just call me raegen

STUPID, MEANINGLESS LIVES UNITE TO DISCUSS UNPOPULAR OPINIONS

It’s Hard Being Smart in a Stupid World

No sooner had I put down the issue of I3 (It Is Innovation) I recently snagged from the Consumer Electronics Show, which featured Alexis Ohanian (one of Reddit’s co-founders), than I heard that Aaron Swartz (former co-owner of Reddit) had committed suicide.

And after months of being inundated with CES-related press releases detailing the legendary advances made in 2012 alone in the technology arena, this sad news recalled a truth I’ve held dear for some time:

It is hard being smart in a stupid world.

English: Muppets at the Museum of American His...

For the record, that IS actually what I mean when I say, “It ain’t easy being green.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it’s painfully obvious how really, really, supremely, insanely stupid that world is when you think about how few people actually have the smarts to be able to develop technology. Some people can’t even figure out how to turn on their TVs.

Granted, plenty of stupid people kill themselves too, so it’s not like the phenomenon is exclusive to the brilliant. And certainly, a history of mental illness and fear of criminal conviction played their roles in this aforementioned case.

Nor is genius limited strictly to one area of study. For some reason, Swartz’s suicide made me think of the suicide of David Foster Wallace, whom most of my fellow creative writing colleagues know for his literary virtuosity (although here are some more unusual facts about him).

This subsequently reminded me of the time I saw him and Peter Rock read their work at the University of Arizona. This was back in 2002. I made the trek from L.A. back to Tucson to my alma mater specifically for it, and I was not disappointed, although Wallace actually did not finish the essay he was reading (which I thought was unusual at the time, but might’ve actually been a really great sales tactic).

2002-07-22 - Drunk thigh exercise.JPG

And if you order now, we’ll give you this used jock strap for free! (Photo credit: chrisrockshard)

Anyway, the thing I remember most distinctly about this event was a completely moronic question that came from the audience after the authors were finished. Actually, I don’t remember the question; I just remember it being that stupid — and yes, there are stupid questions, no matter what your politically correct teacher told you. If you’ve ever been to even one reading of literary fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, you will know the question type of which I speak. It’s usually along the lines of the following:

  1. Where did you get the idea for this story/essay/poem?                                   This question is dumb because who the heck really knows where ideas come from? Seriously. Similarly, who the heck really knows how the idea turned into the finished piece, or how far departed the finished piece might be from the original idea? But even if you did know, would you really divulge this part of your creative process? Come on, now!
  2. What are your writing habits?                                                                              I write only in the nude because I don’t want my clothes to smell like the feces I’m flinging around with the chimps I just had an orgy with. Aren’t you sorry you asked? Or do you foolishly expect that if you do the same, you’ll be equally successful?
  3. How did you become such a great writer?                                                     Um, probably by writing a lot. But aren’t you really asking how you can become a great — and by “great,” you probably mean “successful/accomplished/paid/worshiped/doable” — writer? In which case, how should the person you’re asking know?
Fanboy

Back off, fanboy. (Photo credit: Cayusa)

Whatever that question was, I remember how Wallace reacted, though his actual verbal response escapes me. He glanced over at Rock as if to ocularly communicate, “Fellow writer of significance, is this pathetic mortal serious?” then gave a response that was completely snarky but equally over the asker’s head, so that by the end, the dolt was actually thanking Wallace for his response.

I’m not sure if that gratitude was edifying or horrifying for Wallace; my guess is it was a little of both. As one of the people who picked up on the undertones, I found myself internally applauding him (because it seemed like some shiz I would want to pull, as I hate stupid), but I also know if I’d done something like that, I’d feel like a jerk — mostly because that behavior actually defines people as jerks — so I found myself slightly repulsed by him as well.

clemente's deep fried twinkie

Too much? Then why can’t I turn away? (Photo credit: goodiesfirst)

Torn by conflicting sentiments about this act, I had to contemplate what was at the heart of my emotional dilemma, and at the end of the day, it is this: Stupidity should be something we hold others (and ourselves) accountable for, but there may simply be no good way to do so.

Which, again, is why it’s hard being smart in a stupid world. And when you’re that smart — like, Wallace smart, Swartz smart, Turing smart, Plath smart, Van Gogh smart, Gilman smart, Tchaikovsky smart, Sexton smart, Woolf smart — stupidity multiplies exponentially in the face of your aptitude.

The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Super...

And the answer is…you suck! (Photo credit: dullhunk)

Now, I am certainly not under the delusion that I’m on this level, but even within the level at which I reside, I find a majority of people really hard to deal with. And I look around at my intelligent friends — most of whom are still single — and I feel like I understand why, especially if they’re women. You simply can’t hold a relationship down if you’re talking quantum physics and your partner’s talking basic arithmetic.

Well, unless you’re John McAfee, but that dude’s just clinical with a capital C.

McAfee at CeBIT 2008.

