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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Me and Dr. P: Going Way Too Far Back

I probably should never have it. But I have it every day. I am nearly incapable (OK, incapable) of saying no to it.

Not alcohol or drugs. “It” is diet soda (probably worse)? Ruinous for your kidneys, I’m told, with God knows what organ-eating chemicals and additives running through it, but… hey. I can’t stop.

I’ve guzzled it since I was a kid–sanctioned by mom who drank it herself like it was going out of style—and found it an indispensable end to my day (and sometimes a lunch-time companion as well).

I DO drink water, I promise, at least three to four eight ounce glasses, sometimes more when I can rev up the will power. Tea and decaf coffee also make their ways into my stomach, but diet soda (specifically Caffeine Free Diet Dr. Pepper, Coke Zero, or Sparkling ICE when I’m feeling slightly more virtuous) are my drinks of choice.

The fact is, I would drink a lot more of them if I let myself. They are not just a guilty pleasure, they are a super-guilty pleasure. Now and again I get myself to drink plain sparkling water instead, and then I feel really good about my day.

Why am I telling you all this? Part of me is hoping you’ll convince me somehow to stop, but I know you won’t. 

Part of me is hoping I can convince you to keep your kids away from this demonic drinking practice. I didn’t let my son have it at home when he was growing up, though his dad and I both let him have it when we went out to eat. 

I didn't want to make it "forbidden" because I didn't want to tempt him too much. But I didn't want it to be a mainstay for him like it was for me growing up. And I believe I (mostly) succeeded with that very modest goal, at least.

These days,  I’m hoping he doesn’t drink it as much as I do. He works out quite a bit and is better about eating healthy than I am (I think)?

Maybe you can try talking to your kid about the evil that diet drinks do. That doesn't usually work, but I'm probably in a diet-soda haze, so it's all I can think of.

I’m writing this with an empty can of Diet Dr. P on my desk, btw. So, no, you probably won't be able to talk me (or anyone else) out of it. But maybe there IS one thing you CAN do.

Invent a better drink? You'd make a lot of money.


If you can't, well... I haven't read these but they might be helpful:



And here's one I did read:



Photos:


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Night Owl City

Are you a morning person? I wish I was, but would have to say I'm not. I perk up at 11 p.m. and have a really hard time going to sleep. By the time it's 7:45 a.m. (when I usually have to get up) I'm ready to sleep until noon.

On the other hand, if I don't have work or someplace to be, I have much more energy no matter what time of day it is. So maybe that whole time of day or night thing is just a state of mind. That's what I keep telling myself, though I will never be able to be as perky as my husband is before 9 a.m.

He gets up immediately on waking. (Can you even imagine that?) I am waiting (anxiously and eagerly) for the day when I don't have to be ANYWHERE at any time and can set my own schedule. I know you can do that as a freelance writer/consultant, but you still have to be somewhere and deliver projects to various people.

And... there is something about nighttime that makes me feel more awake. It could be just the prospect of freedom, or the freedom to write what I want.

I had a friend who was also a playwright who had to work as a temp for a while. He told me he used to come home and feel completely numb for hours and all he wanted to do was watch TV. I understand completely because the daily grind is just that--it grinds and wears you down.

That makes me wonder if we send kids to school at an early hour to get them used to the work day. It never really worked for me; I was always tired. I don't know if that meant I was naturally a rebellious artist, but I think it probably does.

I do remember a woman I worked for who said she'd take a night person any time over a day person (we got along very well). She felt night people worked harder and were more organized. When I had a job working nights doing data entry at a hotel, I felt extremely confident and alert and they liked me a lot. So there is something to the whole night person thing, at least when it comes to day jobs.

Theater people are mostly working at night, which is likely why I gravitated to working in theater. When I'm at a gathering of theater peeps, things usually start to perk up at about 10 p.m. and I'm always envious when I have to leave early because of an early work day. One of these days I'll get my schedule right, but until then, I'd have to say I'm a night person who works days.

That's why I could understand Ruby Tabeata so well in The Beat on Ruby's Street. I couldn't have dreamed up anyone (especially not someone who was part of the Beat Generation) who would get up early in the morning willingly.

The world as we know it revolves around day people, though. Not that there's any sort of magic bullet that will help you or your kid become one. (My kid was awake 24/7, I swear to God, for the first year and a half.)

But if you want to learn more about morning people vs. night people, I found a lot of interesting stuff that might help you understand who you are--and who you could have been.

