Wednesday, March 25, 2015

12-step programs are not great

The April 2015 issue of The Atlantic has an article called The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the article Gabrielle Glaser, author of Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink - And How They Can Regain Control, discusses the ways that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) falls short of helping people control their drinking. Her article asserts that it's past time to consider more medical approaches to treating alcohol abuse besides AA's outdated methods.

This blog post won't be about that, athough I'm sure it's true. Glaser's article made me think about how I haven't had very good experiences with twelve-step programs. That's how people commonly refer to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and all the other programs that use the same format as the original organization. When I first realized I had a problem with food, specifically sweets, I tried a few Overeaters Anonymous meetings back in 1994. People brought so much pain to those meetings that I actually wanted to eat more afterwards. I found the stories emotionally disturbing and felt like I picked up more baggage than I had walked in with. I stopped going after just a short while. It just didn't feel like what I needed.

I tried another twelve-step program in my second year of marriage. I attended Al-Anon meetings (for the family/partners/friends of alcoholics) for a few months because I felt concerned about my husband's drinking. This time the meetings were less scary and I met some great people who felt like they could turn into real friends, but the meetings still didn't feel like a good fit. People described drinking parents with erratic behavior and stormy emotions. They described feeling trapped and helpless in the face of their alcoholic spouses. Many of them had already moved on from these relationships, but were managing the aftermath of their own pain. Again, I felt more upset leaving the meetings than when I'd arrived and felt sure that wasn't how it was supposed to go.

This time the problem was that the stories of violence and abuse didn't sound like my husband. They sounded like my mother. I found this very confusing because my mother didn't drink; her emotional abuse was driven by mental illness. It was my husband who drank, replacing the Jack Daniels whiskey that he kept in the kitchen with a regularity that surprised me. Yet his moods never got anywhere close to what my Al-Anon peers described in their drinking spouses. What the hell was going on?

When I found myself returning from meetings expecting my husband to be raging and driving the car into walls, I decided to stop going to them. Once again, the twelve-step participants felt like they were carrying much heavier burdens than I, and I was taking on their anxiety. I finally concluded that twelve-step programs were just not for me

I add this point to Glaser's critique of Alcoholics Anonymous: AA (and Al-Anon) uses a very limited model of alcoholic behavior. They focus on drinkers who destroy things and abuse others, who lose jobs and "hit bottom" (sink to the lowest point in your life you can possibly reach). But there are actually different kinds of alcoholism. Sure, there are drinkers who will tear through relationships, insurance policies and careers, but there are also drinkers who hold their lives together quite well while they slowly drink themselves into ill health. "Highly functional alcoholics" can't do without daily drinking, but hold jobs, raise families and would never be suspected by others of having a problem with alcohol. They're in danger of destroying their livers before any external consequences force them to examine their habits; they don't tend to rage or destroy things. But highly functional alcoholics aren't even mentioned in AA or Al-Anon literature because they don't "hit bottom." They just float along until their health gives out.

AA and Al-Anon also leave out the wide range of drinkers who are now described as having alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder refers to having a dependence on alcohol and can include many symptoms such as depressed mood, generalized anxiety, anger, social withdrawal and marital discord/neglect. Without including the various shades of problem drinking, AA and Al-Anon fail to serve many people whose lives are affected by alcohol.

Glaser's article is well-researched and points out the blinders we've been wearing with regards to treating alcohol problems. Twelve-step programs, for the most part, don't work for alcohol abuse and it's time we stop thinking of them as the be-all-and-end-all of alcohol addiction treatment. I'd add that twelve-step programs probably don't work for a lot of people, alcoholic or not. At least, that's my experience.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Last night I watched one of Robin Williams' last movies: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. I don't know when he finished the movie, but it was released in May 2014 and came out on video-on-demand (VOD) in July 2014, weeks before Williams' suicide. I can only find bad reviews of the movie, but I enjoyed it. Critics said Williams' character's anger seemed energetic, but unconvincing. Because these reviews were written while Williams was still alive, they pulled no punches and called the movie predictable and maudlin. And because Williams was alive when they were writing, critics were also unable to make this comment: at one point in the movie, Williams' character predicts what his tombstone will say with this line, "Henry Altman, 1951 dash 2014." That moment was chilling for me.

