Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: Born on July 4

fireworksI’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle, do or die;

A real live nephew niece of my Uncle Sam,

Born on the Fourth of July.

(George M. Cohan)

Yeah – that’s my theme song, at least this time of year. I actually hesitated to even mention my birthday because, frankly, I’ve already gotten my share of good wishes from the Facebook crowd. But then my mother said I needed to write about it.

Well, it is both a blessing and a curse to have a birthday on a major holiday. It can be kind of cool and distinctive to be born on July 4. I have never worked or gone to school on my birthday. People always grin when they hear what day my birthday is.

But there are also some significant downsides. Like, birthday parties. Ever try to do a princess party in red, white and blue? I did get the Cinderella cake when I turned 6 (or was if 5?), but the majority of the cakes and decorations were fireworks, flags and buntings. Mom said there wasn’t much else available.

Worse yet, while my school mates and friends could have their birthday parties on their actual birthdays, I never got to. Everyone was celebrating with their families. Even now, when most adults have to wait for the weekend to celebrate their birthdays, I seldom get a birthday party. When am I going to have it? Folks still celebrate holidays with their families. And if I do get invited to a party, it’s about the holiday. Which is fine. It just makes the few parties I’ve had that much more special.

I think the jokes are the worst, though. Any idea how many times I’ve been called a firecracker? By my parents? (Thanks for dropping that one this year, Mom.) One wise-ass even suggested my pigtails looked like fuses – so should have blown up on him. And, yes, it is true that I briefly thought the fireworks were for me, but I was four. That’s four years old, barely old enough to understand the concept of a birthday, let alone a whole nation. It’s been a few years. I’ve figured it out.

It could be a lot worse. I have a friend whose birthday is on December 25. Now that one seriously sucks, with all the two-for-one presents, and talk about your birthday getting lost in all the celebrating. She turned 50 before she got her own birthday party. Blech!

So, I’m not complaining. Just pointing out that having a distinctive birthday is not all sunshine and lollipops. Ultimately, being born on July 4 is more fun than not.

In fact, I’ve got a song about my birthday. Cool, huh? This is from the movie they made about composer and songwriter George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney as Cohan. And I’ll leave you with the YouTube clip from the film:

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: Dog Pictures

It’s a fifth Tuesday and I thought for fun, I’d throw up a few dog pictures featuring our own WunderHund Clyde!

Clyde1

Or should I say Clyde in his natural state – sleeping. Clyde’s a basset hound, basically a speed bump with legs. He’s a lot of fun and very expressive.

Clyde2

Yes, Clyde, we’re talking about you. Plaintive seems to be his best look. Oh, and here’s a very short video of Clyde running.

My husband is the one out-running Clyde. We were at our local dog park. Scary thing is, not 10 minutes later – after I’d put my phone away, of course – Clyde took off running after a whippet, of all things. You know, one of those smaller versions of a grayhound? Go figure.

And because Dorothy Parker always gets the last word, here’s one of her.

Parker

If you enjoyed these shots, I send similar pics of the critters out every month in The Robin Goodfellow Newsletter. Won’t you please sign up in the box at the top of the column on the right? Not only will you get fun pet pictures of Clyde and Parker, you’ll get quick updates on the blogs and where I’m selling soap and other fun stuff. I promise to keep it short and entertaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: Why You Should Care about Women in Hollywood

From the surface, it looks like the kind of “inside baseball,” only relevant to those immediately involved kinds of stories. But when I saw this Los Angeles Times story last May, about gender discrimination in Hollywood, I realized it’s a much bigger story.

The gist of the story is that the American Civil Liberties Union has decided to goose the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to start investigating Hollywood’s woeful track record regarding hiring women and people of color for directing jobs.

You may think this is about a bunch of rich White kids whining. It’s anything but. What folks don’t get is that the directors are the ones who are telling our stories in the two most influential media around: films and television. And over 80 percent of the folks directing our TV shows are White men. Almost 98 percent of the people directing the top 100 money-making films from the last two years were White men.

I’ve got nothing against White men, nor am I saying that they can’t tell a woman’s story without some sensitivity and understanding. What I’m objecting to is that they have the majority voice on the telling of my experience – which seems a little out of proportion to me. Okay, a lot out of proportion. And that’s not even considering the problems faced by women of color in The Industry.

I and a lot of other women complain quite a bit (and quite appropriately) about the sexist images of women in the media – about how we’re portrayed as little more than sex objects or kick-ass types who ape male characteristics, but still have big boobs. And women are justifiably frustrated by how entrenched these attitudes are. But if the people largely responsible for telling the stories are all guys, how’s that going to change?

