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full and messy life

This morning, I’m thinking about a recent conversation with a friend.

In our current world, where companies and governments alike designate “citizens”  mere “consumers,” meaningfully different only in what and how they consume, people are told they are “brands” and to behave in ways that build their brands.

What kind of life is that?

I don’t want to be perfect. I refuse to limit my life to pursuit of brand-building, instead of being fully immersed in something raw, real, messy, and wonder-full. Life.

Why? The way I see it, trying to live someone else’s (whose?!) idea of a perfect, perfectly branded life is a recipe for late-life sorrow at halfway connections with people, little life-changing learning from important mistakes, countless adventures missed.

While I’d usually rather leave aphorisms than take them, I’d boil this pursuit of a full and messy life down thusly:

If you’re always careful,
you’re barely living.

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Between books and life

[audio]

Library audiobooks were supposed to save me money.

Unfortunately–or is it fortunately, for other reasons?–I happened to check out Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile two weeks ago. I only made it a few chapters in before I realized I’d need my own print copies to highlight, annotate, and reference.

The book was so much more illuminating than anything else I’ve read, I decided to buy the four-book Incerto series it concluded. I listened to two of the three other books, Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, while waiting for my Incerto box set to arrive.

Well, other audiobooks will save me money, I thought. So there’s that.

box set.png

The last time I was this excited about a box set, it had “Buffy” in the title

[vignette]

Last Monday, I left work sick. I briefly explained my concerns to a friend.

“Don’t be afraid to take medicine!” my friend replied. Read more…

anthropologist

I studied anthropology in college.

For all I studied, I’m prone to forget what it means to be an anthropologist.

When I lived in Japan, I was keenly aware of how my students and colleagues monitored each other’s appearance, attire, and behavior. As a foreigner, I was exempt from being called “piggy” or mocked for not eating natto* with everyone else.

I was glad to be American. Back in America, we were way too concerned with our own lives to constantly worry about what others were doing unobtrusively with theirs. We Americans didn’t have to worry about social controls the way Japanese people did.

LOL.

Read more…

power to change everything

One year ago, I couldn’t have told you how World War II began. Sure, I’d studied it in high school history classes, but that was more than twenty years ago.

Having immersed myself in history and politics for the last year, I understand more now. Most significantly, I understand how economic distress fueled Hitler’s rise.

Germans were not a uniquely evil people. They were a distressed people, susceptible–in those specific circumstances–to finding both the wrong villains and extraordinarily wrong solutions.

On Sunday, I wrote about how neoliberalism created the conditions for the weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville.

Yesterday, a dear friend replied that she’d seen the pictures. The racists she’d seen pictured weren’t economically oppressed, but well dressed and clean shaven. They were privileged.

I’d reply today the same as I replied yesterday. That is to say, I’d reply by noting I’m no fan of privilege theory, which conceals (grave systemic failures) much more than it reveals (anything actionable).

But I wondered: How could I express the pain of enduring economic squeeze to those who haven’t yet felt it? Read more…

a hamiltonian history

Last April, I made a small but fateful decision in a grocery store line: I bought a copy of the Hamilton soundtrack.

For the first time ever, history came alive to me. It came so alive, I decided to read the biography that inspired the musical, Ron Chernow’s Hamilton.

“Oh, Deefy. You take such silly pictures.” — my husband, today

What I read fairly well stunned me. Sold, somehow, on the notion that history was a linear progression toward the betterment of humankind, I discovered instead that Americans today are having the same fights that our forebears did two hundred years ago. That those fights were extensions of fights that had been held elsewhere for decades to centuries prior.

While the state of technology has progressed, I saw that the state of the States … hadn’t, in fundamental ways.

I’d been a lifelong Democrat when I picked up that musical in the grocery store line. Democratic officials cared for the little guy, I thought, while Republican officials cared about the little fraction of the population that could fund grotesque, human-crushing legislation. That was pretty much my entire understanding of politics before I heard and then read Hamilton. Read more…

so-called imbalances & so-called cures

In 2013, I began to suspect that mental illness was more than a simple matter of “chemical imbalance.” I didn’t say much about this suspicion, because I had very little–apart from personal experience–to substantiate it.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading Robert Whitaker’s 2010 Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. Above and beyond confirming my suspicions with abundant (non pharma-funded) research studies, he tore apart the whole idea of mental illness as resulting from “chemical imbalance.”