I enjoyed this movie (which I watched on Amazon VOD) because it's about relationships. Williams plays Henry, a man with a big anger problem, who has ruined his marriage, his relationship with his son and has alienated most of his friends. When he finds out from a doctor played by Mila Kunis that he has a brain aneurysm that leaves him with ninety minutes to live, he goes into overdrive trying to mend his relationships with his family, hoping to do so before he drops dead.

My favorite part of the movie is Peter Dinklage who plays Henry's patient, long-suffering brother. I loved him in The Station Agent and he's even sexier in this movie. Henry's brother is the only calm, rational one in the movie, and I perked up every time he came onscreen. Besides Dinklage, I thought Kunis and Williams also came out strong. They're quite funny together and I appreciated that they didn't fall into emotional stereotypes. Henry's anger batters relentlessly at Dr. Gill's earnest attempts to help him (after an initial clash), but she doesn't fold. In spite of her own considerable pain and loneliness, Dr. Gill matches Henry's intensity and drive when she could buckle under his contempt. There are a couple of moments when the plotline could have taken the easy way out, but it doesn't.

But the main point of his post is to point out that just before Williams' death, he did a movie about a man facing death, who pegs his lifespan as lasting from 1951 to 2014. It comes towards the end of the movie and it's an eerie moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Trying to eat well to avoid pain

My progress towards a cramp-free life seems to have slowed. The cramps I suffered during my last 28-day cycle were better than others since I stopped taking the pill last summer, but things still got pretty bad in the first 24 hours of my period last weekend. Right in step with much of the rest of Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I began throwing up on Saturday night and didn’t stop until late Sunday morning. Oh yeah: I got the nausea of St. Patrick’s Day drunk-bingeing without any of the fun.

I suspect the problem is that I’ve plateau-ed on how much I can abstain from sugar, grains, dairy and caffeine. After my general practitioner (GP) told me to cut those out in order to regain hormonal balance last fall, I followed her advice 100% for thirty days. Since then, the best I can do is keep to about 70-90% adherence. That’s because I’ve added fruit and sweeteners back in to my diet, plus every few days I have some bread or rice, once a week or so I’ll have a half a cup of coffee, and every few weeks, I go ahead and dig into a dessert.

Eating these small amounts of sugars and starches would probably be okay if my body weren’t in such bad shape from decades of sugar addiction. But I’m in healing mode, calming down my insulin levels and retraining my cells to manage glucose, so any amount of sugar is probably still a bad idea. Apparently, menstruation is much more painful for me than it should be because my hormones aren’t in balance yet. My GP and my chiropractor both tell me that in a healthy state, women don’t experience any pain at all during menstruation, can you believe it? As mind-boggling as it is, I have to accept this as true because they’re both healthy and don’t have menstrual cramps at all. Using them as my role models is encouraging, but also discouraging because I obviously have far to go.

I’ll check in with my GP next week to make sure I’m at least roughly on the right path. If 70-90% adherence to her hormonally balancing diet keeps me healing, I can do it. The fading out of my menstrual pain might be slow, but so be it. But if she says I need another 30-day period of 100% no sugar, no grains, no caffeine and no dairy, I don’t know what I’ll do. Actually, I do know: I’ll do my best.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Nyctophilia

Nyctophilia is the love of nighttime or darkness and I am a big nyctophiliac. It’s nighttime now and I sit in a dim living room, lit only by the pinkish glow of two Himalayan salt lamps and, of course, my laptop screen. Although I prefer rooms that are bright with natural light during the day, I dislike turning on lights after sunset. I believe that if the sun is down, then it’s time for us to mostly be in darkness, with our focus turned towards bedtime. When I was married, my husband learned that if he entered a room I was in and had to turn on a light so he could see, he should turn that light back off when he left. At first he felt like that was rudely leaving me in the dark, but he eventually learned that it was considerately returning the room to the level of light I preferred.