As the LA Times story pointed out, it’s going to be hard to bring that kind of change about via the courts. Hiring in Hollywood involves too many different entities.

But what we have forgotten is that Hollywood responds to only one voice – the box office (or the virtual one involving advertising dollars). We’re the ones buying the tickets, so ultimately, we’re the ones with the power. We’re the ones watching the shows, buying the products. Individually, maybe we’re not so loud. But collectively, we are invincible.

So I say it’s time to start raising hell. You can start by sharing this post or writing another like it. You can start by avoiding films directed by men. You can start by commenting every time someone complains about how women and minorities are portrayed in films and on TV and reminding folks that Hollywood is a closed, exclusive community that will only hire White guys. When we make noise, we get noticed. Trust me, the nice folks making your movies and TV shows do not want to look insensitive or sexist – never mind that they are. If we, the ordinary people out there, start complaining loudly enough and the dollars follow, we can and will change things.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts: The Modern Version of Laudanum?

PrescriptionI almost wished I hadn’t brought it up.

I have sleep problems. I fall asleep perfectly easily. I just can’t stay asleep.  So while researching some foot problems (because the condescending SOB of a podiatrist wasn’t any real help), I saw that sleep problems are part of fibromyalgia, and I thought let’s ask the G.P.

No, she says. Fibromyalgia is one of those things that’s only diagnosed by observation and when everything else is ruled out. I braced myself for what came next. “It could be depression. Have you considered antidepressants?”

Face plant time. It’s beginning to feel like a conspiracy to get me on antidepressants. Even the condescending SOB of a podiatrist suggested them at one point. My OB/GYN suggested them for my menopause symptoms. I tried HRT instead, which did make me depressed. But when my very nice young GP suggested it, it started to sound like the modern version of laudanum.

Laudanum, a tincture of opiates including morphine and codeine, was prescribed to a lot of women in the 19th Century for female problems and hysteria. Later critics suggested that it was a way of keeping women shut up. I suspect that most doctors meant well – given how effective it was for coughs and pain, it was pretty popular. But there was probably a certain amount of unconscious sexism going on. She’s emotional, she needs calming down, give her laudanum.

I had read that the majority of patients taking antidepressants were women, so I did the research. Interestingly enough, I searched on what percentage of antidepressants are prescribed for women and pulled up multiple articles on how depression is being over-treated. According to a 2011 report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, one-tenth of all Americans over the age of 12 are taking antidepressants and 23 percent of all women between the ages of 40 and 59. That’s one in four women my age. I mean, I knew there were a lot and at the rate the drugs have been pushed at me, it didn’t entirely surprise me. Still, one quarter of women my age are taking antidepressants. That seems like an awful lot, especially when you consider that according to the World Health Organization, only 5 percent of the population actually has depression. (Note – this particular study focused on Nordic countries, but the stat was cited in several of the articles I read and is footnoted in the study.)

Even more interesting was this article from the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, by Dr. Joel Paris, MD, which suggests that not only is depression grossly over-diagnosed, so is the prescription of antidepressants, which haven’t really been shown to be effective in patients with mild to moderate depression, although the drugs are very effective for patients with severe depression. Which is exactly what I’ve come to believe. I mean, I know folks for whom the drugs have been literal life-savers. And I want to be crystal clear here – if you need antidepressants, for heaven’s sake take them.

I just question whether I need them. I saw a proposal for a study that suggests that the current screening tests are neither that accurate nor that accurately used. I couldn’t find the conclusion, but the concerns the doctors brought up were pretty unnerving and certainly echo my experience. You see, I’ve been depressed – that little experiment with HRT I noted above. My husband was getting pretty worried about me and, frankly, I was too. And, by the way, I was sleeping better. Now, I will get punchy, whiny and okay, depressed after two to three nights without decent sleep. But I know how I felt when I was depressed and I am not even close to feeling that. Even after this last seven-night jag I was on.

I know women will report depressive symptoms more readily than men. But still I can’t help but wonder if doctors, in an effort to treat something that often does go unreported when it should be, are going overboard. I can’t help but wonder if the medical mind-set is to look at a middle-aged woman who can’t sleep and immediately assume depression instead of trying to find out whether there might be something else. The sleep doctor I consulted with certainly didn’t. He just said that the CPAP I use was helping me not to snore and when I asked if the results showed any other issues, he said I was probably depressed. Not that the results showed it – just that I was acting that way. In fact, nobody has really considered any other potential source for my sleep problems. They’ve all assumed (or have appeared to) that it’s depression and do not seem interested in looking further.

Not unlike the doctors of the 19th Century, they’re reaching for the easy answer.