Those towers do look mighty symbolic, if you know what I mean… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, many people in the list above struggled with mental illness, addiction, or something of that sort. Perhaps a function of the thing that makes you that bloody brilliant is that it will also make you psychotic — just the other side of the same coin you hold, I guess.

Or maybe it’s just plain hard to be human. But that’s a far less amusing blog title.

George-W-Bush edit

Plus, he looks pretty dang happy. Ignorance DOES equal bliss! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Writing — for Love or Money? (My Takeaways From NMX 2013)

Last Sunday, I made my way over to the Rio for New Media Expo (NMX) 2013. While most of the time, I attend trade shows for my job, I did this of my own volition — on a weekend, even. So yes, I do want a cookie.

English: Plateful of Christmas Cookies

Not that that’s different from any other time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unable to afford a trip to Boston in March for AWP, this was the closest (and most inexpensive) way to get my personal educational conference fix, and I was not disappointed. Perhaps because this whole “new media” thing is so, well, new to me (from a business perspective, anyway), I feel like I learned a lot.

Two sessions in particular, though, really got me thinking, probably because they were contradictory, at least in their in spiritual tone. I’ll start with David Risley’s session about how to monetize blogs, which had tons of great information that has already been summed up by others (such as this blogger here) if you’d like to know more about that.

For me, the following part was the most interesting tidbit of all he said (and I recorded) during his NMX session:

“Most bloggers do not treat their blog as a business whatsoever. … In the regular world, you don’t think about going and setting up an office somewhere, then try to figure out what to do with it. … A lot of people, they don’t put a lot of thought into whether it (their blog) really is considered to be exchangeable or valuable to other people; they just kind of do it because they think it’s interesting. This is where the ‘blogging about your passion’ thing often misguides people, because they don’t really verify if it’s valuable or exchangeable.”

English: Image of a pet rock

Flaw in that logic, as evidenced by Pet Rock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to admit, my immediate response to this was to cringe on the inside. It’s the poet in me who’s doing so — the one who knows very much how, when it comes to creative writing, that’s actually exactly what you do to create a product (be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever) you will eventually, with any luck, publish and sell: You set up an office somewhere (aka start writing), then figure out what to do with it (aka find the vision, the project, or simply what point you’re trying to make through the act of writing, more writing, examination, and revision of what you’d created). Sometimes you have a general idea — “I want to write about Ireland” — but you don’t know what that really means or how it will flesh itself out until you write a bunch.

The Brady Bunch opening grid, season one

What cringing on the inside looks like. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then there’s the theme of “passion doesn’t count” that I will argue against until my big yappin’ mouth has been silenced by the Grim Reaper himself. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, albeit mostly in workshops: Passionless writing is dead writing. And yes, it probably is the majority of what gets published anywhere — even in lit mags (and I hope I’m not speaking for my work that’s been picked up by such publications) — but it still sucks. Writing without passion, without risk, is simply a waste of words.

That being said, I will admit that there is a certain amount of passion and creativity that usually must be squelched in the service of being informative, and this is the kind of writing most publications require of their staff writers, journalists, and editors like myself. I still try to keep it engaging, of course, but there’s a reality to it, and devices can’t be distracting. I do this kind of writing (that is, professional) too, but only because I get paid to. It wouldn’t be sustainable otherwise, because I’m simply not passionate about certain subjects.

English: Shoes in a shop

As Shania Twain would say, “That don’t impress me much.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me to this blog, Just Call Me Raegen. I don’t make money with it yet, and I may never; that was never my goal, though it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world that could ever happen. But this blog sustains itself because I write about things I’m passionate about (and when others care about those topics too, it’s very much appreciated, of course). If I was writing about something I could give two s***s about, it wouldn’t last very long, and this is why I think most blogs fail; it’s generally accepted as fact that a blog has to grow and carry on in order for it to start and continue to make money. Now, maybe that’s just me — perhaps others can write about inane things they care nothing for without the promise of money first — but if I’m writing something I’m not getting paid for upfront, it’s because I care about it, and for no other reason.

But Risley’s talking about making money off a personal blog, and perhaps I’m talking about something else. Perhaps.

Let me tell you about the other presenter of note: Bill Belew. Very different perspective coming from Mr. Bill (I just wanted to say that; he doesn’t actually go by that moniker). His points are covered more in depth at the link I posted above as well (looks like me and Eleanor Prior have a lot in common as far as what we think is relevant), but here’s the summation of what he had to say about how to get a million visitors to a blog:

  1. Write a lot (quantity)
  2. Write good stuff (quality)
  3. Be consistent
  4. Write frequently
Kenny vs. Mr. Bill (109/365)

Oh, no! (Photo credit: JD Hancock)

It’s pretty simple. And while Mr. Bill’s subject wasn’t monetizing blogging, I think it’s important to note that Mr. Bill does in fact financially support himself and his family entirely off his blogs.