I love bedtime. Falling asleep is one of my favorite things to do.

It might be logical to associate nyctophilia with the quality of being a night owl, but I’m not one of those. I like going to bed by 10:30 p.m. and waking up at dawn. I’m a morning person who doesn’t need caffeine to feel alert and focused well before 9:00 a.m. It just happens that I’m a morning person who prefers when the world turns down the harsh glare of daytime and softens the appearance of things with shadow.

My nyctophilia is why I like cloudy days. Rain, snow, humidity and temperature aren’t as important to me as having dim skies. My eyes are extremely sensitive to sunlight, so I have to wear protective glasses, and often a hat, when I go out on bright days. As others soak up the sun, I try to walk on the shaded side of the street or at least with the sun’s rays at my back. Yes, I admit to having this in common with classic vampires: when the sun is out, we want to just stay inside.

Chicago has had some very sunny weather this month. Too many days in a row of brightness wears on me, so I’m relieved to see that we’re due to get some rain next week.

My love of darkness is why I’ve started participating in Earth Hour on the last Saturday of March each year. To do that, you turn out all your lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. local time, wherever you are. This year it falls on Saturday 28 March. Earth Hour is an annual international event that draws attention to the need to conserve resources or save the planet or some such rhetoric. Whatever. I don’t care about any of that. I just like sitting in the dark.

This is the second year that I’m having an Earth Hour party. That means I invite a bunch of people over for one of my get-togethers and everything goes along as usual except that we turn out the electric lights between 8:30 and 9:30 and use candles instead. I’m a big hostess and love having potlucks, game nights, birthday parties and holiday celebrations all year long. But this is becoming one of my favorite social events: a party where I have an ideal excuse to shut off the glare, switch to soft candlelight and let everyone enjoy the semi-darkness I cherish. Last year we played cards during Earth Hour, being able to see well enough to do that. Spontaneous acapella singing broke out, inspired by “Hello, darkness, my old friend.” The dimness created intimacy, the loss of which I found painful when it was time to turn the electric lights back on at 9:30.

I wish Earth Hour happened more than once a year or lasted more than one hour. Wait, who’s to say I can’t stretch this hour? It’s my party. Maybe I’ll have an Earth Hour party with only candles all night. Oh, yeah. Nyctophiliacs, we have found our annual global event!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

#77 Bus on Belmont Avenue, March 14, 2015
Blogging on public transit. Just want to say that this is the scariest day of the year for me. I do not like leaving my home on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day because the drinking starts early and I mean EARLY. Some Chicago bars open at 8:00a, so by as early as 10:00a I'm encountering the inebriated. This is the day of the St. Patrick's Day parade and dye-ing of the river. That's when enthusiasts with green hats, clothes, faces and hair line up downtown along the Chicago River and throw in green dye until the water has a jade hue. And I'm disturbed by it.

The whole inebriated day is a bizarre tradition to me and I've lived in a few different parts of the country. In Chicago thousands of people symbolically claim a link to an Irish heritage by wearing green and drinking alcohol. A vaguely similar thing happens on Cinco de Mayo when a bunch of white people suddenly pretend to care about Mexico by getting plastered. It's as if Americans can't think of a better way to celebrate than by sucking back the fermented grain and making themselves sick. 

I don't know why the Chicago version of this holiday makes me so uneasy. It just feels very white and male and drunken and scary. It feels to me like those people use entire parts of the city as their bar for the weekend, lurching from party to party, even more heedless than usual of the effects of their behavior. And that scares me. 

Last year I sat on a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus and listened to two young white people singing. The young woman sat on the young man's lap, wearing a short skirt and jacket that was inadequate for the weather. I felt concerned because she was completely swacked at 1:00p and couldn't even feel the dangerous cold on her bare legs. She looked very vulnerable to me and I had to put her out of my mind after I left the bus. It was the same bus I have to ride today. 