There is a reason I find this insanely annoying. I tend to get side effects a lot (again, see the HRT). I am not willing to give up two to six months or longer to let doctors play games with my brain chemistry in the hopes that something will work. I am a creative. The deadening effects of antidepressants would be deadly to my creativity at a time when I really need it. In short, antidepressants are a really bad idea for me and I’ll have to be in a really, really bad place before the potential negatives would be outweighed by the benefits.

Depression is a serious disorder and if you are chronically miserable, don’t want to do anything, especially stuff you used to love doing, if you’re spending all day in bed because you just can’t face the world, then, yes, you need to get help and antidepressants may be exactly what you need. For the rest of us, I’m not so sure.

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Always a Good Reason

Over the years, as I’ve been involved in various clubs, churches, and other groups, periodically something odd would happen. All of a sudden, I was no longer greeted with interest. I’d volunteer and no one would take me up on the offer. In a couple cases, I got dis-invited to some event or other. I suspect the people involved weren’t trying to be mean. I suspect they thought they were saving my feelings. And the first few times, I even bought it.

There was always a Good Reason for this rejection – just not the real one. The real reason was that I made somebody uncomfortable somehow. But the excuses I heard. Someone once said that I used too many big words. And the end result was always the same: I felt hurt and as if I was being marginalized -which, in fact, I was. These people were behaving badly and justifying it by having a Good Reason.

What got me thinking about this was something that happened to my friend and neighbor Roni last week. She woke up one morning and there was a SWAT team in her backyard. I’m not sure exactly how it all happened, but the officers had a warrant to search for some stolen computers on the premises. They didn’t find them, but still impounded my friend’s iPad until she could prove she owned it. At least she wasn’t arrested. Roni, by the way, is a hairdresser and this happened at her mother’s house. Her mother is a retired elementary school music teacher.

A SWAT team to recover some stolen goods? Yeah, that seemed more than a little heavy-handed to me, too. Roni’s Facebook feed lit up with that very sentiment. Although, the interesting thing was that few of Roni’s friends seemed surprised. Oh, wait. I forgot to add one critical detail. Roni and her mom are Black and we all live in the same mixed-race neighborhood, where we Whites are the minority.

I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t have sent the SWAT team to recover some stolen goods in my old, White neighborhood. I know they didn’t several years ago, when someone had a warrant served on him. They sent out a couple detectives and maybe a squad car. And that wasn’t the only time cops were called out for various and sundry crimes, including drug sales and use.

It’s a different story in my current neighborhood – where traffic stops routinely result in the drivers in cuffs sitting on the sidewalk. Where a hair-dresser gets guns pointed at her and her iPad impounded. Oh, yes, there’s a Good Reason for the way these things are handled, but I find it very hard to believe that it’s the real reason. The real reason is that the people involved are Blacks and Hispanics. But in each individual case of this kind of injustice, someone is hiding behind a really Good Reason.

Now, I get that my experiences with a bunch of rampaging neurotics are a far cry from the very real harm of racism. But it’s the same behavior that perpetuates that same racism. People don’t want me around, but they don’t want to be mean, so they come up with a Good Reason for getting rid of me. We don’t want to be racist, so we assume police officers have a Good Reason for harassing innocent people, for kicking the bejeebers of perhaps not-so-innocent drunk drivers, for shooting or otherwise killing unarmed Black males. But the end result is the same – Black men are 19 times more likely to be killed by cops than White men. And that’s not even counting all the harassment and the SWAT teams being sent out needlessly. When we justify the inexcusable because there’s a Good Reason, we’re participating in that same injustice.

I’m not advocating that we assume the worst of all cops – that’s just as unjust. We just have to look at the results, and in this case, there’s a whole lot of injustice going on.

Maybe if more of us faced up to the reality that law enforcement treats people of color far differently than they do White people, maybe if more of us said this is bullshit, then maybe we could expect and demand law enforcement that treats all people fairly. Because when the end result is the same, there is never a Good Reason.

 

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – Media Literacy and The Measles Outbreak

Think media literacy is a snooze as a topic? I know most of you do. Last year, I couldn’t get anyone to nibble, bite or even yawn. But if you know some kid who has the measles right now, a lack of media literacy is probably why that kid got sick.

Why? Because the hysteria over vaccines is being fueled by a lot of bad information based on what people want to believe about certain big bad guys, never mind that the science behind the issue pretty much doesn’t hold up. In short, a lot of folks preferred to believe actress Jenny McCarthy rather than a host of scientists and doctors that has repeatedly pointed out that the measles vaccines save lives, over a million a year, globally, according to the Wikipedia article on measles I read (you do have to scroll down to the photo of the guy who invented the vaccine to find the citation, but it is footnoted).

