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Book Review: Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

February 23, 2010 7 comments

Abstract painting on a book cover.Summary:
Connie, a 30-something Chicana of the 1970s who has led a rough life, enjoys the time she spends in 2137 at Mattapoisett with Luciente.  She believes she is a catcher and Luciente a receiver, which allows her to time travel in her mind.  Luciente tells her there are two possible futures, and they need her and all the downtrodden to fight and not give up or the utopian future of Mattapoisett will be lost.  Connie’s family and friends, however, believe she is schizophrenic and in need of their help.  Who is right?

Review:
I almost gave up on this in the first chapter when we discover that Connie’s daughter has been taken away from her due to child abuse.  Connie blames everything bad in her life on other people–the police, social workers, white people, her brother, etc…  She takes no responsibility for anything.  I was concerned that Connie’s opinions were the author’s opinions as well–blame society for everything and take no individual responsibility.  I was wrong about that, though, and I am very glad I didn’t stop reading.

Marge Piercy’s writing is astounding.  She sets up a complex social situation and leaves it open-ended for the reader to decide who is right, what the problems really are, who is to blame, how things can be fixed.  Unlike most books regarding time travel or mental illness, it is not obvious that Connie is actually time traveling or that she is schizophrenic.  This fact makes this a book that actually makes you think and ponder big questions.

The future world of Mattapoisett is of course the reason this book is considered a classic of feminist literature.  In this society it has been decided that all of the bad dualities of have and have not originate from the original division of male and female, so they have done everything they can to make gender a moot point.  The pronouns he and she are not used, replaced with “per,” which is short for “person.”  Women no longer bear children, instead they are scientifically made in a “breeder,” and then assigned three people to mother it.  These people can be men or women; they are all called mother.  In the future of Mattapoisett, women are allowed to be strong; men to be gentle, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of the interesting, thought-provoking elements of Mattapoisett.

At first I was concerned that this book is anti-psychiatry, but really it is just pro-compassion.  The reader is forced to observe the world from multiple atypical perspectives that force a questioning of world view.  More importantly though it helps the reader to put herself into another person’s perspective, which is something that it is easy to forget to do.  To me the key scene in the book (which doesn’t give away any spoilers) is when two people in Mattapoisett dislike each other and are not getting along.  The township gets them together and holds a council attempting to help each person see the situation from the other’s perspective, as well as to see the good in the other person.

What I’ve said barely touches the surface of the wonderful elements of this book.  I absolutely loved it, and it is a book I will keep and re-read multiple times.  I highly recommend it to all.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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On Television

January 25, 2010 8 comments

Today a conversation was on Twitter about tv.  No, I’m not talking about the Pregnancy Pact movie that came out this weekend (though I did watch it).  This particular conversation was one I’ve heard in educated circles many many times.  It goes something like:

OMG the television is evil and will destroy us all!!!!

I get where people are coming from.  I do.  The tv is full of advertising and bad ideology and unattainable goals and….well, the list could go on and on.  I used to think this so much so that I actually gave up tv for a year.  Well, I owned a tv but I got zero channels on it.  I used it to watch movies sometimes.  I thought some earth-shattering freeing feeling would happen.  But it didn’t.

On the other hand, when I was in highschool, I was completely tied down to the tv schedule.  I had my shows that I absolutely had to catch to the exclusion of everything else, and that wasn’t right.

The thing is, folks, life is largely about our relationships with other people, and tv can be a really fun way to enhance it.  I love the Lost discussions I’ve had with various folks, ranging from in-depth analysis to superficial debate over which Lost hottie is hottest.  So when people say tv keeps us from engaging with others, I say, screw you.  It can actually bring us together.

The problem comes about when you have a relationship with tv.  When I didn’t have a tv I had just as much of a relationship with it as when I was glued to it in highschool.  It’s just that my relationship was about not having it.  It’s like how they say it takes energy to hate something, so it winds up just hurting you.