I have nothing against parades or celebrations in general, but drunk people wandering the city from early morning today until early tomorrow morning just makes me want to stay in. Which I would have done except for my committed Saturday morning activity: my Chicago EFT Tapping Circle Meetup. I'm there every week like church and am on my way there now. But once it's over, I'll scurry home and nothing short of my apartment building burning down will get me to go out tonight. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago just feels to me like violence about to happen. 
Empty 24-pack of Budweiser on the train at 3:00p

If you date, please...

This post is for everyone who actively dates, but I'd like to direct it mostly at middle-aged men (my dating pool). If you're on a first date and you're talking and your date's eyes start to glaze over, switch to asking your date questions and get her/him to talk more. Don't keep trying to fascinate the other person with more talking, certain you'll eventually hit upon the funny story or riveting information that will make your companion want a second date. If your date doesn't seem engaged by whatever you're saying, please switch to asking questions and listen for a while. Ask "What do you think?" Ask "Has anything like that ever happened to you?" Ask "Did you use a crosswalk today?" Ask anything.

I think people (men) must go into a "like me, please, like me" mode, hoping you'll get a good response if you just keep talking. But the truth is that we'll often like you better if you act interested in us, and you do that by asking questions. Not asking questions makes it look like you're not interested in us and that lowers the likelihood that we'll like you. Questions that get us talking are much better than story after story about your job (or your kids). Thanks!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Chicago for Chuy

So Chicago is experiencing an historical event these days: the challenging of an incumbent mayor by someone without big money behind him who did so well in the general election that he has forced the city into a runoff election. Jesús "Chuy" García is the Floor Leader for the Cook County Board of Commissioners and has achieved an impressive amount in his career, including being part of the recent balancing of the county budget while also lowering taxes. I didn't know it was possible to do both those things together. He's been a city alderman, an Illinois state senator and has built a successful 30-year career in politics. He was born in Durango, Mexico but has lived in Chicago since he was 10 years old.

In case you follow Chicago politics even less than I do, here's a summary of what's going on, as well as I can figure it. A lot of people are unhappy with current Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who we elected in 2011. A big reason is how he's handled the Chicago public schools (CPS). Contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city of Chicago did not go well in 2012, leading to a strike that lasted over a week. Many parents of CPS students supported the teachers, who were having trouble getting what they needed on issues such health insurance and seniority pay increases. Rahm Emanuel's hard stance with teachers did not play well and he might have been surprised by how strongly Chicago parents didn't support him on that.

But he shouldn't have been surprised because a year earlier, the Chicago Board of Education -- appointed by Mayor Emanuel -- voted to close 50 Chicago public schools: 49 elementary schools and one high school. It was the biggest school closure in Chicago's history and it caused great outrage among parents and teachers. At the board meeting Ameya Pawar, one of the aldermen whose wards were affected, said "Closing a school is akin to closing a community." It was part of Emanuel's school reform efforts, but it didn't go down well.

I don't have children and don't pay much attention to CPS news. What I remember is the Emanuel administration's 2012 closing of mental health clinics all over the city. That's an issue close to my heart because that act jeopardized a very vulnerable population: poor people with mental health problems. My income level is steady these days, but who knows when I might wind up in that demographic? That move pissed me off, so by the time I heard about the closing of 50 schools a year later, I was having doubts about this Emanuel guy.

Me walking home today.
What it comes down to is that at lot of Chicagoans just don't like Rahm Emanuel. We haven't for a quite while. In fact, I can't think of a single friend who would defend him, and I have a lot of friends. I voted for Mr. García on February 24th and I plan to do so on April 7th. He's impressed me with his background with the county board and the work he did as an alderman. I believe he won't sell out to big interests because his 30-year history as a politician doesn't include that.

Today I walked into the Chicago for Chuy field office at 1144 W. Wilson and requested a button I can wear. They gave me a button and a sign to put in my apartment window which I carried home so everyone could read it (I don't have a car and walk a lot). As I walked through Rogers Park, I got some horn honks of support and one driver who yelled, "Chuy! Chuy!" It's a fun name to say, but I think people are also relieved and happy to have an excellent alternative to Rahm.