Photo courtesy The Centers for Disease Control

Photo courtesy The Centers for Disease Control

But this isn’t about stats and whether Big-Pharma doesn’t care about our children or whatever. It’s about the damage that can be done when a rumor gets going fueled by bad science and suspicion of large institutions. In this case, parents noted a coincidence – their kids were exhibiting signs of autism shortly after receiving their measles vaccination. It was happening often enough that doctors did, in fact, start investigating.

According to several of the sites I looked at there were two scientists Dr. Mark Geier and his son Davd Geier who did several studies that did show a link between the vaccines and autism. Problem was, and this was repeated over and over in the articles I read, the studies were faulty. They used bad data, didn’t interpret it correctly, in short, it wasn’t good science. Hey, these things happen. But worried, distraught parents began to panic and then an attractive actress gets on a major TV show and, boom, it’s been proven that vaccines cause autism.

Yet, just because something says it’s a scientific study, doesn’t mean it was done all that appropriately, that people didn’t make mistakes, that it was even scientific in the first place. And unfortunately, there is good reason to be at least moderately suspicious when it looks like something is going to benefit the person or institution touting it.

Finally, there is something called confirmation bias that we all fall prey to – we tend to believe news that supports what we already believe or want to believe. For example, if I read a study that “proves” eating donuts will make me skinny, never mind how many pounds I’ve gained eating donuts, I’m going to wave that study like a flag and keep on eating donuts, never mind the tons of evidence that says otherwise.

Parent devastated by a diagnosis of autism want to believe in a bad guy and, hey, Big Pharma – the companies that have already shown a tendency to prefer profit over their customers’ well-being – makes a perfect target. And if the scientific community says there’s a problem with that belief, then it’s because they’re conspiring with the bad guys. It’s all too easy to believe that and decide not to vaccinate your kids. And now we’re dealing with outbreaks of a potentially deadly disease that is entirely preventable.

Fortunately, we haven’t lost any kids. Yet. But with 600 cases reported last year, and over a 100 just this past month, it’s entirely probable we will. About .01 percent probable. That doesn’t have to happen. But it’s going to take a lot more rational adults learning how to interpret the information they get from TV, from blogs, from whatever in a way that appropriately separates the nonsense from the facts. It takes media literacy and 100-plus sick kids is why you should care about it.

I’m participating in a LinkUp/blog hop, with the below fine blogs – please check them out:

http://morselsoflife.com/

http://www.simplelifeofafirewife.com/

http://www.ourtableforseven.com/

http://mycurrentnewsblog.com/

http://www.justanothermom.net/

http://www.beingfibromom.com/

 

Essays, general essay

Stray Thoughts – On Being Grateful

I’m participating in a Gratitude Circle via EveryDayGyaan.com – and actually couldn’t think of a better way to start this more personal blog that I’m doing. 

ClydeInRepose

Clyde – our remaining dog – is still kicking and making us laugh

I’ve been doing a daily spiritual journal for a couple years now – not because I’m holy, but because I’m so not – and part of that has been a quick list of things I’m grateful for.

But over the past year, I’ve noticed something odd about my little gratitude list. It’s as likely to contain the things (and, okay, people) that are driving me nuts as it is all the good stuff. I started the list to remind myself of all the good things going on in my life. So why did all this icky stuff start showing up?

I, at first, suspected it was a way of trying to re-frame the negative. A way of coping with all the aggravating things my beloved spouse was doing, with the aging dog who was no longer housebroken, the sibling who treated me like crap and the check that refused to show up when I wanted it. And to a degree, it is a way of doing that.

But it’s also about finding the blessings in those things that don’t seem much like blessings. My mother’s poor health kicked up last fall right as I was getting ready for a presentation at a conference. I’m not at all happy about my mother’s suffering, but I have to concede that it took my mind off the presentation just enough that I didn’t worry about it and I probably gave a better presentation as a result.

At the very least, reminding myself to be grateful for those of my family who are making me crazy reminds me that I do love them, even if I’m not all that wild about their behavior at the moment.

Yes, I'm grateful Dorothy Parker kitty likes hanging around on my desk and knocking stuff off.

Yes, I’m grateful Dorothy Parker kitty likes hanging around on my desk and knocking stuff off.

This has been a year of loss for me, losing the one dog, losing an identity and the blog that went with it. But the blessing has been that I’ve been more or less forced to re-direct my energies toward my first love: writing fiction. Better yet, the current climate in the publishing biz makes it not only possible, but desirable for me to take full ownership of my work, along with the responsibility to get it out there.

So, yes, I have a great deal to be thankful for, even if at first look, it doesn’t seem that way.