Rise up, not riot

The riots in Ferguson speak to the pain and frustration that the black community feels. Yet they are saying the wrong thing. They are saying that violence and destruction is standard operating procedure for the black community.

We all know that isn’t so. We all know that the majority of our black neighbors are kind, hard-working and polite. In short, they aren’t thugs and hoodlums. Sadly though, good doesn’t sell in the news, so we don’t see their stories on the evening news. The only problem is that there are thugs and hoodlums. They aren’t just stories. The only problem is that there are “baby daddies” and “welfare moms” aplenty. Clichés come from reality. The actions of the few speak for the whole and they drag down everybody.

When college educated black youths are made fun of for “talking white” when they speak clearly it drags down everybody. When some black employees “play the race card” to stay employed even though they are doing half the work (or only there half the time) it drags down everybody.

Yes, it is time to rise up but not with riots and destruction. If the black community wants to make a real change, to be really heard, there needs to be a collective decision to “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.

Use the library to get books not DVDs. And by books I mean educational and uplifting ones, not ones that teach the same old script of “thug meets girl, thug uses girl”. The entire genre of “urban erotic fiction” is dumbing-down black women and enslaving their hearts and minds.

Celebrate education rather than ignorance. Sure misery loves company but miserable people aren’t good to hang out with. Rise up past the peer pressure and the collective dumbing down of our society.

Get healthy. Good health leads to strong minds and spirits. Eat better. Exercise. All these things are doable even with limited means. If we focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t we get free. If we look for openings rather than closed doors we will see them. Quit smoking and go for a walk instead. Avoid all sugar, caffeine and fried and salty foods. These socially accepted addictions are dragging down us all.

Sure we have a race problem in America. Sure we have a long way to go. Sure there have been problems on both sides of the race wall. Sure people are going to say that I don’t get it because I’m white and have white privilege.

Yet I do know what it is like to feel dragged down by my peers who wanted me to be as petty and lazy as them, the worst version of lowest common denominator. I got a college degree and they are still working in fast food. I do know what it is like to have a learning disability and rise up above it through hard work. It is why I now tutor learning-disabled kindergartners. I do know what it is like to be obese and addicted to drugs. It is why I write now to show there is a way out.

It isn’t easy to change but it is possible. Change starts one step at a time, one person at a time. The strong have to encourage the week. Good deeds and efforts soon start to outweigh the bad and momentum is achieved.

All this may sound like I’m blaming the black community when it was certainly the fault of police who shoot unarmed, unresisting black youths. It is certainly the fault of the judicial system that lets the guilty go free. We need to work on that too but that will take longer. Right now the first and best change has to start from within. Each individual has to decide to stand up and walk away from the old rules and the old clichés. Each individual needs to lift up everybody else with their actions. It is about caring for yourself and our community through the true empowerment that comes from education and health.

Torn. Thoughts on #Yesallwomen

I’m really torn about the #Yesallwomen tag. It is starting to sound like an airing of grievances. I have my own list, trust me. I thought about posting it. But how will this heal us? Men and women are both feeling alienated and misunderstood and threatened. What can we do to teach boundaries and compassion and respect? How do we build a bridge? What can we as a community, as a culture, do to stop the psychic pain that causes these outbursts of random violence?

This isn’t about gun control.

It would be stupid to think that banning guns will do any good. The cat is already out of the bag. If we ban guns, then only the “bad guys” will have guns. That isn’t safer. That is actually more dangerous. I’m not saying everybody needs to have a gun either. I’m saying that it is too late to even talk about gun control. In the last two examples of mass murder a knife was used. It isn’t about guns. It is about violence. What pushes someone to the point that they kill?

We need people control. We need self respect, and respect for others. We need for everybody to learn how to establish and enforce and respect boundaries in themselves and in others.

This isn’t about mental illness either.

Involuntarily committing people just because they are odd or different is a very dangerous idea. There are reasons why people have to present a clear example of being a danger to themselves or others before they are involuntarily committed. It is to prevent someone being essentially imprisoned without cause.

If we committed every person who was different, fully half the population would be in a mental institution. Who would get to decide what is “normal”? Who would be in charge? If you vote differently, don’t make enough money, go to the “wrong” church or no church at all – you are different. In you go. Sure, the idea of committing all the “crazy” people seems like a good idea, until you are the “crazy” one, according to someone else’s standards. You haven’t done anything wrong, but they think you might.

See how this sounds?