Whitaker’s research suggested that “science” here was designed to fit very profitable pills from the beginning. Furthermore, and most alarmingly, he discovered strong correlations between medication and worse long-term outcomes. It was as if, he hypothesized in the book’s early pages, the medication itself was responsible for today’s mental health epidemic, with outcomes far worse than those reflected in a century’s worth of mental history data and for far, far more people.

There’s no way to summarize nearly 400 pages of meticulous documentation here. I won’t even bother, though I will encourage you to read the book if you’re curious what science actually supports.

What I do want share is a startling segment from the 2015 research afterward. It’s one thing to have a critic suggesting standard wisdom is far from wise; it’s another to have a member of the critiqued group confirming the same.

In a section titled “The Death of the Chemical Imbalance Story,” Whitaker includes an excerpt from an article written by the editor-in-chief emeritus of Psychiatric Times: Read more…

grocery store sages

In April, I wrote about coming to understand people as processes, not fixed states. My reflections were inspired, in part, by former NYU professor Neil Postman, my favorite teacher yet on the art of perspectiving.

His lessons have been especially helpful at the grocery store the last few months. At the heavier end of my weight scale, I’ve gotten a lot of commentary about what’s in my basket. “Oh, that’s a lot of chips!” someone will exclaim. “Do you know where the greens are?” another will ask.

The first couple of times I got comments like these, I laughed aloud. I didn’t really get where these comments were coming from, but thought it was so funny that strangers thought I’d value their ill informed assessments.

The third or fourth time, I still chuckled quietly, but I was curious. What was going on, that 150-pound me got no grocery cart comments, ever, but that 200-pound me averages one a week?

Thanks to Neil Postman, the answer became clear virtually as soon as I began asking the question. These grocery store commenters were making snap judgments based on limited data. They were looking at me and seeing not a process but a fixed state; instead of seeing this moment as one frame of a very lengthy movie, they saw the moment and confused it for the movie.

After I figured this out, I kept laughing. How absurd, for these folks to think they know a person based on a frame’s data, and then to stage a mini-intervention!

Things that can be seen in a single grocery store visit: the shopper’s current weight; top layer of contents of cart

Things that cannot be seen in a single grocery store visit (non-comprehensive list): the shopper’s weight for the rest of their lifetime; the eighteen pounds of greens below the chips; grief; stress; childhood trauma that has enduring impacts into adulthood; the 30-60 minutes someone walks/does yoga/bounces on a trampoline daily; the 2-3 cups of greens eaten with virtually every meal, most of which are Paleo; the non-Paleo beer consumed for months to take the edge off pain; the 2.5 hours spent in traffic daily moving to and away from a desk job; etc.

Apart from offering me a chance to laugh, these grocery store sages have given me another gift. They’ve reminded me to remain aware of my own human propensity to confuse a frame for the entire film.

Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” I’m definitely not catching all my judgments, but I’m getting better by the day.

This was especially clear about two weeks ago, when I sat reading in a coffee shop. One particular sentence in the book I was reading, Kelly Brogan’s A Mind of Your Own, practically jumped off the page at me.

For a few months now, I’ve been looking at someone I love and assuming–with some bemusement–certain inspirations for certain behaviors. Brogan’s sentence revealed a whole different set of possible explanations, whapping me on the head with a reminder how little of that personal film I can see. From 1,000 frames, I’ve been filling in the millions I cannot see. I have not been doing so with nuance, instead using broad strokes.

As the pounds slide off me now, having set aside the beer and added meditation+, I’m sure I still have weeks to months of grocery store sage commentary ahead. I’ll keep laughing, naturally; that comes easily.

I’ll also aim to use their words as a reminder. I’m making judgments, too, and the grocery store sages’ words can be my ongoing call to not confuse my own limited perception with reality.

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