And again, while the main points of his session were good, the more interesting message to me was the following, which I also recorded:

“Do not let people tell you what you cannot do. Don’t go there. The bumblebee doesn’t know what he can’t do, and he does it. … If you think you can do it, do it. It works if you work it. It’s that simple. … Write until your idea catches on. … The No. 1 reason for failure is … because people give up.”

Mr. Bill was all about passion. Hard work, yes — his eight different blogs have more than a thousand posts on them total — but passion too. He later gave an example of another successful blogger who followed his passion as well: “The guy writes about Chinese idioms. Who cares?” Mr. Bill said. Yet he went on to say that this blogger eventually found his audience and became a hit.

Chinesetexttest

Ah, who could forget this one? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The blogging world — just like any other — is competitive. Perhaps if one is looking for instant money, one should ignore passion and pursue whatever it is one believes will sell or win a contest. But Mr. Bill’s story is proof that anything will sell, if given the proper amount of time, effort, and attention. And perhaps I’m simply inferring it from everything he said, but I believe I agree with him that there’s room for everyone and every passion in this space (and many others).

I suppose in an ideal world, every writer would be paid to write about the subjects he or she is passionate about, because everyone is passionate about something (which I do think is key to maintaining long-term interest in writing about that subject) and there is an audience for every subject — at least one more person out there in the world who finds wonder in those topics the writer is fascinated by.

And what of Just Call Me Raegen? If I can say anything about this blog — which I deliberately began nearly a year ago without a set subject, fully intending to write my way toward finding it — it’s that my personal passions are very much present in it. If Judge Judy wrote a blog, it would probably look a lot like this, because she doesn’t have time for nonsense, and she loves justice. I also hate stupid, and I too love justice — especially poetic justice, because it’s poetic, of course.

2Pac & Janet Jackson

But not the movie, because that really sucked. (Photo credit: AndreLucian)

I find myself examining life, exploring my opinions (no matter how many words it takes), arguing (mostly in my head), and trying to help others who are or one day might be in my shoes with a little advice to get through the dark times. If it doesn’t “sell,” so be it. Herein, what’s left of my humanity — of infinite value — resides.

What to Do When You Hate Your Job

Ah, the office — the workplace of modernity.

Cubicles in a now-defunct co-working space in ...

News flash: Calling them “cubes” doesn’t make them any less horrifying. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whoever invented it should’ve been shot.

That’s not to say people outside an office don’t equally hate their jobs. Let’s be fair.

But seriously, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, unless you’re cleaning up bodily secretions, it’s rarely the actual job any of us hate. No, my friends, as Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is other people.” Especially when you don’t get to choose them yourself. But even sometimes when you do.

Cheerleaders

Best frienemies forever! (Photo credit: prc1333)

I’d venture to guess that 99.9 percent of problems in the workplace boil down to people. Not challenged at your job? Someone created that job description and is keeping you in that position, right? That’s a people problem. Conversely, do you have too much to do? A person made that decision as well. Can’t move up in the company? That’s another people problem. Company losing money? Either the leadership can’t manage money properly, or it can’t resonate with customers. Not getting paid enough? Who’s writing your paycheck?

Simply put, there is no shortage of poorly run companies or people who run them that way.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

Look familiar? (Photo credit: nhanusek)

While mobility will likely continue to raise the number of remote workers — and potentially, people’s sanity along with it — the overwhelming majority of today’s jobs force people perhaps created for the sole purpose of loathing each other together in cramped, stinking spaces to fulfill that despicable destiny.

Are you one of them?

I was. I’m not ashamed to say it. On two occasions, I found myself acutely aware that if I possessed the mad skills of setting people on fire through telekinesis a la Carrie, I would use them.

Why do I always come back to Stephen King? It's a mystery!

Why do I always come back to Stephen King? It’s a mystery!

I’m not an evil person. I’m not even a rebel. Heck, I still feel guilty for hitting my sister when I was five. (Sorry, K.)

But this is what a terrible workplace will have any reasonably sane person fantasizing about in his or her spare time. (And yes, I am reasonably sane; I’ve had workplaces that I loved, so it isn’t some personal mental issue or beef I eventually end up having at every job I hold, although perhaps my tolerance for BS is lower than the average person’s.)

Here are the signs that you’re in a work environment that’s unhealthy for you (admitting you have a problem is the first step, as they say):

1. You feel mentally ill. “Has the world gone mad? How can anyone work in a place like this? What’s wrong with these people? Why isn’t everyone else freaking out the way I am? Are they? They can’t be, or else they wouldn’t still be here. Why are they still here? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me that I can’t stand to be here, and they can?” Or perhaps you simply just can’t stop thinking about work – ever.

Obsession. Insert your name.

Obsession. Insert your name.