It's the countdown to April 7th and this should be a pretty good ride.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Help End Daylight Saving Time

There have been many articles recently about how it's time for the United States to stop the Daylight Saving Time (DST) practice:

The Atlantic gives some history.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Alaska, Idaho and New Mexico are trying to repeal it.
International Business Times explains that DST is downright deadly.

And Last Week Tonight with John Oliver makes a strong case against DST in this three-minute video:


But here's how you (Americans) can actually take action about it: the Petition2Congress.com campaign to End Daylight Savings Time. Click here to send letters to President Obama and your representatives that say that you've had enough of this moving clocks backwards and forwards. I just sent my letters. I had no problem getting my full night's sleep on Sunday, but all the arguments make sense: it's time for this time-jumping to stop, especially since it's actually detrimental.

P.S. I think it's funny that the current focus on ending DST is happening right after the weekend when we lost an hour rather than last November when we gained one.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Get fit, THEN exercise


DON'T PUNISH YOURSELF LIKE THIS

Decades ago, Americans got stuck on two completely wrong ways to go about losing weight: eating less and exercising more. We got stuck on the two activities that actually increase hunger and make the human body conserve energy (fat) when it doesn't get the nutrients it needs. Somehow we forgot that the more energy you expend, the more fuel you need and the hungrier you get. Exercising more and eating less only sets you up to constantly fight your body's natural need for adequate nutrients. The following statement might be good news and I'm happy to assert it: if you're completely out of shape and your goal is to lose weight, stop exercising. Stop forcing yourself to do daily physical activity you don't want to do. Maybe just take a walk and call it a day.

We're beginning to let go of the calories-in-calories-out theory of body weight, which has been proven to be incorrect. The human body isn't a machine that grinds up fuel in equal proportion to the energy it outputs. The human body is a delicate chemical balance of hormones that is affected by the kinds of fuel we put in it: eating lots of high glycemic carbohydrates causes insulin problems that lead to diabetes, heart disease and other problems. Calories that come from protein and fat don't cause dangerous fluctuations in insulin levels and are better fuel for us (in other words: go light on sugar and starchy carbs, heavier on fats and non-starchy carbs like green vegetables).

So forget about spending an hour on the StairMaster because you need to burn off that cheesecake. That's not how the human body works. It's true that the body stores extra energy as fat, but the way it stores and releases that extra fat isn't triggered by exercise the way we've been thinking.

Years ago Gary Taubes opposed the usual calories-in-calories-out crap by advancing the theory that eating a sugar- and starch-heavy diet causes insulin problems and it's those insulin problems that cause the human body to pack on extra fat. Sadly, few have paid much attention to his work, but his ideas are slowly gaining ground. He says that ongoing elevated insulin causes fat cells to become less able to use energy efficiently. Because the fat cells can't release energy as the body needs it, the body has to rely on a constant intake of sugary and starchy foods for its ready energy. So you settle into a daily habit of sugary drinks (including alcohol), sweets, and bread or potatoes with every meal, your body probably stores more fat that it can't later access for energy, and the cycle continues.

Taubes' theory also includes this: once your body can't efficiently use its own energy stores, it starts conserving energy, which makes it not want to physically exert itself. In other words: it's not that people are fat because we don't exercise; we don't exercise because we're fat. The body's inability to use its own fat reserves causes it to decrease its metabolism, which makes us feel tired more easily. This is undoubtedly part of why many fat people really hate exercise: exercising hard (or even not so hard) requires us to fight our own body, forcing it to burn fat it just can't give up. (Here's a good article on Taubes' work with more details.)

How do we work our way out of this dead end? Not by exercising harder. Not by cutting calories so we're only having half our daily amount of sandwiches, cookies and beer. We do it by forgetting all about calories and exercise. We do it by changing the kinds of foods and beverages we put in our bodies.