The thing about tv is, it needs to not be central to your life either due to what’s on it or due to not having it.  A tv should be an accessory in the house that’s an option.  That’s it.

When I started having this healthy mind-set for tv, I didn’t suddenly revert to watching something every night.  Some nights I read.  Some nights I play videogames.  Some nights I go out to concerts or bars or what have you.  When I do watch tv, it’s just as a fun thing to do, and no I don’t believe that subliminal (or not so subliminal) messages are eating their way into my brain, because I don’t take it that seriously.  When you view something as entertainment, it really won’t maliciously, secretly attack you guys.  When you talk like that, you don’t sound educated.  You sound like a bunch of superstitious nut-cases.  So just relax and live your life.  I swear you’re not going to magically overnight transform from your counter-cultural self into a Stepford wife.

The “Eating Healthy Is Expensive” Myth

January 6, 2010 9 comments

There is this huge misconception in American culture that eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk food.  That’s the case if you don’t want to put effort into your meals and you want to buy gourmet food, but with a bit of effort it is simply not true.  I know about the dollar study where a guy went into a grocery store to see what he could buy for a dollar, and the worst foods had the most calories, aka “bang for the buck.”  However, I’m speaking from personal experience here.

Three years ago, I went vegetarian, and everyone told me how much more expensive my grocery bills would be.  You know what?  They aren’t.  On average, I spend about $50 every two weeks on groceries, and my groceries usually wind up feeding more than one person for around 5 nights a week.  That works out to approximately $100 a month, minus eating out, which happens about once a week.

For healthy eating, you need fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and other pantry needs necessary for cooking.  Whole grains are key, because they help your body feel full on fewer calories, and they are super-healthy for you too!  Let’s look at the facts on these food groups.

Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a bit expensive, it’s true, but you just need to be a smart shopper when it comes to this.  Buy only what you will eat before it goes bad.  For me, this means I need to grab veggies once a week.  Also, store them properly, or they will go bad before their time.  If you really want to save money, buy fruits and veggies that are in season.  Produce that are in season are cheaper, because the stores can acquire them from closer sources.  I used this technique last night, and I found out that *all* of the produce I wanted was actually on sale, most of them for under $1 a pound.  A great resource for knowing what’s in season is eattheseasons.com, which also has an option for UK for my British readers.  For nights that you’re in more of a hurry, buy frozen fruits and veggies.  If you have more of a budget crunch, buy store brand ones.  These are cheap, and you usually can get two meals per bag.

Whole Grains
A box of whole grain pasta costs $1.29 at my local market.  That’s it, and I get at least 5 or 6 meals a box.  Whole grain rice appears expensive, but remember that a bag of it lasts a long-ass time, because it grows when it cooks.  Also invest in whole wheat flour and regular flour (you need that so it doesn’t get too heavy for some recipes).  A bag of either is around $2 in my market, and lasts months.  Any other whole grains you want are similarly priced.  It appears a lot to people, because they’re used to buying single-serving foods in the grocery store, but that $6 or $7 you’re spending on the bag of rice will make many many meals.

Protein
The most expensive proteins are the most highly processed.  This means that fake meats like tofurkey are the most expensive.  One box of tofurkey slices for sandwiches costs around $4.27 at my market.  You know what though?  It’s highly processed, and isn’t that healthy for you (though, healthier than meat).  A box of tofu, on the other hand, is usually somewhere between $1 and $2, and one box makes 4 meals.  Tempeh is similarly priced.  Beans, which you need to diversify from soy anyway, cost under $1 a can, and one can make around three meals.  If you want to go uber-healthy, you can buy bags of dry beans and cook them yourself, which is even cheaper than buying canned beans.