I remember what it was like, brooding every day at work, dreading the next piece of turd that would hit the fan, knowing it was coming, knowing there was no amount of guessing that could predict what would actually come or when, brooding anyway. I remember the chaos, the lying, the harassment, the degradation, the downright illegal activities, even the false accusations. I remember driving home, not remembering how I even got there, that’s how consumed with brooding I became. In my apartment, I would sit, and my eyes would pass over words on pages, but I wasn’t reading. I’d turn on the TV and stare at the screen, but I wasn’t really watching. I wasn’t present at all, actually; I was still brooding about one insane thing or another that happened at work. I’d go to bed still thinking about it; I’d have nightmares — all about work, of course, which, lucky me, I’d remember upon waking. Then I’d fear those nightmares would come true for the entire duration of the drive to the office.

2. You feel physically ill. As if you’ve been possessed by a demonic spirit, the thought of being at work sends chunks of recently consumed food items back up your gullet for an encore. It really doesn’t get clearer than this, folks. Suze Orman said so, and she knows her shiz. Even if you can mentally deny how profoundly your workplace is affecting you, your body will always tell the truth.

Lejos del civo

I have exorcised the demon! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When things got really bad at some of my former workplaces, I’d wake up every morning — even Sunday mornings — knowing I’d have to return to hell soon, and I’d immediately feel my stomach acid start a-churnin’. I popped Pepto pills just to get through the infinite, infinitely painful days. Thinking of what I put my body through to endure things I never should’ve had to makes me almost as sick as some of my former workplaces did. It also reminds me of a little story this old friend of mine who, upon breaking up with his most recent ex, confided in me: Toward the end of the relationship, he had to start taking antidepressants just to be able to be around her. That’s scary stuff. If you’re taking meds of any kind just to go to work, something is very, very wrong.

3. You feel spiritually ill. You don’t have to be religious to experience this — though if you are, I probably don’t have to explain any further. Plots of vengeance and homicide flood your otherwise Golden-Ruled brain. You think of negative things that make you feel like your worst, basest self instead of the kind, good-natured spirit you actually are. You had dreams once. What were they again?

Jailbird Lindsay Lohan

A broken spirit looks like this. (Photo credit: AZRainman)

Like I was telling a colleague of mine who finds himself in a really bad work environment right now, there’s something about a terrible job that just strips you down to your bare bones. It can rob you of everything good in your life and even in your self. Drained of energy and will, how could I even think of cooking dinner, let alone strive to achieve my personal goals, after so many days in hell? I started looking at others differently, negatively — even if they weren’t my coworkers. I started looking at myself differently. “Good people don’t have dark thoughts like mine, right? Smart people would’ve been able to get a new job already, right? Anyone worth a crap could just snap themselves out of it and go on their merry way, right?”

When your spirit gets crushed to this degree, you’re at your most vulnerable, your most pliable, your most assimilatable. This is how the people you work with who’ve been in hell for so long — aka “the lifers” — still find it in themselves to show up there every day. They’ve been brainwashed. They’ve settled. Their souls are dead. Very likely, they now perpetrate the very behavior that crushed their dreams, because dream-crushing is all that brings them any sort of joy now. (The other ones are probably much like you — looking for an escape route.)

English: Escape Route (signs) Deutsch: Fluchtw...

I’m thinking this translates to, “Hey, you, dude in the picture up here, RUN!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, when your spirit gets crushed to this degree, you’re also at your most willing to make an absolutely necessary change in your life. A very smart man once told me, “Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing, people stay the same.” Your darkest hour is actually the one in which you’re most willing to fight for your soul.

So how do you do that?

1. Look for a new job. Start yesterday. I know the market’s tough. I know the odds might seem like they’re against you. But eventually, something will pan out. It always does. In the meantime, the very act will empower you.

You may have to consider opportunities or wages that you might not have be willing to before, but don’t worry. Even this next job you land doesn’t have to be your final destination. You just need sanctuary from hell right now. Just be sure you don’t land yourself in a hellier hell. (Good news is, you know what to look for now to avoid this.)

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bo...

In your versions, people will have their clothes on, though, of course. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Do anything else that empowers you. Go to the gym. Take a class. Volunteer at a local charity. Read this book. Make a playlist (mine included “Walk On” by U2, “Control” by Poe, “This Is the Day” by The The, “Float On” by Modest Mouse, ‘The Remedy” by Jason Mraz, “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects, and even “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor). Whatever. But do something that reminds you of the amazing person you truly are and have always been.

3. Distract yourself. Anytime you are not at work — and even sometimes when you are — do whatever you need to do to take your mind off brooding about work. My mind’s pretty active, so I required overstimulation (heh-heh). Talking on the phone while shopping, because if I was quiet, I started thinking, and the first thing I thought about was hell. Cleaning with familiar music blasting that I would force myself to sing to, because singing made me think of the words instead of hell. But you may be the meditative type — in which case, go sit cross-legged somewhere or grab a yoga mat.

English: Downward-Facing-Dog Български: Адхо М...

Just make sure you don’t stand right behind this lady, if you know what I mean. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No matter what, no matter how long it seems like it’s been or how long it seems like it might be before you’re finally free, keep the faith. This too shall pass. And when it does — maybe not right away, but a month, year, or even decade later — I hope that, like me, you’ll smile, grateful that your tour in Hades is over, thankful for all you really did learn from the experience.