In 2013, I packed 50 pounds (22 kg) on my five feet two inch (157 cm) frame. I became a short obese woman and didn't feel like moving at all. I cancelled my 11-year gym membership and stopped taking the stairs. I stopped being able to touch my toes and didn't even try. I didn't do any physical activity I didn't feel like doing and even my natural walking pace changed. I moved slowly everywhere I went, even when it was zero degrees outside and I was trying to keep warm.

In the past six months, since I changed what I eat, my energy has started to come back. Stopping all the bread, desserts and sweet snacks has me down about 25 pounds from my high weight and my regular walking pace is back to brisk (I also cut dairy, all grains and caffeine). My body once again enjoys taking stairs two at a time. I still don't do any physical movement that I don't truly feel like doing, so I haven't resumed my gym membership, but I do some yoga every morning. I've started dancing again. Sometimes I get off the bus a few stops early and walk to where I'm going and it feels good. I am my own evidence that changing diet comes before getting fitter, and getting fitter comes before comfortably increasing exercise.

If physical activity feels too hard for you, get fitter and then add exercise. I suspect the American approach to weight loss has developed a punishing focus on physical activity because we've moralized fitness (as we moralize goddamn everything). We think if you've "let" yourself become fat, you deserve whatever punishment you get and that starts with the physical pain of jogging, sit ups and personal trainers. It's time to move on from that Puritanical mindset and give our nutritionally starved bodies what they need: good food, plenty of water and as much physical movement as feels comfortable. As your body recovers its ability to store and burn fuel normally (be patient), it'll be able to do more. Let your body lead you to the level of exercise it wants, rather than trying to force it to bend to your will. Because really, my fellow Americans: how much good has eating less and exercising more really done for us?

(I like this Taubes article, too, which includes the idea that lean runners aren't lean because they run; they run because they're lean.)

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Goldman Sachs

When I was in graduate school at Cornell, I lived in a co-op with thirteen other students. Some were undergrads and some were grad students. We were dedicated to cheap housing and consensus living and it might have been appropriate to call us updated hippies who composted, recycled and cooked with lots of spices and natural ingredients.

I had one roommate who was an undergraduate, but was mature enough to get along well with those of us in our mid-20s (yes, that's a joke). For the sake of his anonymity, I'll call him Todd. Everyone did their laundry using the coin-operated machines in the basement and I kept my change in a leather coin purse from Mexico. It was a distinctive purse and I felt very disappointed when I lost it one day. I really liked that leather purse, plus it had several dollars worth of quarters and dimes in it.

Weeks went by and the purse didn't turn up. I was bewildered because I never took that purse out of the house. It was specifically for laundry so I only took it out of my room to go downstairs. Finally one day I was in the kitchen with others, having lunch. Todd took out my purse and began digging in it for a coin.

"Hey!" I said. "That's my coin purse!"

"It is?" Todd said.

"Yes! I lost it weeks ago. Where did you get it?"

"Uh, I think I found it."

"You found my coin purse and you just kept it? Where was it?"

"Uh, I don't remember." Todd held my coin purse loosely and indeed looked completely perplexed by the circumstances.

"Give it to me! Hey, wait a minute. Did you spend it?" My coin purse was less than half full and I knew it had had much more than that.

"Uh, yeah."

"Todd! You found a purse full of money in the house and you just spent it without even asking if anyone had lost it?"

I couldn't believe it. I don't remember how the rest of the conversation went, but Todd had no defense for his actions and our roommates were surprised at him, too. I thought Todd considered his roommate his friends, not people who deserved whatever they got if they lost some money.

Years later, guess where Todd was working? Goldman Sachs. He's not there anymore, but to this day, whenever I hear about some Goldman Sachs assholery, I think of Todd.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

1980's were my decade, unfortunately

It's not hard to make my hair go 80's (taken on 2/21/2015, before the party)
A couple of weeks ago I went to a 1980's party that took place at a bar downtown. The '80s were my coming-of-age decade: I was 13 on January 1, 1980 and 23 on December 31, 1989. My high school and college years happened during the '80s, so I can't dissociate myself from the era of high-waisted jeans, President Reagan and low-fat bakeries. It was MY decade.