Speaking from the perspective as someone who has voluntarily committed herself twice, mental hospitals aren’t a great idea. A mental institution is not a place to learn how to be healthy. It is not a place where you are taught good coping skills and how to deal with the “real world.”

It is more like a holding cell. It is a place where you get medicated to the point of being a zombie. Of course people stop taking their medications when they get out. They don’t see the point of them. They make them feel terrible. The medications often make it harder to be a human being, not easier.

It would be better if mental hospitals taught people how to prepare healthy food for themselves, how to choose an exercise routine they can stick with, and how to interact with other people in a healthy way. If you can’t handle life before, you certainly can’t handle it when you are on drugs that make your thinking processes fuzzy. It is better to teach people how to be people first.

We need to rethink everything.

We have failed our boys. We have failed our girls. We have failed as a culture. These no longer random acts of violence have taught us this.

How do we change? What can we do to heal this rift?

Studying for life.

Health isn’t like a test you can cram for. It is something that you have to “study” for every day or you will fail.

So many people want to get in shape but they don’t want to do the work. So many people wait until they have a serious diagnosis before they start to take their health seriously. Really, they want to be in shape, but not to get in shape.

It is too easy to blame someone else. Your parents didn’t exercise, so you don’t. Your friends all eat unhealthy food, so you do. This is such a passive way of living. They don’t feel your pain when you can’t walk around the block, or you can’t get out of bed without help. You have to live your life, and by living, I don’t mean just exist.

There needs to be an entire sea-change in the way we think, but until then we have to do it for ourselves.

I have a dream that hospitals and rehab centers will teach people how to be healthy rather than treat their sicknesses. People will learn that health is more than just about diet and exercise.

They will teach people how to care for themselves through food and exercise. People will learn how to cook for themselves and what are healthy choices when they are out at a restaurant. They will learn how to grow their own food. There will be no caffeine or refined sugar, and no tobacco.

They will learn about healthy boundaries. They will learn how to protect themselves and how to respect the boundaries of others.

They will learn how to share their thoughts and how to listen to other’s thoughts. They will learn dialogue versus debate.

They will get in touch with their inner child.

They will explore different ways to express themselves. All arts will be shared and people will be encouraged to pick as many as needed.

They will learn the value of getting enough sleep.

They will get career counseling to find a job that fits their abilities and beliefs.

This movement starts with each one of us, right now. It isn’t a top-down way of thinking. It is a bottom-up. We have to be the change.

Chain link life

What all forms of cancer are caused by something as simple as a virus? Scientists have already found that some forms of cancer are. What if that is the answer to all of it? What if, years from now, you can get a shot to prevent cancer the same way you can get a shot to prevent chickenpox? What if it really is that simple and we’ve been making it too hard?

But until scientists figure that out, we have to take care of ourselves.

I think there is nothing inevitable about family history. Sure, my Mom died of lung cancer and her Mom died of a heart attack. But both of them smoked cigarettes and neither of them exercised.

Illness is just looking for an opportunity to get in. Whatever your genetic history, it is like a chain link fence. Some of the links are weak. Wherever they are weak results in whatever disease your family tends to develop.

Cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure – all of these are robbers trying to break into your defenses. All of them are looking for a way to sneak in and steal your most valuable possession – your health, or even your life. It is literally a life and death struggle, and if they win, you lose.

So you have to strengthen the gates. You have to do what is in your power to not let them in. You won’t live forever. That is impossible. But you can do quite a bit to make the life that you have pleasant. You might even be able to lengthen your life.

Now I have no desire to live to be a hundred years old if it means I have to eat all my food pureed and I’m in a wheelchair. But I will do whatever I can to live well. Length of life isn’t as important to me as quality.

I knew a guy who weighed over five hundred pounds. He said that being overweight was common in his family. Of course, he said “heavy” and not “morbidly obese” which he was. Of course, being obese runs in his family the same way that inactivity and eating high fat, high salt food runs in his family. Being massively unfit isn’t something that had to happen. He thought that because everyone in his family was immense, that was his destiny. If they all exercised and ate well and were still obese, then yes, there’s a problem there. But that wasn’t the case.

The thing that really drove me up the wall is that he had a free YMCA membership because of his insurance plan – which was paid for by the state – translation, my tax dollars. He didn’t use it to exercise. He didn’t use it to get healthy. He drank the free coffee, hung out and used the free wireless, and then floated in the pool. He didn’t swim in the pool. He didn’t take the exercise classes in the pool – or anywhere else. He used the pool the same way that Baron Harkonnen in “Dune” used his suspensor belt. He floated in it to get relief from the crushing weight of his body. While he was floating in the deep end his joints didn’t hurt and he could breathe better.