Morning People vs. Night Owls: 9 Insights Backed by Science

Why You're an Early Bird or a Night Owl

Night Owls and Early Birds Have Different Personality Traits


Yawning photo: Dale Cruse
Barn owl: Jitze Couperus

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Worry Bug

Are you a worrier? I am. Can you teach your kids not to worry? Doubtful. But maybe you can teach them HOW to worry, so they won’t worry their lives away.

When my son was small, I found an amazing book called Sam’s Worries by MaryAnn MacDonald. It’s about a young boy who stays up worrying at night. He worries about everything from a library book getting lost to an earthquake at school.

The only thing that stops Sam from worrying is his Teddy Bear, who promises to stay up all night worrying for him. It will make you wish for a worrying Teddy Bear—I know I wanted one after reading this book. Because we all worry, and some of us light on one worry after another like flies.

Being a grownup and all, the bear idea doesn’t work as well, but a friend once told me to give myself a time limit on worrying every day and that kind of helps. I also figured out how to stop myself from obsessing in the middle of the night (my favorite obsession time) by repeating a mantra over and over – which can be any word that won’t get me obsessing again.

Is worry ever good? I would have said no a few days ago but then my husband cut a tendon in half in his finger while trying to open a package and I thought, well, maybe it’s a good idea to worry now and then. Makes you a little more cautious when opening packages.

It can also help you prepare better for projects, because you start earlier than you would if you’re not worried. I’ve never been able to be much of a last-minute person (though sometimes I wish I was). But the good side of prepping for stuff early means I have less stress later on.

Kids don’t need to worry incessantly, but if you don’t learn to care about things like school deadlines, you know how easy it can be to lose track of them. Maybe keeping track isn’t exactly what you’d call worry, but it does seem to involve at least some level of concern, if not anxiety.

How do you balance worry about deadlines with staying away from overthinking or worrying too much? Was Sam ever able to learn how to keep this balance when he grew up?

We can’t really know, because Sam is a fictional character. But we can hope he did. And learn to stop OVER worrying. Here’s some ideas I found that may help:



Saturday, August 6, 2016

Girls, Women and Horses: Is it Really a Thing?

On one of my earliest dates with the man who is now my husband, I mentioned how much I loved horses and he said he’d never met a woman or girl who didn’t.

And I thought, hmmm. Well. That doesn’t make it a girly thing? Well, no. Because why would we have Westerns? And then I thought of my own unlikely journey to riding, which I would never have predicted.  But that experience taught me why women and girls love horses, or at least, why they should.

I was a Brooklyn girl, New York and New Jersey framing how I saw the world. Not the sort of girl who got riding lessons or whose parents would even have thought of it. So it came as a huge surprise when, during my first marriage, I moved to Indiana and found a friend who had grown up around horses and had one. She asked if I wanted to ride with her sometimes. And of course I said YES.

Next thing I know I am in Crown Point Indiana, sitting on a copper-colored horse named Gabriel in the riding ring of a trainer named Ginny, a single mom who trained kids and adults to post, canter and gallop.

Ginny’s place was no finishing school. She was tough, funny and if you didn’t do what you were supposed to, she yelled at you. She was tickled that I grew up in the New York area and never learned to drive; and that my first experience “driving” would be learning how to ride a horse.

Gabriel was an older stallion and very, very patient with me. I didn’t know he could canter until finally Ginny let me try, and I have to say I was impressed that such an old horse could move so well.

Some months later, I tried riding Marshall, a white horse who seemed huge next to Gabriel, and then a skittish chestnut-colored mare who bolted at the tiniest sounds.

Ginny taught me to post with a joke. “Do you have kids?” she asked. “If you do, you know how when you’re about to sit down and they say, ‘Mom’ – over and over again? So you just start to sit and have to get up again. That’s what you need to do when you’re posting.”

A few years later when I had a kid, I found out exactly what she meant. Ginny was the best teacher I had on any subject, let alone riding. She knew exactly what she wanted you to do and told you how to get there. Riding around her ring made me feel like whatever life had in store for me, I could manage.

A couple years after meeting Ginny, I moved to the Twin Cities and though I’ve wanted to badly, I have not found the time or place to ride. I still think about it though, and promise myself I will as soon as the stars align.

In the meanwhile, I decided if anyone asks me why girls/women/I love horses so much, I tell them. They let us climb on their backs—and RIDE.


If you can do that, we’ll love you too.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stopping the Angry Dance

When my son was small, I was dealing with a few different people  who were crazy - angry. It got to the point where I decided to read a book called The Dance of Anger, which helped me withdraw from the line of fire, at least to the extent that I could function better.

