Real love stories for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is mostly about my children. I think it’s because my first child was born in late January and Valentine’s Day was the first holiday I celebrated with her.

rowdy-vulcan-valentines-day-NICU-2003

Valentine’s Day in the NICU 2003

She was 9 weeks premature and was in the NICU for 5 weeks. Valentine’s Day was a chance to have a celebration with her while she slept under heat lamps. Her dad and I cuddled and warmed her tiny 3-pound body, careful not to dislodge the wires and tubes in her. What a terrible experience it was — brightened momentarily by Valentine’s Day, when we dressed her and shared cards with other parents. And unlike some, we had a happy ending. She turned 14 a few weeks ago. She’s healthy, brilliant, ambitious, creative, talented, and challenging.

When my son was born one year later, our family was complete. The circle of love was complete. I felt it the minute I saw him. He is, even today, love incarnate. His presence is calming, so much so he’s the only one some days who can get me laughing rather than shouting, or sleeping rather than stressing. By 2004, I was living within a bursting circle of love. I knew my good fortune but didn’t yet know how to live it. It took time to settle into my new life with new priorities.

I was 40 when I had my first child. I had lived 40 years knowing all kinds of  love but not motherhood. When my brother had his first child, he told me he had no idea that he could love so much. He told me the love I had for my dogs, my family, my friends would never compare. At the time, I thought he was full of shit. How could he know how I felt? How could he put my love in a hierarchy in which he decided the pinnacle? Now, having experienced it, I agree. No other love compares — for me. But I know that not every parent feels this way. I know a person can love things that may seem odd to me, but for which they will lay down their lives and their principles.

There are romantic loves, family loves, pet loves, friend loves, religious loves, country loves. I don’t know if these experiences compare to the love I feel for my children. I know only that for me, none of them do. It’s not a decision. It simply is. My kids are the loves of my life. If all I’ve ever done or will do matters not at all and I’m simply here to have created these two children, it will have been enough. More than enough. It will have been the best life I could have imagined.

But that’s not the end of my love story

rowdy-vulcan-valentines-day-husbandBefore I could ever have been a mom, I had to meet someone who made me want to have children. When I met my husband, I was 37. No plans to have kids. I knew nothing about children. I had done little babysitting as a teen. I was always the youngest in a group of kids. I was the “fun aunt” for my siblings’ kids.

I had just ended a relationship with a woman who essentially conned me. I had a knack for attracting survivor types, abused and abusive in turn. But he was so different from anyone I had dated. Within a month of dating, all I knew is I had to keep him alive forever, and that meant having his children. This man, who was, you know, a man…and so much younger than me…and whom I barely knew…was absolutely mesmerizing to me. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him from this earth. I remember fearing he was going to die — I can’t say why — and I had to do something to keep him here. I wanted his baby. And I told him so.

He was incredibly honest and open. He wore his heart on his sleeve. No pretension or artifice clouded who he was. He was smart, ambitious, hard-working. He was just so…himself. And he loved me so thoroughly.

He has taught me so much about love. He has taught me through his patience, his acceptance, and his effort. Yes, love takes effort, especially with me. I guarantee that. Somewhere along the way, he made a decision to love me and to continue loving me no matter what. And the “what” was a roller coaster he could not have imagined. His love has pulled us through more than anything I have done. He is my sun. His love is life to me, and everything grows because of him.

And still, that’s not the end of my love story

rowdy-vulcan-valentines-day-girlfriendOf the many changes to our fifteen years together was the opening of our marriage. Although I’m happily married to a man, I don’t feel straight or even bisexual. I still identify as lesbian. Having an intimate woman partner is vital to me. Marriage and motherhood consumed my time and soul for years, but I came to miss that feminine connection. My husband’s view of the world was different from mine. And our family and friends, too. I was living in the suburbs of a conservative state. Mainstream America tells us that love is a commodity. Romantic love, we’re told, demands choices. Only one to a customer…

Two years ago, I met my moon. Like my husband, she’s also younger than me, and in the same fascinating way, she is solely herself. No pretension, no vanity, no manipulation. Just a vital young woman in love with life. Hours pass in reverie when we’re together. As much friend as lover, she has also become part of our family, sharing our holidays and movies, chores, even shuttling our kids. The unique polycule we live seems effortless now. Her husband is our friend. Even her cat likes me, and cats never like me. I know it’s not effortless but the result of her unique self-awareness, emotional insight, and the effort to love that anyone needs to have in order to stick with me.

Here is where it started

The openness to love is itself a gift. It’s a gift I got from my mother.