My Love/Hate Relationship With the Holidays

Oh, the holidays.

OK, I need to pause now (yes, already) for a moment of lyrical drama from Whitney Houston that encapsulates my sentiments at this sentimental time:

English: Whitney Houston performing "Savi...

I get so emotional, baby, every time I think of you-ou-ou… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost over. After all the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the hustle and bustle, more planning, more shopping, eating, passing out in a carb coma, waking up again in a pool of your own sweat (is that sweat?), wondering who the people are on the floor next to you and where their clothes are…

Wait — wrong story.

(Blame my mom; she brought the Magic Mike DVD over to watch this week.)

Some people dread the holidays, and for many totally valid reasons. Me, I guess I kind of view them as a time of power-multitasking — which, naturally, someone like myself would be into. I don’t so much mind all the shopping, nor do I mind the preparations involved in anticipation of guests — which this year for me included my mom and sister. My mom and I even cooked our first turkey together (well, my first turkey, her ten-millionth).

Dana Carvey as The Church Lady

Well, isn’t that special? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, I actually love the holidays. To me, it’s time off to do out-of-the-ordinary things with people I don’t get to see that much anymore. They say variety is the spice of life, and few things bring more variety to my actually quite regimented life than the holidays, even if I demand to be the elf that gets to pass out the gifts every year (and you best believe I do, yo).

It seems like no matter what I do, though, there’s always a point where I get majorly bummed out. As a kid, it was after the presents were opened. Downer! Now that I’m older, it’s become when my company leaves. It’s a good thing Jesus is here to talk me off the frickin’ ledge.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Do you know how many of my friends told me to wish my boyfriend a happy birthday this Christmas? Seriously, the Jesus joke never gets old. NEVER. (Photo credit: mimitalks, married w/children)

I will return to “normal life” soon, head back to the office and begin the new year, complete with a new assignment list, a new round of trade shows to attend, even a new publication to help launch. I will begin attacking my new list of personal goals for 2013; I finally got smart this year and kept it short at four. Yes, there will be much to keep me busy since, happily and sadly, the world did not in fact come to an end.

English: A bored person

We’re still here? Well, shiz, what do I do now? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But right now, I am looking at my Christmas tree (which will come down New Year’s Day), listening to the washer and dryer churn and burn, and I’m reflecting on holidays past.

I’ve had many a crappy holiday in my life — not gonna lie. It wasn’t that we were struggling financially or I got stranded in an airport or anything like that, either…so perhaps I really don’t know what it is to have a truly crappy holiday. But relatively speaking, in Raegenland, my crappy holidays generally occurred because of the people I spent them with (or sometimes, conversely, the people I didn’t spend them with). Sometimes there was drama; who could forget the Christmas my a**f*** ex-stepbrother told my sister and I Santa wasn’t real? Sometimes there was tragedy; who could forget the Christmas — or more specifically, the day after — when Aunt Mary passed? Sometimes there was just a plain lack of caring; insert the overwhelming majority of ex-boyfriend-related Christmases here.

But I’ve had some great holidays, too. I remember one year we took our now Heaven-dwelling Izzy with us to Winterhaven in Tucson — one of the happiest times of her life. I remember my New Year’s with Jess in Sedona. I remember my only New Year’s (thus far) spent on the Strip; that’s about as crazy as things get. Now I have this year’s Christmas to add to the list.

And these are the ones that are always the hardest to get over, as with any heartache, I suppose.

My mom and sister both left today after a whole week warp-speeded by, thanks to Father Time or Mr. Sulu — one or the other. So it is with bittersweet emotions that I have reached the point where I must say, “Eff you, holiday, for doing this to me! Goodbye forever, and good riddance!”

Get out, get out, get out of my life!

Get out, get out, get out of my life!

Seriously, though…will you come back again already?

Well, That Was Anticlimactic

Here we are.

Awkward...

Well, this is awkward… (Photo credit: joeltelling)

As in “still here.” As in “I guess the Mayans were wrong.”

No big surprise there, I s’pose. The Y2K people were wrong. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were wrong. Nostradamus was wrong. And Charles Manson was wrong — on several levels.

I’m not gonna lie — I was a little freaked about this particular prediction, I guess because I considered the culture making it to be a bit more advanced than, say, that of religious zealots. Which, by the way, is anyone else sick of hearing the Bible verse from Mark about it? (Links can be ignored; that’s why they’re brilliant!)

Link

Revision: MOST Links can be ignored. (Photo credit: Enthuan)

The Mayans, in other words, had nothing to gain by spreading fear of the end of the world, especially when it was thousands of years away from them — because let’s be honest, people, we’re afraid of the end. No matter how much anyone complains about how wretched and intolerable their lives are — and some certainly do quite a bit on the good old FB — we all still want more time to live them.