Being in the pool is the best place if you are obese. But then it is up to you as to what you do with your time there.

I tried to show him exercises I’d learned in water aerobics classes. He could have moved while in the pool and gotten stronger and healthier. He ignored me and told me his tale of woe, that he was essentially doomed to be huge.

What if I used the fact that heart problems and lung cancer run in my family as an excuse to not exercise and eat poorly, and to continue smoking? It is going to happen anyway – why fight it?

This is so backwards. Yet, this is so common. I feel that blaming others for our own self-imposed problems has become the new “American way”.

We all have to start thinking differently, and we all have to wake up. The level of obesity in America is off the charts. Children are developing “adult” diseases are shockingly young ages. The fact that there are a number of diabetes magazines now is disturbing. It isn’t a lifestyle. It is a disease.

We don’t have to worry about another country invading us. We are doing it to ourselves. We have met the enemy – and he is us.

This isn’t about crash diets and fitting into skinny jeans. This is about being healthy and strong. This is about being able to walk around the block without getting out of breath (for starters). This is about having enough energy to really enjoy life, rather than just endure it.

It isn’t to be found in “five hour energy” drinks and a super grande mocha latte. In fact, if you live healthy, you don’t need caffeine and sugar at all. Really. If you get enough sleep and you eat well and get moderate exercise, you don’t need the boost of caffeine and sugar to keep you going.

It isn’t natural to have to put stimulants in your body just to live a normal life. If you have to have caffeine and sugar just to get through your day you are doing something wrong. It is a sign that you are shortchanging yourself somewhere.

Get moving. Get enough sleep. Drop the fried food. Eat more vegetables. Quit smoking. Drink water. Stop drinking sodas.

And every time you whine about having to take on or give up something for your health, get over it. You are acting like a child. Every time you think you’ll “cheat” and not do something that you know is good for you, the only person you are screwing over is yourself.

How dumb is that?

The bad part is that when we get older, we don’t have parents to tell us how to live in a good way and to make us fly right. The really bad part is that many of us didn’t have good parents to start off with, and we have to parent ourselves.

Your life is your choice. Choose wisely.

On quitting smoking.

Many people stop doing something bad or start doing something good for their New Year’s resolution. Why not combine the two? If you are going to stop smoking, I suggest you start walking.

Take the time you were going to use on your smoke break and go for a walk instead. Many people take a 15 minute smoke break. 15 minutes is a great amount of time for a walk – but even 10 or 5 minutes is good.

Walking does for you what smoking does, but better. It is calming. It is a mental break. It takes you away from your problems, both literally and figuratively. But while smoking takes away from your health, walking adds to it.

Walking clears out your head like nothing else.

You can walk anywhere. You don’t have to have a walking path around your workplace. You can go for a walk inside your building. While it is better to go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine, it is important just to walk. Walk up and down some stairs. Walk around the hallways. Get outside and walk around the building. But just walk. If you limit yourself to walking outside, 90% of the time it will be too hot or too cold or too wet. Rarely will it be just right. Savor those days when it is nice outside, but don’t just walk on those days. Walk every day.

You don’t have to walk fast. Just walk. Ambling is fine. A stroll is good.

Think you are too out of shape to walk? All the more reason to walk. Just get going. Do what you can. You’ll get stronger. People don’t walk because they are in shape. They walk to get in shape.

Some people use this as an excuse – “I’ll walk a mile and then I have to walk a mile to get back where I started.” Walk in a circle. Find a path and loop around.

You may be self-conscious at the start when you are walking. That is normal. You are doing something different. You are taking care of yourself. The shame you felt from sneaking away to smoke will be replaced with pride that you are doing something to help yourself. Try to recruit others to go walking with you instead of smoking. That way you have a group. You can cheer each other on.

Realize that every excuse you come up with is your unhealthy self trying to stay that way. Your healthy self is really weak right now and you can’t hear its voice very well. See those excuses as a sign that you have to stick up for your healthy self. Just go ahead and do it. The more you put it off, the longer it will be before you start feeling better. Every little bit you do towards the good will give you energy and momentum to do a little bit more.

Go walk instead of smoking. Your life will thank you for it.

Get moving. New Year’s thoughts.

I recently met a lady who said that she had to drop her books in the bookdrop just inside the door at the library rather than bring them up to the desk. She said they were too heavy for her. She uses a cane to get around.