Who would imagine a woman born nearly eight decades ago into desperate poverty among rural evangelicals would be a champion of unconventional love? But she is. Her life has been at times a tragedy of love lost, and she knows what matters. This is why I know what matters. It’s not the pedantry of bored or frightened critics telling everyone how to live as unhappily as they do. What matters is love. And love is limited only by you.

I love my two children with all my heart. Not one more than the other. Don’t tell me I have to choose. In the same way, I love my partners, my sun and moon.

Thanks, Mom, for showing me how to love and putting no limits on me.

 

 

How to Find Good Journalism

Disturbing, but accurate, analysis:

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Mr. Kasparov grasps that the real threat is not merely that a large number of Americans have become accustomed to rejecting factual information, or even that they have become habituated to believing hoaxes. The real danger is that, inundated with “alternative facts,” many voters will simply shrug, asking, “What is truth?” — and not wait for an answer.

In that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth; a familiar phenomenon in an authoritarian state, but a radical departure from the norms of a democratic society. The battle over truth is now central to our politics. NYT

I saw a plea on social media from a right-leaning friend who asked for suggestions about what media to read. She said it’s all slanted, so much so, that the headline “telegraphs” their opinion. She misunderstands, as do most people who are trying to sound fair-minded despite their own disinterest in analyzing arguments. 

Journalism isn’t about reporting mere facts but about reporting facts and providing context. Doing this usually provides the critical thinker with what they need to decide their opinion of the matter. What is happening is that most readers aren’t critical thinkers: they want to be told what to think. 

Two things are happening with media these days. 

As the above opinion piece explains, the right have been convinced that not only are they slanted but mainstream newspapers actually lie. Major newspapers do not. The New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post — these are venerable news outlets that examine the world with people trained in journalism. 

Yes, when these newspapers’ articles seem critical of their subject, they likely are. But you know what? They provide facts and links to facts, and they build a rational argument without inflammatory language or epithets.

That’s the point of a free press, of real journalism: be suspicious, require proof, challenge the story that the powerful in any field are feeding you. Any newspaper that sweeps away the critical aspect of their reporting is not journalism but PR. Supporting outlets that defend the powerful while that power delegitimizes actual fact is the fastest way to bring despotism to the US.

Trump knows this well. That’s why he keeps saying whatever the hell he wants with no facts to back his statements up. The right-leaning will defend him, will want to believe him, which leaves them only the option that mainstream media is lying or — for those tired and despairing — that ALL media is lying or slanted or “telegraphing” their opinions in the headlines.

Trump constantly tweets that the NYT is reporting lies. They are not, of course, and we can verify it easily. But too many of us don’t. We’d rather just tell the naked king we like his clothes. 

The second thing that is happening is that readers conflate the news articles they read with opinion blogs. Every newspaper has them, and when you follow a link to one from social media, all you see is the newspaper’s URL. You think you’re reading a journalist, but you’re not. In addition, news conglomerates like Huffington Post, Drudge Report, and Breitbart mix news and opinion together and push the most popular (i.e. the most sensational) to the top. These are not journalistic sites.

You’re lazy, America. Quit reading conglomerates and you’re half the way there.

The IRS doesn’t call you

Got an automated call and message left. Threatens me and tells me I’m committing tax fraud.

The automated voice is obviously used to hide the foreign accent of the perp. It even uses incorrect plurals!

Don’t answer 202-697-9010. Just block and move on.

Drink more coffee, damnit

Some good news for us high-caffeine users. 

Caffeine goes along with longevity. You’ve probably already heard that, but now researchers have found a mechanism that suggests it’s causal.

As we age, many of us get chronic inflammation. (As someone who was fat as hell and who has studied and lives the paleo lifestyle, I can suggest that has a lot to do with eating grains and added sweeteners, as well as the resulting obesity.) The mechanism of caffeine is to reduce the inflammatory proteins and free radicals in the blood. Caffeine is anti-inflammatory!

Researchers looked at self report studies, family histories, and mice studies, but then they took the extra step of putting blood in a Petrie dish.

“More than 90 percent of all noncommunicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation,” said the study’s lead author, David Furman, PhD, a consulting associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. More than 1,000 papers have provided evidence that chronic inflammation contributes to many cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and even depression, he said.

“It’s also well-known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity,” Furman said. “Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this may be so.”  Caffeine 

Finding the humility in creativity

I’ve been taking piano lessons for 6 years along with my children. They have caught up and surpassed me in their performance skill. I’m still holding a lead in theory, but I expect that’ll go away in the next few years. The friendly competition helps motivate them: “Look, I can play this piece that Mom can’t!” And “I’ll know theory as well as Mom one day.”

