Dickens Was Right, Damnit

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Copyright: Paul Rushton

Dickens, be damned.

My ninth-grade English teacher was obsessed with Charles Dickens. She made all of her classes read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. She was a member of the Dickens Society and attended Dickens-themed soireés where all the guests donned 19th-century garb and spoke in 87-word, obtusely-structured sentences. I assume.

We had to memorize the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities, which didn’t seem like a big deal until I realized it takes up the ENTIRE FIRST PAGE OF THE BOOK. I still fail to understand how it can be “good writing” when you have to go back and re-read the first part of the sentence because, by the end, you’ve forgotten what the subject and verb were.

I remember parts of that sentence. My brain cannot recall where I put my phone or what time a soccer game is, but it holds onto useless detritus like my childhood phone number, the lyrics to an old Velveeta cheese commercial and, yes, the beginnings of famous novels I don’t even like.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” is how it begins. It then trails on for another sixteen lines with a series of very similar (and unnecessary) oxymorons. “Epoch of belief, age of incredulity…blah, blah, blah, noisiest authorities…blah, blah, blah…superlative degree of comparison only.” WTF, brain?

I hate it when he’s right.

BUT. Despite his mellifluous method of stating it, I’ve grudgingly decided Dickens had a point. That sentence applies to just about every era on the timeline of significant history. The heroics of the American Revolution alongside the appropriation and slaughter of indigenous peoples. The discovery of radiation’s miraculous cancer-killing properties and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the form of a bomb. A new awakening for feminist activism but spurred by the election of a presidential misogynist.

My own, private heaven/hell/Idaho

It even works on a personal level. My twenties were filled with fun, friends, partying and carefree selfishness without guilt. I had a job and nothing to pay for except myself. And I cried a lot, lost four pregnancies and was in an unhealthy relationship.

My 30’s were an incredible time of self-discovery. I felt confident in myself as a person. Jason’s and my relationship grew deeper and wider. I had kids and discovered a love like I’d never known. I also worried a lot about fucking up and struggled with breastfeeding to the point of tears. I mourned the loss of time to myself. It was great and terrible, just like Oz.

The best of times weren’t that good.

I read somewhere that we recreate good times as better than they actually were. We look back on an overall fun vacation and remember playing in the ocean, relaxing on the sand, snuggling in bed with a mate. We forget the one rainy day we were bored, the lost luggage or the fight we had on the plane on the way home.

It’s helpful when thinking about now. With all the challenges — worry about kids, working on relationships, concern over finances and all the stuff I am constantly forgetting (with the exception of outdated commercial jingles) —  I know I will look back on these years and smile wistfully to myself. I’ll remember the kids young and not yet jaded by adult experience. I’ll recall learning to be a writer, the freedom to work from home, and the security of the built-in social network that comes with school-age children. Overall, this is a good time.

There have been some true, worst of times, where the “best of” part was indistinguishable: the immediate aftermath of my miscarriages, the throes of divorce, intense struggles with depression and loneliness. In comparison with those, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Why didn’t you just say so?

So, what I took 618 words (Dickens would be proud) and 15 minutes of your life that you can’t get back to say is this: PERSPECTIVE.

And also…

“The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”

(I never get to use the partial Shakespearean quotes that float around my brain, so now I’m just showing off. This is where you nod, virtually pat me on the head and roll your eyes. Go ahead. I totally deserve it.)

New Year’s Resolution, No Thank You

people write down an important note, using on the paper stickers post it
Copyright: marctran on 123rf.com (I added the “Nope.”)

Why I Don’t Like New Year’s Resolutions

So I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, and the past two Januarys, I’ve ranted here and here about why. But I have in recent years, used the beginning of the year to reflect on how I could make my life a little better and set a focus for the upcoming months. That may sound like a bullshit way of saying “New Year’s resolution,” but thinking about it as a focus has less baggage for me. The term “resolution” makes me feel like I have to come up with a socially acceptable goal related to exercise or finances and achieve it so I have thus performed the act of being a good, responsible adult for the approval of everyone else…..

…or, more realistically, failed at it and felt like I also am failing at being the right kind of person who exercises, eats right, saves her money and never says an unkind or negative word. Then, I can simultaneously feel like a bad person whilst feeling resentful about social pressure to make and keep resolutions.

Some of you relate to this. Others of you are thinking, Jeezus, why do you have to make things so complicated? Others, I don’t know; I’m just lucky, I guess.