Which is partially how the apocalyptic madness has changed my point of view; I will no longer humor any such complaints and “FMLs” — not that I really did in the first place — because at the end of the day, you still want to live, and you’re not fooling me anymore, darn it! OK, maybe every once in a while you might, but then I’ll think of the Mayans and biddy-slap you back into reality, which is…

Right. Here.

Now.

Astronomical Clock (Astronomical Dial), Prague...

This clock’s right two times a day, I’ll have you know. Good thing you can’t read it to find out if now is one of those times. (Photo credit: Grufnik)

Could be better. Could be worse. But either of those things is better than the thought of not being at all, at least to most of us — myself included.

Still — and perhaps it’s my perception playing tricks on me — this particular apocalyptic prediction seemed to have more people than usual on edge…maybe not sold, but skeptical, which is actually buying in to some small degree. And that says something.

So here’s the other thing the prediction made me aware of: Even though people may want to live, want to be, they seem to want to live and be differently — and in more than just “the grass is always greener” way, which has existed since we whiny little sentient beings began.

English: The grass is always greener on the ot...

The grass is always greener, except where there’s no grass — like on that middle part. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, people actually seem to want change. Dramatic change. Perhaps — dare I say it? — awakening change.

Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s the inequality. Maybe it’s the simple fact that people all over the world are inspired to destruct others in all sorts of fashions — war, genocide, slavery, rape, and yes, even school shootings — and it has simply stopped computing in any way in most of our heads and hearts; many of us no longer have it in us to be able to relate to, let alone justify, such atrocities. Heck, we’re talking about saving the last frickin’ turtles of a species and more these days, folks. And it’s not a bad thing.

Lonesome George has hopefully found some of his peeps up there in Turtle Heaven.

Lonesome George has hopefully found some of his peeps up there in Turtle Heaven.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. Looooooooooooooonnnnnnnngggggggg. Unsatisfyingly long.

Could be why we buy into these more recent doomsday prophecies. Or at least why I do.

See, it would take something insane, epic, earth-shattering to speed the progress of humanity enough to be experienced profoundly in my lifetime (not just surfacy stuff like the Equal Rights Amendment, which, oddly enough, still hasn’t been passed, even though it actually is quite surfacy). I’m talking aliens coming from the skies and using their mad Jedi skills to stop us from hurting each other (and them). A comet gouging out an entire continent. Something.

Michael Jackson_1

Maybe Michael Jackson returning from the dead and doing the sunwalk? (Photo credit: AllardJanssen)

On the other hand, the question then becomes, would most people use this catastrophic event to change for the better or for the worse? If there were no police, no courts, no prisons, no consequences, would you kill your neighbor for his or her food? Would you try to help that person or that family? Or does it depend on whether or not you have a partner, kids? Would your choice change if it was just you? Would your choice change if it came down to them or you? These are honest questions each of us has to answer, and ones we can only answer for ourselves. (Please, though, for my sanity, keep your answers to yourself; I don’t want to have to unfriend any of you psychos.)

While there were people in the mountains coming together to celebrate what they’d hoped would be a cataclysmic change for the better, others decided they’d keep their kids home from school, fearful that if something apocalyptic were to happen, people who could be trusted under the normal set of circumstances might just snap, making the incidental children just that — incidental — at best, and let’s just say a lot worse at worst.

It seems to me humanity needs change, needs things to get better already. But it also seems to me that, without some sort of control over certain parties’ free will, dramatic change would evolve swiftly into chaos. Which is sad.

candy wrappers

Sad as a world without candy. (Photo credit: kolix)

And it makes me wonder: if the Mayans saw us today, would they think we were more advanced from a humanistic, spiritual perspective than them? Somehow I doubt it. Then again, perhaps it really is a matter of time — an amount of time none of us as individuals ever have.

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Your Dreams Will Haunt You the Rest of Your Life

I’m not talking about the sleeping dreams that really qualify more as nightmares from which you awaken in a pool of your own urine sweat and feel compelled to wake someone else up and prattle on about them until you realize that person has actually fallen back to sleep on you, and you get just mad enough about that to forget your horrible dreams and be able to fall back to sleep yourself.

I’m so mad at you right now, I’m either going to smother you with this pillow or zzzzzzzzzzz…

Nor am I talking about the dreams Brandon’s students stories end up being.

I’m talking about real-life dreams — the illustrious crap you think it’s important to accomplish in your lifetime, no matter what that illustrious crap may be.

Recently, I was talking to someone I’ve known for quite some time. Have you ever had the experience where you’ve known someone for, like, at least a decade, if not longer, and you realize that, while some of the things you talk to each other about have changed, there’s, like, this one thing that’s sort of lingered on throughout the years — some kind of unfinished business either you, the other person, or both have to address but still haven’t?

We have unfinished business. Do not forget.

That’s called a dream. And that dream will haunt you the rest of your life.

Doubt it? Just talk to Langston Hughes.