I think of quitting, but not because my kids are better; it’s that I’m not really good at piano and not improving much. I struggle through pieces and never get them polished or up to the speed expected. Is it worth the money and time my family pays to keep me going when I have no prospects of being good enough to perform for someone?

Well, when I consider quitting I get very sad. As untalented as I am, I love it. I have plenty of creative outlets through my art and writing, which I have talents for, so what’s up? Why does piano matter to me?

The rest of this post doesn’t have that answer because I don’t really know.

Creative expression is fundamental to all of us. Yet, how often do we say we don’t have the time, the money? How often do we say we shouldn’t waste resources on something like piano lessons that see no practical reward? Still, if, at the end of the day, you regret not doing something, how will you feel at the end of the week, of the year…of your life? It doesn’t have to be practical or results-oriented. It doesn’t need a reason.

This is one of those “it’s the journey” posts. Sure, a platitude that means little when I see it posted on Facebook, but when I put it in the context of how I feel about learning this damn sonatina, I get it.

Continuing with my study is impractical, but “practical” isn’t the thing that makes me happy. I think it’s because learning piano is absolutely impractical that it is more enjoyable, even stress-relieving, than my other arts. Piano isn’t monetized like my other creative activities, either. With writing and illustration, the product is about selling in addition to simply enjoying. And I really hate that sometimes, but that’s for another post.

Maybe this is like those adult coloring books that are popular. My girlfriend does them to help her relax, and I’ve seen them at nearly every store recently. They even have apps. So, some people color, and I’ll keep practicing piano. Besides, I’m also doing something I’m not good at. Many people do things only if they do them well, but there’s value in humility. It’s good for me — and for my kids — to see them doing something better than me.

Anxiety is more about yourself than the future

I had an interesting conversation with my girlfriend this morning. She’s dealing with anxiety and finding ways to manage her mood. My husband has the same issue with anxiety.

I’m not really an anxious person. Not that I don’t think of some terrible thing happening and worry what I’ll do. It happens, but not often and not for long. It’s just that I’m older than either of my partners. My much-younger partners often make me feel old (unintentionally). This is one of the good ways of feeling older. Experience, usually accompanied by age, helps alleviate anxiety.

rowdy-vulcan-twilightThis reminds me of the Twilight series movies. Our family has been watching them in order. We’ll be watching Eclipse next. When I mentioned this at group training, my clients had various input. Mostly, they complained about the poor acting and writing. I mean, Bella would rather die than lose Edward when she barely knows him? The whole story is about gazes and smells, how is that enough substance for a lifetime commitment? How can they be SO in love when they know nothing and do nothing with each other. It’s all so unreal, right?

Well, I think Stephenie Meyer was right on the money in this. The characters are adolescents — even Edward (yeah, yeah, a century-old vampire but frozen at 17). I recall my teens. I recall the drama of first love. I recall my twin sister screaming and crying hysterically after her boyfriend broke up with her. She was scream-crying to the top of her lungs in the house and out of the house. She had been dating him for a few months but she was hysterical at the thought of losing him. Why, when a few months before she had a full life, full days that kept her happy? But all of that is now worthless without him, I see. I know another 17-year old who recently tried to commit suicide because her boyfriend broke up with her. She’s 17. She won’t even remember his name when she’s 40.

The younger you are, the less you’ve done, the less of the long view you take. And the less you trust yourself to manage, because you never had to.

Don’t get me wrong. I have shown up drunk at 3am at a girlfriend’s door because she left me for someone else. I know the shock and uncertainty that seizes the mind. That was decades ago. From my eyes now, this is lunatic behavior. This is literal insanity. 

It’s not that I don’t get hurt. It’s that I don’t worry about what I’ll do when I do get hurt. Maybe it’s because I’m 52. I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life. Many relationships, many jobs, health scares, financial trouble — all those things we think we need for security and comfort. I lived through them and didn’t die. Life changed and I changed, and it took time. In fact, I always came out stronger, with new direction and optimism. I trust myself now. Apocalyptic catastrophes aside, I know I’ll be all right with whatever happens.

This is why many of us are anxious: we don’t trust ourselves. We worry “If this thing happens, what will I do, how will I react, will I be okay?” If you have experienced shit and come out okay, you learn to trust that you’ll be fine no matter what happens. You trust yourself. Anxiety is less about the fear of that thing and more about the fear of how you will manage with that thing.