What Happened Over the Holidays

I had kind of forgotten about setting my yearly intention until I read Candid Kay’s recent blog about how she does pretty much the same thing, picking a word she can focus on for the new year. Then, I remembered this that happened over the holidays:

We were in Telluride, staying with Jason’s family, for a ski vacation. This particular day, lots was happening. Our oldest wanted to ski, the youngest didn’t, a bunch of the family was going snowmobiling, and it was approximately six degrees outside. Jason and I were trying to decide which of us would ski with the oldest and which would snowmobile with the youngest, when he asked me, “But what do YOU want to do?”

I suddenly noticed I was thinking, “Well I should probably spend time with this one, Jason probably wants to go skiing, but I should take advantage of my lift ticket I’ve already activated today…” It was all practicality and what other people might want. So when I paused and asked myself, “Yeah, April, what do YOU want to do?” I couldn’t even tell what that was. In the midst of that house full of people, noise, wants and needs, I couldn’t begin to discern what my own were. I silently excused myself to the bedroom to think, because I hate crying in public. I was distressed I could be so out of touch with my own desires.

I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want.

Not being able to tell what I want is a pattern born from a people-pleasing past and having small children, who until their recent maturity, haven’t known Moms even had preferences. So my focus for 2020 is to take the time and space to figure out what I want to do, whether it’s what movie to see or which direction to take my career. That doesn’t mean I never compromise (in a family of four, it’s inevitable) but I, at the very least, want to KNOW what I’d prefer. I don’t want to perform my life so that everyone can see that I am a “good person.” I want to feel it for myself.

So, do you set a New Year’s resolution, intention or focus? Do you say “screw it” to the whole idea? What’s your take on it? What are your plans, if any, for the upcoming months?

Coffee with a Side of Blackmail

sextortion ransom note
Copyright : iqoncept

My morning was hijacked by an email.

I was poking through my spam folder when I saw a message that appeared to be from myself but with a different email address. It began like this:

I do know @#$$%% is your passphrases. Lets get directly to purpose. No person has compensated me to investigate about you. You do not know me… 

I replaced the “passphrase” with gobbledygook here, but in the actual email, it was a password I had used in the past. My hackles went up, despite the horrendous grammar (or maybe because of it). The message was long, but the gist was they had downloaded all my contacts, and if I didn’t send them $997 in bitcoin, they would send everyone a video (they’d hacked into my camera) of me watching porn. Aside from my email address and the password, there was no specific information that indicated they knew anything about me. Ridiculous, right? Except…

I have watched internet porn before.

Just like most people probably have, at least once. My heart began hammering in my chest. I tried to laugh it off, but I couldn’t focus on my work. My overactive imagination kept conjuring up what it would feel like if my entire contacts list received that kind of video, how it could terrorize my family, my kids, even ruin my career. Then, I began to get angry. How dare this person hijack my brain with fear, distracting me so that a morning I planned to spend catching up on work was spent rereading the same paragraph over and over because I couldn’t concentrate. How dare they pray on people this way. It’s bullshit, and I’m not putting up with it.

I told Jason, you know, just in case it came to fruition, so he would be prepared. Plus, it always makes me feel less like the world is ending when I share, especially since he didn’t think it was any big deal. Luckily, despite what the malicious message implied, the notion of my watching porn has no chance of ruining my relationship. I went for a run, I calmed down. I feel better about it now.

I’m not the only one getting threatening spam.

I can’t help but think about the people who might be taken in by this, might actually send the money, or might not, but they live in fear of their worst, most embarrassing nightmare coming true. I’m mostly angry at the perpetrator, but part of the reason crap like this even has a chance of working is how horrified we all are that people might actually find out we like sex, that we might like to get creative with it sometimes, do something unconventional (not that watching porn is, at all, unconventional.)

Now that I am done being scared and pissed off, I’m viewing it as a warning shot — to be careful online and to teach my kids to be the same. I am, right now in my head, composing a conversation I need to have with them about suspicious messages and how to handle them, (i.e., tell me so I can help and/or track down and beat the shit out of anyone stalking and scaring my kids.)

It’s less embarrassing when you share.

I debated whether or not to share this story here. It’s embarrassing, but considering how many people watch porn, it’s also ridiculous to be embarrassed about it. Telling you myself, instead of waiting for someone else to out me allows me to be in control, to take back the power that internet trolls are trying to steal for their own gain.