Other Pantry Needs
Since I’m not vegan, I do need to buy eggs, cheese, and butter, and these are usually the most expensive purchases I make.  However, one dozen eggs last me around 1.5 months.  Another purchase that, similar to the bags of rice, seems prohibitively expensive because of a single serving meal mindset is cooking oils.  Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils for you, and the bottle I bought last night cost $12 and some change.  However, one bottle lasts me at least 4 months.  Again, buy store brand.  The fact of the matter with all the pantry needs is their price can seem a bit high, but you use a little bit at a time in cooking–like with soy sauce for instance–so really per meal the cost is a few cents.

There you go. That’s my real-life shopping for healthy groceries experience.  Yes, you need to actually cook your meals instead of buying frozen and sticking it in the microwave, but trust me, it is not so hard to learn to stir-fry, sautee, and bake.  Stir-frying and pastas especially just require you to be able to stir things around in a pot.  Plus, you get the added benefit of burning some calories while making your food instead of just sitting on your butt on the couch watching tv waiting for it to heat up in the microwave.  It takes a bit of up-front cost to get your pantry equipped with the long-term use items like rice, but once you’ve done this, you’re down to buying a few quite cheap items a week, with the periodic need to replace the long-term items that never run out at the same time.  It is not too expensive to eat healthily if you know how to do it.

Why New Year’s Is My Favorite Holiday

December 28, 2009 3 comments

Christmas is finally over, which means it’s time for my favorite holiday: New Year’s!  All week on the blog I’ll be doing a few special New Year’s related posts, starting out with why it’s my favorite holiday.

People often ask me why, out of all the holidays, my favorite is one where you don’t even get presents.  Well, there are a lot of reasons.

It’s secular. Everyone can celebrate without any of that religion or country worry and mumbo jumbo.  Even people and cultures who follow the lunar cycle can still also acknowledge the change of the Gregorian calendar.

You’re supposed to drink. Any holiday that largely revolves around drinking cocktails and champagne gets my vote.

There’s no societal expected norm as to who you should spend it with. It’s perfectly acceptable spend it with friends as opposed to family, but you can still spend it with family if you want to.  Nobody is going around asking me why I’m not off in some other state visiting family, and also my friends don’t all simultaneously disappear for the weekend.

Reflection. It’s a regularly occurring time to reflect on yourself, your actions, your life and have a palaver with yourself and make sure your life and your behavior are what you want them to be, which leads to

Resolutions. I am all about being a self-made person.  I’m about deciding who I want to be and working to be that person instead of just laying back and playing with the hand I was dealt in life, aka nature and nurture.  I take initiative and choice and use it to kick nature and nurture’s butt.

Clean slate. The new year isn’t exactly a clean slate, but you can make it one if you want to or need to.  You can also just make a clean slate in certain areas of your life.  Maybe there’s a friend you need to come to terms with or a habit that’s bad for you that it’s time to get rid of.

New Year’s is great in that it asks you to celebrate and enjoy life, but it also asks you to take a good look at your life and make sure it’s what you want it to be.  New Year’s is the best of both worlds–celebration and accountability.

The Joy of Doing Less During the Holidays

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

No doubt about it, the holidays are a busy time of year.  There’s presents to buy and wrap, parties to go to, people to see, travelling to do, baked goods to make, decorating to do, and more.  If you’re at all like me, it can all add up to stress.

Looking back on last week, I see that I did a lot of things that should have been fun, but I was so stressed out that the stress over-shadowed the parts I should have been enjoying.  I was constantly plotting to make it to everything (not to mention to stay awake) instead of just enjoying the moment.  I realized this yesterday, and worked to make my week this week less stressful, but thinking about it this morning, I remembered a blog post from one of my favorite zen blogs, Zen Habits, entitled The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less.

The jist of it is that minimalism isn’t just about what stuff you own.  Minimalism is also about doing less and enjoying it more.  I think the benefits of this are easy to see if you just think about the last time you were distracted doing one activity out of a worry to get to the next one on-time.  Now imagine if the first activity was the only one you were doing that day.  See how that works?