So my advice, should you care, is to do lots of shit. Live big. Fail often. Live through it and you’ll get strong. Anxiety eeks away when you learn to trust yourself.

Stop making decisions – decision fatigue is making you fat

I’m a personal trainer and primal health coach and deal mostly with clients who want to lose weight. Too  many of them have bought into the idea that it’s all willpower and they’re weak. This thought relies on the calories-in-calories-out (CICO) theory being true. It really isn’t. Not exactly. It IS true that if you eat fewer calories than your body uses for fuel and building, your body will consume itself for the extra it needs. It will consume muscle before fat, and going hungry will increase inflammation through chronic cortisol release. Is that the weight loss you wanted?

When you do CICO, you cut calories across all macronutrients. This has two effects:

  1. You likely don’t get enough fat and protein
  2. You definitely get more carbohydrates than you need

Why? Because you don’t need ANY carbohydrates, and you can live on fat and protein. Natural fats and proteins provide fuel, vitamins, and building material. Your liver can make the glucose that you need for a few processes, so you don’t need carbohydrates. Even the vitamins you’re told you get from fruit are found in animal products.

Instead, cut only the carbohydrates.

The best part of changing your food rather than simply reducing your food is that you won’t be hungry. It’s tough to overeat when you consume whole nutrient-dense foods. Carbohydrates, such as grains, sweeteners, and fruit, provide lots of calories and minimal nutrients. They’ll keep you alive…and keep you hungry as your body continues to crave what it needs and your brain craves what gets it high.

All these thoughts came about because of this article I read on ego depletion.

The difficulty with calorie restriction is having to always say no to more while allowing only some: it’s the constant decision-making of how much with each meal. When you make the one-time 100% decision that certain things are no longer food, you have made one decision. It is easier to go paleo 100% of the time than to do CICO 80% of the time. Just keep plenty of whole foods you can eat around and never let yourself go hungry.

You can save your decision-making energy for the next important life change: exercise. I’ll tackle that another day.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

Ego depletion manifests itself not as one feeling but rather as a propensity to experience everything more intensely. When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. Impulses to eat, drink, spend and say stupid things feel more powerful (and alcohol causes self-control to decline further). Like those dogs in the experiment, ego-depleted humans become more likely to get into needless fights over turf. In making decisions, they take illogical shortcuts and tend to favor short-term gains and delayed costs. Like the depleted parole judges, they become inclined to take the safer, easier option even when that option hurts someone else.
(NYTimes: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?)

Opportunity costs and Facebook

I’ve been off Facebook for over a month now. Feels good. The longer I’m away, the less I want to go back. I quit for several reasons:

  1. discovering most of my online friends were conservatives who lacked critical thinking skills and compassion
  2. the opportunity cost I was paying

I do a lot and want to do more. I’m a published author, illustrator, and personal trainer. I’ve not had time to do any of these things as much as I’d like. It’s true life gets in the way, especially when you have two partners and two children and two dogs and a live-in mother to include in your activities. But there is the 1-2 hours I used to spend on social media every day.

Consider this:

  • What are you giving up because you’re distracted with unfulfilling diversions?
  • What are you willing to give up for the opportunity to pursue your priorities?

rowdy-vulcan-opportunity -costAs a trainer, I can tell you everyone says they don’t have time to exercise. Of course they do. With introspection they would realize they have lots of time if exercise were a priority. But social media, games, restaurants, television, and other entertainments usually come first. As for cost, well, the $5 lattes usually come first, too, as well as satellite television, streaming video, 2-3 cars, and clothes from department stores.

Years ago, I quit television. My evening social activity changed to become group work outs at a box gym. These people became my friends even after I left. Health-focused friends are good to have! I stream one video service now and usually watch during a meal rather than in addition to meals. My clothes come mostly from Goodwill and Stuff, Etc. Choices like these make life easier for me and let me put my time and money to things I value most.

But that’s my path, with my choices and my consequences. What you don’t change, you choose. If you accept the consequences of whatever you choose without whining, I’m not going to give you a hard time, no matter how different we are. It’s the people who make excuses, as if they’re helpless or as if life is somehow harder for them. I know people who really have had shit lives, and they are the ones who complain least and work the hardest at meeting their dreams.

So I try not to whine and just do. And don’t. My do will be more art. My don’t will be social media. I can’t get rid of it completely due to my businesses. I have to research and post and that means lots of online time. It’s a tightrope, one I’m going to balance on better in 2017.