I know another lady who needs large print but can’t hold it. Just one book is too heavy for her. She now is no longer able to get herself in and out of bed, or to the bathroom.

I’ve heard stories of women who have had breast cancer surgery who can’t use their arms to get up because of the surgery. They have to let the area heal and can’t use those muscles. So they have to use their leg muscles to get out of a chair, or off the toilet. But they are in such bad shape that they have to get friends to stay with them to pull them up.

It has to be terrible to be trapped in your own body. It has to be sad to get to the point that everything is difficult. It has to be embarrassing.

This is in part why I exercise. I don’t want to become this feeble.

I know a lady in my yoga class who is 72. I am sure the reason she is doing so well is because she goes to the Y. She works really hard to stay flexible and strong.

It takes a lot of effort to stay in shape. I’m not talking about losing weight. I’m talking about having the strength and energy to be self sufficient. I’m talking about muscles in good enough shape to live well. What does it matter if you are 60 years old but you are in a wheelchair because of something totally preventable?

Exercise is no fun. The first 15 minutes I want to be anywhere but
there. I’d love to have my week nights back too. All that time at the Y takes up a lot of my free time. But even without the Y, I walk at work. Even twenty minutes at lunch is good. And even though I’m not excited about exercise, I feel better after I do it. Some of the benefits are mental. I’ve come to see exercise as the same as dialysis. It gets the icky bits out, and it isn’t optional.

I think the key is movement, and understanding that these bodies have to be maintained. They degrade in slow motion. One day, you’ll realize that hunching over your computer all day and not moving has caught up on you.

Don’t let time slip away from you. Get going. Sure it is cold outside. Walk in your building. Can’t afford a gym membership? Rent an exercise video from the library. Just move. The life you save will be your own.

My first mini-triathlon.

I participated in a mini triathlon in spring of 2011. It was at the Y and the entrance fee went for a program so disadvantaged people could go to the Y. I’m not really sure about entrance fees for exercise events. You have to pay to work really hard. This seems backwards.

But there were a lot of perks. Not only was there a t-shirt, they had snacks and drinks and giveaways. There was a huge travel bag filled with stuff from companies they had gotten to sponsor the event. I gave some of it away as gifts. We more than got our money back.

The event was not as long as a regular triathlon, but it was plenty long enough for me. I had just started to work out maybe 6 months previously, so it was daunting to even think about it. The event consisted of 50 minutes of water aerobics, 50 minutes of spin class, and then a three mile walk afterwards. There was only 15 minutes in between each event.

My goal was to at least do all three things in the day. I didn’t know if I’d be able to complete the event in the allotted time. I wasn’t sure about my energy level. I wasn’t sure about much of anything, but I knew that I wanted to try.

I’m one of those people that will create a goal so that I will get there. I’ve signed myself up to teach classes on stuff that I wanted to learn about. I didn’t have a class ready. I used the fact that I was going to have to teach the class as a reason to learn.

I knew I could do the water aerobics part – The class I was already taking was 75 minutes long. I knew I could walk. Three miles seemed like a lot at the time but I thought I could do it. Spin class was another thing entirely. I had never taken a spin class and I hadn’t ridden a bicycle much in twenty years. I figured my legs could handle it if I went slowly, but I knew deep down that my butt wasn’t going to be happy.

I trained for spin class on a trainer in the basement. My husband got me a device where I could turn my own bike into a stationary bike. He’d gotten me a bike a few months earlier hoping that I’d go riding with him. This wasn’t the best idea. Gravity and I are such good friends that we have to get really close to each other. A lot. My fear of falling off the bike keeps me from riding the bike. Yeah, I know, it is all in my head. If I stop worrying about it, it will all be fine. That is easy to say, but hard to do, especially when you are hurtling down a hill and you forget where the brakes are. But I digress.

So I trained on the bike in the basement. I sat on it, pedaling with different resistances. I pedaled, reading a book because I was bored, for 50 minutes at a time. I built up my legs. My butt got used to the idea.

I didn’t really train for the walking part. I walked as usual at lunch, and a little around the neighborhood, but I didn’t go for three miles. I’m not sure where I thought that extra bit of energy was going to come from on the day of the triathlon after doing two other events. Again, my idea was that I’d pace myself. It wasn’t about winning anything. It wasn’t about getting a good time. It was about trying, and hopefully finishing.