These days, I don't get angry nearly as often, as my work situation and marriage are pretty free of conflict. When difficulties do occur, they tend to surprise me because I'm not expecting them.

What do you do if someone is consistently nasty or a bully? We tell our kids to stand up to bullies or ignore them, but I'm not sure either really works. What I liked about the Dance of Anger was it talked about not dancing with the person who is trying to engage with you. Their agenda is not your agenda and the best idea is not to make it so.

If he or she accuses you of something ludicrously untrue, for example,  it may be better to postpone your first thought in response. Instead of trying to deny what this person is saying, you may want to say, "That's interesting. Let me think about that and get back to you." Not because there's a word of truth in what the bully is saying -- but because it will take the wind out of their sails faster than if you engage with them by trying to argue.

Of course, advice like this is great in hindsight and not so easy to do, especially when you're in the middle of a moment where someone is being a jerk to you. If/when a relative or friend/frenemy is ugly or abusive and you have no immediate choice about being in proximity (especially if they're connected to someone you care about), how do you stop dancing? My immediate reaction is usually to end all contact, because my mom was an angry person and I have no tolerance left for it. And that may, in fact, be the best response.

Is there an alternative? I hope so, though the idea of leaving a location where I feel stuck for a hotel where I can escape is looking better and better. :) I think, in the end, it's important to realize that some people are not worth fighting. Your best bet is to stop dancing with them -- whenever you can.


Angry woman photo: Floyd Brown



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Isn't He Behind You? Thoughts on Philando Castile

The side of the road is covered with flowers and memorials and a small half tent has been erected. A sign asks visitors and passersby: what would Philando want you to learn?

I heard about Philando Castile after driving home from an evening meeting. It was after 10 p.m. and I was looking for weather related news, but my eye fell on a headline about a shooting in Falcon Heights, which is close to my neighborhood.

I watched the video, horrified. What struck me most was the poise and composure of Diamond Reynolds, who loved Philando Castile and  was trying to save him, but whose pleas were being ignored. The other thing that struck me was the policeman who shot him sounded like a panicked soldier in a war zone. Cursing over and over, with no regard for the fact that a four-year-old child was watching him, saying in a tight, hard voice, “I thought he was reaching for his gun.”

"He was reaching for his wallet, sir," Reynolds replied, in a voice completely devoid of malice or dissimulation.

Lest you think in reading this I have any kind of vendetta against the police, I need to share a little more with you. As a child I watched close family friends lose their son, who was arguably one of the best people on the planet, because he was a policeman and was shot in the line of duty. His wife was left to raise three darling little girls without him and I will always treasure his name and the fine memories he left behind.

I understand what police are trying to do and why they are trying to do it. I have had good experiences with police in my neighborhood and truly appreciate the help they've provided. But I am afraid for them when I see videos like the one that records Philando Castile’s death.

I have watched the video several times, and am always struck by the unbridled panic in the policeman’s voice as opposed to the measured response by Reynolds to watching the man she loves  as his life ebbs away. I am astonished that no first aid was administered and 911 was not called; instead, the policeman seems to sound as though he, and not Mr. Castile, had been shot.

Much has been said about this tragedy and other tragedies have followed it, including the shootings of other police and other unarmed African American civilians. I am still unable to stop thinking of this one, because Mr. Castile was shot mere minutes from where I was, driving home; because I see those flowers and signs every day; and because of all the terrible violence in our communities lately, this one seems to vilify a man who was one of the best of us.

It seems he had been pulled over multiple times for various driving infractions and was constantly being fined. This reminds me of a young man named Jo in Dickens’ novel Bleak House, who was exceedingly poor and always being told to “move on” -- until he couldn’t move any more and died. Yet somehow, here in Minnesota where we are supposed to be progressive, this man who had a good job and paid taxes and championed children was persecuted mercilessly by a system that cannot seem to stop itself from grinding down the poor.

Philando Castile, I didn't want to learn about your life because it had been taken from you. Now I am mourning your life without knowing what to do. What is it you would want me to learn?

When I was sixteen, I saw a film by Ingmar Bergman in a park called The Seventh Seal. In it, a disillusioned knight plays chess with Death to try and defeat him during the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. One scene made a particularly strong impression: a young woman being persecuted because she is believed to be a witch. She is tied up, awaiting some awful fate, when the knight stops to talk with her.

The knight asks the woman about accusations that she has consorted with the Devil and she agrees that she has. When asked if the Devil is present, she says he is; and when asked where the Devil might be, the young woman replies, “Isn’t he behind you?”