I know there are other people out there who’ve gotten these messages — people who feel scared, annoyed, angry, embarrassed. And when we keep these terrifying situations to ourselves, it eats at us and grows larger and heavier. We lose to the internet terrorists who want us to be scared enough to succumb to their wishes or at least live in fear for a while.

But when we are honest about who were are, when we stand on the mountain and shout, “Yes, I’ve watched internet porn before. So what?” When we let all of our skeletons out of the closet to dance around in broad daylight, no one can impose a fear hold on us. Here’s the other thing you find out when you let out gossipy truths about yourself….in actuality, no one really cares all that much.

I’m a Complex Fellow, Unlikely to do Anything Twice

Little girl trying mom's lipstick. Growing up concept
Copyright: Alina Demidenko

When we come home from vacation, I am fifty percent likely to unpack right away, put everything where it goes and start a load of laundry. The other fifty percent…I leave my bag on the floor of the bedroom for a week and a half where I paw through it every time I need something. Either thing is just as possible.

I am wildly inconsistent about most things. (I can’t say “all things” because I’m not even consistent at being inconsistent.) I’m obsessed with Facebook until I decide I hate it and ignore it for three weeks. I exercise regularly until I decide life is too short to spend it working out and my running shoes start to grow cobwebs. I like routine very much until I start to get bored and want something novel until I feel overwhelmed and crave routine again.

Jason says I’m a complex person. I’m starting to think this isn’t a compliment. It’s confusing, even for me. Especially when I plan something when I’m in “do all the things, be with all the people!” mode but the actual plans fall in a “people suck, I don’t like to shower phase.”

My mother-in-law once asked me if I liked to shop, which seems like a simple enough question. My answer (Yes, when I’m in the mood to, but a lot of times not because of capitalist bullshit, you know, and it can be soothing to wander through a store but stressful when you feel you just HAVE to get a birthday present for someone and it can be overwhelming when you can’t decide what to buy and just end up putting everything you picked out back and leave the store in tears.) is stupidly complicating.

Today I think, You know what’s wrong with me? I need to be more social. Tomorrow it’ll be, You know what my problem is? I don’t have enough alone time. I need to be busier; I’m bored. I’m overwhelmed; I need more downtime. Like seriously, could I land at just one end of the spectrum of a problem just once? Like for more than a few days at a time?

How is it that I can be equal parts people-pleaser and stubborn, “You’re not the boss of me, I don’t have to if I don’t want to even if I know it’s good for me”? How can I have BOTH of those feelings inside me simultaneously?

I need every day to be a choose your own adventure book, so I can adjust my life on a dime. Do you, A, go to the meeting? B, take a nap? C, drive to Mexico? Take a random day like next Tuesday, and given the option, I might pick any one of those. You can’t predict it. More importantly, I can’t predict it.

I’m going to go upstairs and read now or maybe play Rocket League badly with my family. Or perhaps I’ll invent a time machine so I can go back and talk to Einstein about the theory of relativity and hope that, in person, he can explain it to me. Really, any of that’s pretty likely.

When I Grow Up…

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photo credit: Stock Photo, copyright, yarruta 

When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.

As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance.  Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.

I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.

I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.

I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:

What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?

I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.

 

 

That April Person is AMAZING

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April the awesome, performing yoga in her game room
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April the slug, taking a nap in the middle of a weekday

I’m in one of those slug phases, where I can get distracted from work tasks by just about anything. Today, this led me to scrolling through my own Facebook page. I relived summer vacations with the kids, enjoyed my photos of hikes, re-read some articles I posted and loved them all over again. Several hours went by. I got sucked in.

As I scrolled, though, I thought wow, this person has a cool life! She hikes, she goes on great family vacations, she writes, she does fun things with friends and family, she has thoughtful sociopolitical opinions. Who the hell is this person?

I bet SHE doesn’t get sucked into Facebook for hours at a time. I bet SHE never yells at her kids or feels bored and unfulfilled. I bet SHE never spends a whole weekend on the couch binge-reading the entire Divergent series and ignoring everyone.

Oh, wait…she does. She has kids who are creative, active and funny….and also sometimes inconsiderate, out-of-control and irritating. She has a spouse who is warm, witty and introspective, who also is obsessed with a video game and doesn’t hear the kids when they’re talking to him. She is creative, kind and transparent and also, sometimes a slug that doesn’t accomplish anything she set out to do that day.