“A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Then ask yourself why you’re still talking about this thing 10 (or more) years later. You wouldn’t need to if it really wasn’t that important to you (i.e., really wasn’t a dream of yours after all), you’d satiated the desire through accomplishment, or you’d otherwise made peace with it through action.

70.365 No Escape

Embrace your dreams! No, that’s just your pillow, dude. (Photo credit: fmgbain)

This is what came out of my mouth to the person I was talking to during our most recent conversation. And, “Wow, I was not expecting that,” was what the person said in response. Believe me, I was just as shocked by my statement as the other person was and perhaps you are. I like to think that when something like this happens, I’ve just been a conduit for what that person really needed to hear. But maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better. Plus, I’ve also heard that we only say what we really need to hear ourselves, which I think might hold some truth as well (although as applied to my life, I think that comment would be more a statement of impatience as opposed to inaction on my part).

I don’t think I’m particularly special here when I say I’m aware of many people’s dreams. It’s not like I’m a mind reader or something. Anyone who has the opportunity to know a person long enough (or sometimes even a short time, actually) and figure out what that person’s conversations revolve around can decipher what another’s dreams are.

I’m seeing… that you want… me. Oh, wait — that’s just my reflection. Never mind.

Often, they’re not even that “spectacular” — by typical “dream” standards, anyway. Most people don’t actually want to be astronauts, millionaires, or the president (although they wouldn’t necessarily turn these things down, either). Perhaps that’s why people sometimes don’t really realize that what they’re obsessing about is actually a dream.

One person I know has a dream of finding Mr. Right and building the family that person never had growing up.

Another has a dream of finding Ms. Right and for the first time having a healthy, satisfying romantic relationship.

Another has a dream of being truly loved, of finding someone who isn’t shallow and stupid — someone who will not care how time and illness has affected this person’s body.

Another has a dream of making music.

Another has a dream of starting a business.

Another has a dream of simply leading a peaceful existence.

These are what most real dreams look like. They sound ordinary or perhaps even — gasp! — boring to the rest of us.

But to the person who’s dreaming of it, that shiz is off the chain, and life is pretty much not worth living unless there’s the possibility of fulfilling the dream during it — whether this person admits that to him/herself or not.

I’m off the chain while on the chain. Whatcha got to say about that?

So here’s the thing: I know some people’s dreams. I even gave you examples, for goodness’ sake. And in all likelihood, if I know these to be people’s dreams, they know these are their dreams, too. With this kind of awareness, we should all be able to easily just go out and strive to live our dreams, right?

Sounds like it should be that easy. Actually, it probably is that easy.

The problem is, people don’t actually believe it’s that easy. Another problem is that people engage in self-sabotaging behavior that makes it more difficult to achieve their dreams.

This turned out to be hard work! Think I’ll just go drink a beer instead.

I admire the courage — well, or sheer desperation along the lines of the famous Henry David Thoreau quote — this person had to be willing to admit to me the dream lives on. I know many people have (consciously or subconsciously) given up talking to me about their dreams, mostly because they’re smart enough to know I’m going to say something like, “Your dreams will haunt you the rest of your life if you don’t do something about them.” In other words, I’m insanely impatient hearing about the same thing for more than 10 years while seeing no efforts being put forth to change it, because I want the people I love to be happy, and living dreams can make them happy. In other other words, I’m not going to let people get away with lying to themselves or to me about their dreams. In other other other words, when no one else will, I will always try to hold people accountable to their dreams.

Shock of the world, some don’t like this about me. Shock of the world, some don’t like me period.

But I digress.

Here’s the bottom line: It doesn’t matter what the dream, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of the dream, and it doesn’t matter how much you might try to go mess things up for yourself in attempt to distance yourself from a true dream; it will haunt you if you don’t try to live it.

It's a ghost!

A ghost of your unlived dream isn’t as cute as this, though — just FYI. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look around you. You can tell so, so very much about people by just watching and listening to them. You can tell if they’re living their dreams or not. I know someone who sits on a computer all day instead of trying to live the dream. I know someone who pursues degree after degree but never finishes any of them instead of trying to live the dream. I know someone who’s settled on the wrong person instead of trying to live the dream. I know someone who’s had kids instead of trying to live the dream.

So what can be done? The problem is ultimately rooted in each person’s mind. This much is clear when you hear those inspirational stories of people who have gone on to achieve greatness in spite of missing limbs, persecution, or crazy baby daddies (or mamas — whatever).

So the solution — or at least the beginning of it, anyway — must be to change your mind. You’ve got to start believing your dreams can come true. Then, you must start to build up the courage to try to live your dreams again. Courage, like snowballs, can start small but accumulate into something huge enough to bruise some neighborhood bully’s face with.

English: The Snowball Русский: Снежок

Pack it nice and good, now! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, want to write a book? Start with writing a word. I actually saw this hilarious  journal titled One Word a Day, which was extremely tempting… until I remembered how long-winded I am. But this would be a great place to start for someone who needs to build the courage to start writing that book. You may not see how, but I do.