Of course, that is the most frightening line she could say, because, as a friend once pointed out, we can never truly see what is behind us.

What was the policeman thinking when he saw Philando Castile? Why did he sound as if he was seeing the Devil himself?

But isn’t he behind you? I want to ask. Isn’t he in the rearview when you are rolling down the road? Who was it who made you see demons everywhere, who made you afraid that people were ready to hurt you at every turn? He was not in front of you and Philando was not in front of you because you were not seeing Philando. He was never your enemy.

We have seen news reports of a military-style training called “Bulletproof Warrior” and learned that the policeman who shot Philando Castile received numerous hours of this training. From what I have learned, the training makes it sound like enemies are around every corner, waiting to kill police.

Yet it was Reynolds' four-year-old daughter who watched the policeman kill Philando Castile, a man she loved and relied on. “Mom, the police are bad guys. They killed him and he’s not coming back.”

This is the lesson she will have burned into her brain for the rest of her life. This is the lesson people learned in Salem when they were burned for being witches. This is the lesson we are not learning, so tragedies and unnecessary killings of unarmed civilians and police are happening over and over and over again.

Bulletproof Warrior is doing no policeman on our streets any favors. It is teaching them to shoot first and ask questions later. It is motivating police to kill innocent men and haul their mothers into jail overnight while their children watch, terrified. 

The stones themselves should weep at the thought of it. And yet they do not.

Philando's name still  wakes me at night, graceful as the flowers lining the sidewalk where he was shot. What do we have to do to find justice for him and others who are dying on our streets?

Where is the Devil in all this? Where is the Enemy who lurks, ready to pounce?

Isn’t he behind you, the young girl asks. We must look in the mirror and answer yes today. Yes, yes, he is.




Sunday, July 17, 2016

Surrealistic Moments: Getting Married Because of the Indigo Girls

Did you know there's something like 200 surreal moments we experience every day? I didn't either and who knows if it's true. It IS something I read in a magazine this week in a New Yorker story about Iceland.

True or not, it got me thinking about the surrealist moments in my life. First of all, what would I define as a surrealist moment? A long-lost acquaintance surfacing who turns out to be a relative? A doppelganger? A warp-speed change in the universe that suddenly makes a wish come true?

About the latter. I know I don't have 200 such moments a day, but I did have one I remember for its very significant result: the Indigo Girls being the reason I got married.

What happened was that I was minding my own business more or less as a single mom, and as people will, I started seeing someone. He had actually been a friend and a very fine one, but I had not expected things to go the way of dating, so I suppose that might have been a surrealist moment in and of itself.

In any case, a few weeks into our dating life, this fellow, we'll call him Pete because that's his name, asked if I wanted to go to an Indigo Girls concert. I knew this was because he knew I liked the band; his taste ran more to heavy metal.

That in itself should have given me a clue this man wanted to go the extra mile to make me happy, but I was, as they say in post-divorce parlance, taking it slow. Never mind that he was fun, handsome, kind, sexy and funny, that he genuinely loved my son and we had genuine chemistry; or that I should know better than to look for talismans instead of seeing plainly what was in front of my face.

God help me, I wanted a sign.

There was little likelihood of getting a ticket because the event was sold out; but Pete thought we might be able to find something by showing up a few hours before the concert started. Oh, and did I mention this was right around the time of my birthday? (Is that another surreal event)?

We walked up to the box office and asked if there were any tickets left, and someone said "no." And that, I thought, was that, and I'll tell you what else I was thinking. I had decided that if there were no seats, the universe was telling me that Pete and I would or should not be together. I don't really know why I decided this, but there you have it, thinking I could or would be able to design my own life.

We were starting to walk away when a woman entered the box office and looked at us. Her eyes met Pete's and she said, "Looking for tickets? Come here."

I promise you she looked directly at Pete. As we approached, she handed him two tickets which turned out to be front row seats for the concert. Looking directly at him, smiling the whole time, and putting us mere inches away from the singers.

If that's not a bona fide Surrealistic moment, what is?

Watching the concert, which was amazing, by the way, I decided maybe this guy and I could have a future. The rest, I believe, is history, because we married about a year and two months later and have been married ever since.

I guess this is where I admit I owe this good fortune to the Indigo Girls, capricious as it was. Would I have married him without them? Let's just say... sometimes you need a push from the universe. Fortunately, I got one.

If you have a surrealistic moment that changed your life, I'd love to hear it. You can either comment here or send it to me via my website at jennazark.com.