So folks, the lesson here: social media is just the cover photo of the very long, winding, complex novels we humans are. There are no bad guys, no good guys, just people, doing their best, being awesome sometimes and sometimes fucking things up. We all do it; cut yourself some slack. And don’t judge.

Where Did 10,000 Steps Come From?

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Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

Ten thousand steps. That’s how many we’re supposed to get. But did you come across that article about bodybuilders who conserve their energy all day (take the elevator, drive the car to the mailbox) so they have plenty of fuel for their high-intensity workouts? Did you read that bit about high-intensity exercise being bad for your joints? Did you see the one that said weight-bearing exercise is optimal for bone health? It’s a wonder we don’t all throw our hands up, go home to binge-watch Game of Thrones and eat ho-hos. (What are ho-hos, anyway? I’ve never had one, but they seem to be the ambassadors of junk food.)

According to one Guardian article, the ten thousand steps thing was originally an arbitrary figure used by a Japanese marketing campaign to promote the first wearable fitness device in the mid-sixties. The “research” was based on the fact that most Japanese citizens took 3,500 to 5,000 steps daily, so 10,000 seemed a good round number to shoot for.

Since then, there have been more robust studies about step count. Indeed, taking 10,000 steps versus 5,000 per day is correlated with a decreased risk of heart disease amongst other morbidities. But what about 6,000 steps? Most studies to date only compare 5,000 versus 10,000.  Maybe 6,000 steps would be enough to improve some people’s health. This is important because telling people who are basically sedentary they have to take 10,000 a day or die of heart failure trying is intimidating. Why try? ‘Might as well fire up Game of Thrones and order pizza. More realistic goals might be more successful.

Another thing these step studies don’t take into account is intensity. A running stride is generally longer than a walking stride and takes more energy per stride. This means 10,000 running steps takes more energy than 10,000 walking steps, but you didn’t need science to tell you that; your burning lungs give you all the info you need on that one. What if your steps are uphill versus on a flat surface? That takes more energy too. The 10,000 steps target is more about marketing gadgets than a useful application of hard science.

Speaking of hard science, a recent Scientific American article referenced a study of our early human ancestors which found they (and we) need exercise to stay healthy, unlike our ape predecessors. They estimated how far early hominins traveled in an average day, and guess what they came up with? At least 10,000 steps or approximately five miles per day. This is largely based on observations of modern, hunter-gatherer societies in Tanzania.

Modern innovation has allowed us humans to be lazier. And it’s in our nature to rest when we are able. It’s part of what got us this far — the ability to rest when we could and conserve energy for the next hunting or gathering session. Now that we aren’t motivated to work hard by the sheer need to survive, we sit around a lot more.  Our bodies have evolved to need exercise, however, so in modern times, we are healthier when we make a concerted effort to get it. Ten thousand steps, however, which may be an admirable goal in some situations, is a gross oversimplification and overgeneralization of what our bodies need. In those hunter-gatherer groups in Tanzania, there are lessons for us beyond mileage and steps:

Beyond the copious amounts of exercise and whole-food diets, daily life for these cultures is full of fresh air, friendships and families. Egalitarianism is the rule, and economic inequality is low. We do not know exactly how these factors affect the health of hunter-gatherers, but we know their absence contributes to chronic stress in the developed world, which promotes…disease. (Pontzer, 2019).

It’s not useful to develop specific requirements (10,000 steps) and then apply them to every human on the planet. We are more variable as individuals than that, but we can make some generalizations that apply to most people. As a whole, we feel better when we move more, connect with friends and family in quality ways and go outside some. If counting steps helps you do those things and you don’t get obsessive like I do, go ahead and count. But remember, you don’t HAVE to. Your body, by and large, knows what it needs. If you listen to it, it will tell you when it’s time to get up from your desk and walk around. You’ve got a built-in step counter right there in your body. It’s free and won’t coerce you into the latest upgrade.

Sources:

  1. Cox, David. “Watch Your Step: why the 10,000 daily goal is built on bad science.” The Guardian September 2018. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/03/watch-your-step-why-the-10000-daily-goal-is-built-on-bad-science.
  2. Pontzer, Herman. “Evolved to Exercise.” Scientific American January 2019: 23-29. Print. 
  3. Williams, PT. “Greater weight loss from running than walking during a 6.2-yr prospective follow-up.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health April 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23190592.