Ugh.

I'm sure many people defend the '80s with everything they have. They love the 1980s because they were there, or they think they love the '80s because they weren't there but they've memorized the lyrics to "Walk Like an Egyptian." I was there, but I did not love 1980s even while they were happening. I remember going to the record release party of someone who worked with me at Rasputin's Record Store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California. I agreeably accompanied other co-workers to the bar where our friend's band was playing, even though I'd never heard his music. As we waited, we read some promotional materials that included a quote from a music reviewer. This reviewer called the band, "the sound of the '80s." It was 1987 and I knew that wasn't a good thing. Clearly the reviewer thought it was good to be "the sound of the '80s," but after reading that, I didn't want to hear my friend's band at all.

In spite of my aversion to the '80s, I decided to go to this party because I love to dance, but don't like to be up late. Of course, the best dancing happens after 10:00 p.m, so I go long periods of time without going dancing, but this party started at 8:00. I figured I'd get there at the beginning, work up a sweat on the dance floor even if I was the only one, and be out of there by 11 or so. I'm always excited by the possibility of dancing that starts before 9:00 p.m.

It worked out well. There was some good dance music that came out of the decade that was called "the '50s in color." I let loose to Prince, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and the Dazz Band. I tolerantly kept moving to Wang Chung and Wham! but left the dance floor for Men At Work and Simple Minds. I really pouted and stalked off when the DJ played Toto's "Africa." That's not dance music! The DJ was doing a good job of including the Top 40 from the mid-'80s, but the Top 40 wasn't all dance-able. He would have been fine if his job were to provide background music, but people were earnestly trying to dance to this stuff. I felt frustrated. Katrina and the Waves? I'm not dancing to Katrina and the Waves.

The bar was well populated, but there were surprisingly few people my age. I like to go out alone because it's easier to meet new people that way and I spoke to several men, but only a few of them had been in high school before 1989. Being at an '80s party made me want to hang out with people who remembered the debut of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video (which premiered on MTV in 1983 and everyone had to watch it at the same time, can you imagine?). I wanted to talk to people who could tell me where they were when the Challenger went down, but we oldsters were not in the majority that night.

Which brings me to a cultural pattern that still astounds me: the constant airplay of 1980s top 40 songs, decades after they were on the charts. How can people in their 30's (even 20's) know the lyrics to songs by Paula Abdul and Aha? Those people were about 10 years old (at the most) when the '80s ended and I sure as hell don't know many lyrics to popular songs from the 1960s and early '70s. And yet there they were: people no older than 35 dancing with gusto to "White Wedding" and "Don't You (Forget About Me)" and mouthing the words.

Many radio stations have kept 1980s music on their playlists. Having "the hits from the '80s" in rotation is a common selling point. Why did this happen? Why did the U.S. get stuck on the 1980s (and '90s) so completely that they never went away? Fourteen-year-olds in 1981 didn't know the words to Helen Reddy songs from the early '70s or Creedence Clearwater Revival lyrics from the late '60s, but people who were three years old in 1981 know The Bangles and Bananarama. Why? Why??

Maybe I'm wrong to believe the '80s were stupid. Maybe the three-inch-high hairstyles and synthesizer-dominated pop tunes were things of timeless beauty. These days I see young women wearing bows and people of both sexes with asymmetrical haircuts, so clearly some of the aesthetics of the era are back. It bewilders me. I thought if any decade deserved to be left out of the fashion cycle it would be the one that paired huge blazers with leggings and sneakers. Clearly American culture has a completely different standard than I do. It wants to hold on to the 1980s while I thought going through them once was more than enough.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

National Grammar Day


Wednesday, March 4th is National Grammar Day and I'm talking to all you Americans. Let's recognize National Grammar Day. For instance, let's spend just one day not ending every third sentence with the word "at" as in "Where you at?" "Leave it where it's at." "Where should we meet at?" "I know where you can get cheap gas at." Et cetera *shudder*