important hormones and are part of the pelvic floor musculature. Removing the uterus and ovaries not only drastically changes your body chemistry, it can contribute to problems like incontinence. So I've backed down from my previous disgust with my uterus and how much trouble it causes me. It has important benefits.

If anyone has recommended a hysterectomy to you, get as much information about it as you can. You can start with the Chicago Fibroid Clinic website.

Jury Duty

I lived my entire life up to the age of 49 without ever being called for jury duty. I've longed for it, and I got all excited last summer when I got a notice that said I might be needed to serve. But when I called on the date, as instructed, I found out I wasn't needed, so I didn't get to take the day off work (damn). Of course, this year, when I'm no longer at a job that will pay me for the day off, I finally got called.

A friend assured me that highly educated people never get selected, so I with my masters degree could rest easy. I'd always wanted to serve on a jury, so I felt a little disappointed when she told me that, but by July 27th, the day I was to report, I'd changed my attitude. By then I felt ambivalent because I was in daily abdominal pain and wanted to keep my doctor appointment later that week.

I and a couple of hundred people reported for jury duty at Chicago's Daley Center at 8:30 a.m. on the 27th. We sat in a large room with plenty of seats and minimal air conditioning. We watched a video that explained that we'd go through some questioning and, if selected, serve on a jury that would require us to punctually report to the court every day until the trial ended. They had given everyone a slip of paper with a number on it and called us in groups, as in, "Would everyone in group 11 please line up at the front desk in two rows?" They didn't call these groups in numerical order. Many of us sat for an hour and a half before our number was called.

When my group got called, we were led to another floor where we waited for another half hour to enter the courtroom. By then it was about 10:30. Thirty-six of us went in, with 12 of us called to occupy the jury seats. While the other 24 watched, we 12 were questioned by the attorney for the plaintiff and then the one for the defendant (later the groups of 12 switched so others could answer questions).

Sometimes the questions were directed to all of us, such as "Please raise your hand if you have ever had any medical training." But most of them were directed to each person individually. We were asked about our education (there were several masters degrees in my group), our families, our past experiences serving on juries, our hobbies and if any of us had ever received a diagnosis of sterility (being unable to have children). We were asked about our family histories with cancer and if we had siblings with children. Several times the attorney asked this question: "And was there anything about that experience that would make you unable to serve impartially on this jury?" That was what everything came down to. If someone said they had a family member who had suffered from lymphoma or if they said they were personally unable to have children, the attorney zeroed in and questioned them until he determined if they could serve impartially or not. That was the key.

I was asked about my blogging and what I did for a living and about my family's history of cancer. The attorneys didn't ask me very many questions, which I assumed meant they weren't interested in me as a juror. I turned out to be correct: when they finally called the twelve names of the selected jurors, mine wasn't one of them. But they did choose one of the masters degree holders, a school teacher, so I guess being highly educated doesn't always rule you out. The jury also had three Black people and three Latinos, which I thought was good, even though it looked like the plaintiff and defendents were all white.

At the end, those of us who weren't chosen filed back to the large room and lined up to collect our checks for US$25. I was surprised that the court proceeedings had gone straight through the lunch hour. It was 2:30 by the time we were able to leave, and several people said they were starving. Apparently, if we'd been called into a court room earlier, we might have had to sit back down and wait to see if we fit for another jury, but by 2:30 they just let us go. I left the building regretting that my jury experience hadn't happened last summer. It would have been lovely to have a day off work that left my whole afternoon free.

There were, of course, many people there that morning who were dreading the possibility of getting picked. I understand why people would feel that way who work for an hourly wage. If hourly workers don't show up for a shift, they don't get paid. But if you have a salaried job, what's the problem with taking a few days off to serve? I don't understand people who report for jury duty absolutely dreading the possibility of being picked. How could any salaried job be more important than the justice system? It can't.