If you live in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest, you don’t need to hyper-schedule yourself.  Instead of going to every single holiday party, choose two for the month to go to and really go all-out at them.  Don’t be afraid to tell friends or family no, you can’t come, you don’t have time, even if you don’t have time just because you want to spend that evening at home baking cookies and watching Christmas specials.

I really like this idea of doing less, but doing it to your fullest.  I think as Americans we have the tendency to overschedule ourselves for god only knows what reason.  Maybe some lingering Puritan philosophy about idle hands being the devil’s plaything.  Regardless, there is such a thing as doing too much during the holidays, so don’t be afraid to say no and limit just how many festivities you partake in.  Partake in fewer to a more full extent.  I think you might wind up surprised at how truly festive you’ll feel.

The Vaccination Paranoia

December 8, 2009 2 comments

For a while now there’s been increasing rumblings of a vaccination controversy.  Apparently this is coming more to the fore-front as Newsweek saw fit to publish an article arguing for the benefits of vaccinating your children.  I know to some of my friends and colleagues in the healthcare community, this anti-vaccination movement seems to be coming nearly out of thin air in the last few years.  They are confused as to why any parent would argue against vaccinating their child in a Western nation.  While I absolutely agree with them, this didn’t exactly come out of nowhere for me.  Until I started working in hospitals, I myself wasn’t vaccinated. *

My parents, mainly my mother, were part of the first wave of the anti-vaccination crowd.  Their reasons for not wanting me to get vaccinated were officially religious.  They believed that your body is the temple of the living god, and therefore you should not purposefully inject anything harmful into yourself.  To them, even though a vaccination is a gentled-up version of the virus, it was still perceived as injecting harm.  In the fundamentalist crowd the leap to “this lighter version of the virus will allow my child to build antibodies so the strong one won’t harm her” just wasn’t made.  I’m not sure if they didn’t believe the science, didn’t understand it, or just didn’t think it was necessary.  Whatever the case, a vaccine was injecting a virus into your body, and that was wrong in the eyes of god so that was that.

Of course there was the other layer thatnon-fundamentalist parents who are anti-vaccination today are also claiming today–the contents of the shot are harmful and at best dumb the kid down, at worst give them Autism or paralyzes them.  Frankly, if this was true, we’d have an epidemic of Autism and paralysis right now.  We obviously don’t.  Most of my public school graduating class was vaccinated, and they were the most intelligent graduating class from my school in ten years, with a record number attending high-ranking colleges.

Even after I had deconverted, thereby losing the religious concern, I still for a long time believed that vaccinations were a big government conspiracy.  We’re seeing this concept now with the H1N1 vaccinations.  There are groups out there saying at best that the pharmaceutical community created the virus so they could profit from the vaccine and at worst that the vaccine will kill or maim all the poor people (or a certain race of people or whatever group the person making the claim is part of).

I know from my own experience that these claims are being made out of fear and ignorance.  People who don’t understand science, were never properly taught science, or who were raised to fear outsiders make claims like this.  Any educated person knows that the scientific community works incredibly hard for the greater good.  What an insult to the scientists who worked to make the H1N1 vaccine to claim that they maliciously created the virus just so they could sell a vaccine!  Claims like this about vaccinations are the same as claiming that the scientific community is evil–a community that works hard every day for the greater good of individuals and society as a whole.  Frankly, yes, I believe the government is messed up in many ways, but one of the things they do right is to support the scientific community, yet these paranoid groups see this support as a conspiracy.  The scientific community is not the government, and just because the government endorses something the scientific community is doing does not make it evil.