When the day came I was a little nervous. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous about doing the event. I was nervous about the fact that I hadn’t pooped yet. There is something about staying regular that really helps the day go well. I didn’t want any surprises. I certainly didn’t want to have to stop what I was doing and go to the bathroom at the Y. I don’t like sitting on public toilets, and the ones at the Y are the very definition of public. They aren’t that awesome. They aren’t anywhere near as bad as the toilet in “Trainspotting”, but they aren’t pristine either. And pooping is something that shouldn’t be rushed. Strangely, it just didn’t matter as the day went on.

When I got there I saw that they had a spread of food for us. Bananas, apples, bagels, cream cheese, nuts – good things to help us refuel. There was lots of water too – and no sports drinks. I’m glad for that. It is better to eat real food. They also had all of our “swag.” Lots of stuff, just for participating. We also got our t-shirts then. I took all of this too my car, and briefly thought that I could leave right now – I’ve got the proof that I did it. Nobody would be any the wiser.

But I would be. I would know that I hadn’t earned it. I could never wear that shirt, not really.

They gave us a choice of water aerobics or spin class first. We all were going to go on the walk together. I chose water aerobics based on the suggestion of the staff member who signed me up. It seems best now – I didn’t have to go from dry to wet to dry.

I paced myself in water aerobics. I didn’t do anything at full speed. I did all the moves, but I didn’t do them very hard. I wasn’t sure how much energy I needed. I still had the idea that I was going to have to just take the day to do the event. When that part was over I had just enough time to shower the chorine off of me, change quickly, and get a bite to eat from the spread set out for us. I think they had a guard set up to keep the regular Y members from our table. I was really grateful they had that for us. I’d brought some “gorp” but this was much better. I left my “gorp” in my bag.

Spin class wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great either. I don’t think I’ll ever do it for real. The teacher was very enthusiastic and encouraging. She was the only fun part of it. The bikes were stiff – much harder to use than my 21 speed at home. The seat was too high. There was a very nice seat cushion they provided me. Early on I figured out that I should just pedal along. I wasn’t standing up on the pedals to “go up the hill”. I wasn’t “racing past the person just ahead of me.” I was there for a simple country backroads ride.

Once that was over I had a little more time than before because I didn’t have to change. I took the time to rest a little, but I found I still had energy. I guess those bagels and bananas were doing the trick. So I went on the walk along with everybody else.

It was there I realized that I needed to be wearing some other shoes. They were kind of like Keds. They weren’t broken in. I didn’t have any inserts in them. My feet started to hurt. Then they started to blister. By then I’m already through half of the walk and the only way back was to walk. By then I wanted to pee. I was looking at the trees and thinking quite a bit about holding back from the group and just taking care of business right there. I’d already peed while I was inside, waiting, but something about being on a walk, far away from a readily accessible bathroom, makes me want to go.

I decided I could hold it. I’ve held it before. I decided it was my body trying to get me to quit. It does that sometimes. I’ll commit to some healthy course of action – no fried foods, and then I’ll see some fried fish and then I can think of nothing else. Half the job of getting healthy is ignoring your body when it is trying to distract you.

Then I got bored. I didn’t have anybody to talk to. Talking to other people helps to pass the time and take your mind off of unpleasant things. I wasn’t a very fast walker at the time, and I certainly wasn’t very fast with those darn shoes. I was drifting more and more towards the end.

The group was walking on the greenway. There were several different paths on it, and I’d never walked on it before. I was starting to get a little worried. What if I got left behind? How would I know how to get back? What if I took the wrong turn? All his worrying made the path seem even longer.

There were some cheery people along the way. That helped a lot. A patron from the library was a regular walker of the greenway and she was with some other people that day. She wasn’t doing the triathlon, but she was cheering us on anyway. They had made signs to encourage us. That was very nice. She gave me an extra big smile because she recognized me. She didn’t know that I exercised. I certainly didn’t look like it at the time. I was glad to see her, and heartened by her enthusiasm.

By the end I was alone. Everybody else had gone ahead. To entertain myself I started reciting the Nicene Creed …”We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…” It is pretty long. I was meditating on each part, each word, each section. What do all these words mean? I’d memorized it years ago when I got confirmed, but by now I wanted to really study it. No better time than the present, and it kept me company, and kept me sane.

I was the last person off the course. But I made it. I made it through the whole thing, in the time allotted. I’m glad that mental experiment worked, because it has helped me with other things. Now I know it is better to try, even if I don’t think I can do it. Just try. Just get started. I might surprise myself.

That t-shirt is one of my prize possessions now.