What we are seeing building today is the result of a failing educational system and increasing paranoia.  Our society is by and large encouraing paranoia and panic at an increasing rate.  You just have to remember America before 9/11 and after 9/11 to know exactly what I’m talking about.  I’m not going to be all conspiracy theorist about this, but our society is increasingly uneducated and afraid.  Instead of seeking to raise calm, rational, scientific individuals we’re turning into a bunch of paranoid, uneducated, panicking people making bad decisions for the future.  Knowledge and logic impart calm and peace.  I know this from personal experience.  When I thought that schizophrenic symptoms were caused by demon possession, I walked around afraid.  When I learned the biological basis of schizophrenia and the treatments available, I was no longer afraid.  The same is true for the vaccination paranoia.  It is a symptom of a lack of general public knowledge about science.  They are wrong, but there is no quick fix for this.  The answer is an educated, rational populace, and that is going to take time and effort.

*  My father claims he snuck me off to get one round of vaccinations when I was a child.  I don’t remember this, however, and we all know there’s more than one round of childhood vaccinations.

On Perfectionism

November 9, 2009 4 comments

Human beings are naturally fallible.  It’s one of the things that makes us humans and not a weird race of perfect angels running around the planet.  I accept this in others.  I expect them to make mistakes, and as long as they aren’t evil or huge, it’s no big deal.  But me?  Well, I expect myself to be perfect and when I inevitably fail, I beat myself up over it for hours. (This is a huge improvement over the old time-period of days).  I’m not talking huge mistakes that I should rightfully feel guilty about.  I’m talking about “oh I misunderstood what you were trying to say” or “oh this applesauce doesn’t quite taste perfect.”

Why do I do this unhealthy thing to myself?  With the insane amount of psychology/psychiatry reading I do in the course of my job, I have a theory.  Basically psychiatry believes people are born with a certain personality and every personality has weaknesses.  It’s the parents’ job to adpat their parenting technique to suit the child.  To uphold the strong parts of the personality and improve the weak parts.  This means there’s no one parenting technique that fits all.  Ok, I’m digressing a bit.

Essentially, I think that I was born with a natural tendency to be Type A.  You all know what that means.  Over-achieving. OCD. Etc…  Instead of telling me that I’m only human and can’t possibly be perfect though, I wound up with parents who were following one of the many versions of the Evangelical Christian faith.  I was told that since I was saved and had the Holy Spirit within me, not only should I naturally make fewer mistakes than those god-foresaken heathens out there, but also that I should strive every day to not sin.  Yes, mistakes were termed “sin.”

Sin just drips with this extra layer of connotation that’s not on a mistake.  A mistake is innocent.  Regrettable, but innocent.  Sin is letting demons into your life.  Sin is dripping with darkness and evil and everything that isn’t good in the world.  Sin is Satan breathing down your neck.  Sin makes God cry.

Ok, so a good little Christian girl isn’t supposed to sin as much as the heathens, and she should progressively sin less, but she *sigh* inevitably will.  So she should keep track of all her sins throughout the day and confess them individually in her evening prayers and beg for forgiveness.  But it’s not a real apology if you plan to ever do those things again, so if you ever commit that sin again, well that wasn’t a real apology was it?

Take one naturally Type A little girl, add these tenets, stir, and you get an adult Amanda who must constantly fight anxiety over not being perfect.

Yes, I know I left the religion that added to the Type A tendencies, so I should be doing much better than I am at not being so anxious about being perfect, but even when I let go of the Christian mores I was taught, my mistakes still carry that extra connotation.  My mistakes might not make god cry, but they could hurt people I care about.  My mistakes might not be dripping with demons and darkness, but they could put a damper on the evening.  And what if my mistakes build up so that they do cause problems in my life for me?  (Can you hear the panic attack starting in my head?)

Yes, I know it’s unrealistic and unhealthy to expect myself to be perfect.  And I know that I love the people in my life not only in spite of their faults, but because of them.  It just isn’t always easy to break the thought processes not only born into you but instilled in you.

So why am I blogging about this?  Because I doubt I’m the only person out there who holds herself to too high expectations, and I want those other perfectionists out there who might be reading this to know:  It’s not your fault you are a perfectionist.  Probably a lot of things had to combine to make you that way.  You don’t have to stay a perfectionist, and you also don’t have to be perfect.  People will love you just the way you are, so you should too.