See, the trick isn’t actually to achieve one’s goal (and no, I’m not going to tell you, “Life’s a journey, not a destination,” because that’s really not the point, though I think it’s true). The trick is to simply do something to try to achieve it.

Because the reality is, if you never try, you have absolute certainty that you will never live your dream. What you do have to live with, however, is that decision — for the rest of your life… or until you choose otherwise. The butt clowns who tell you you can’t live your dream don’t. That’s why it’s so easy for them to say that to you. They get to go on being butt clowns completely untroubled by your unlived dream. You, on the other hand, will be haunted for the rest of your life by it. And that will make you unhappy.

Doesn’t the picture just say it all?

So why not try? You may not get there, but so what? You can — and likely will — be happy while trying just knowing you’re trying. And who knows? You may actually get there during the process. And then you’ll be living the dream. Which would be awesome.

I do know people who are living their dreams — or at least one of them. They are happy. They may not bounce around all geeked up on Red Bulls like motivational speakers, but they are jubilant nevertheless. They may still be disgruntled or dismayed by certain things in life, but they are also still smiling through and through. So to my telephone friend — and anyone else who can relate to this — I say, why shouldn’t this also be you?

Thanksgiving to My Health, Part 3: My Reactive Hypoglycemia Diet

In this third installation of my T-Give to my restored health, I’m going to talk about my reactive hypoglycemia diet.

Not this one.

Not this one, either.

And no, not even this one.

The one that worked for me was significantly different from all of these aforelinked diets. Then again, my hypoglycemia seemed to be linked to the prescription medications I’d taken and the resultant sh**storm (quite literally) happening in — and then out — my intestines. In other words, my hypoglycemia was different. Heck, my whole body is different. Always has been.

Wow. Even I am horrified by this.

Which brings me to an important point: Touching again on something I said in an earlier blog this month, everybody — and every body — is different. That’s why so much of what you might read on the Internet and try might not work for you — including this. While some things might be worth a shot (again, within reason, and again, I’m not a doctor), many may fail, as each of us is infinitely and indecipherably complex. I can only detail what worked for me and what didn’t.

But I can say that, in reading article after blog after book, it became clear to me that no one had, in the words of the beloved GSW rubric, synthesized the information regarding what many hypoglycemics experience. No one had put the various pieces of what I and many others have gone through together or connected the dots.

Sugar & prescription meds = death!

For example, there are links to discussion boards wherein people talk about upper right quadrant abdominal pain in conjunction with hypoglycemia. Well, in my case, this turned out to be an overactive gallbladder that was likely overactive to try to actually digest something I ate and kill bad intestinal infestations resulting from the antibiotics and antifungals that yes, killed a lot, but no, did not kill everything, but yes, also rendered my intestine fairly incapable of absorbing nutrients. (I lost 15 pounds in 6 months by virtue of doing absolutely nothing besides not digesting food — no exercise, nothing — and that’s a lot of weight for someone who’s never broken a buck thirty in her life.) And as my intestinal issues cleared up on another diet (see Part 2 of this series), so did the gallbladder pain and the severity of my hypoglycemia, which I don’t think is a coincidence.

So now, without further ado, here’s what worked for me:

1) Intestinal repopulation. I never knew how true it was until it was all messed up inside me, but the gut is the linchpin to your being. It handles digestion. It handles immune function. These two things alone are perhaps the most critical functions to actually functioning as a human. And both are pretty much handled by creepy-looking little microorganisms hanging out in there.

Improving Human Intestinal Health

I’m E. coli, and I approved this message. (Photo credit: PNNL – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

This brings me to probiotics. Let’s talk about these.

These little creatures appear in yogurt and other fermented foods (like genuine sauerkraut and real pickles, not the vinegared kinds you buy from Vlasic or Claussen), but they are also crammed into pills you can get over the counter, and they are your friend. The refrigerated kind keep the bacteria alive so some percentage will still be functional once they get into your colon, and ones with enteric coatings protect the bacteria from being destroyed by your stomach acid on the way down the hatch.

This article by the New York Times details how, just as there are different blood types, there are different intestinal types. And though I can’t find an online link beyond this one, I read in a diabetes magazine that one study found that diabetics are usually missing L. reuteri from their intestinal flora. Because hypoglycemia and diabetes have so much in common, I make sure the probiotics I take contain L. reuteri.

Help us help you.

I take my probiotics first thing in the morning with nothing but water. I don’t eat for at least a half hour after that.

2) Multivitamins. Vitamins play such a critical role in how your body does what it does. If you’re deficient in certain vitamins, your body likes to stop doing important stuff that you’d prefer it would do — like grow hair and heal wounds. You can get vitamins from the foods you eat — presuming you actually eat anything nutritious — but you likely won’t get everything you need strictly from food.

Even if you did, though, if your intestines are all jacked up, you’re not going to absorb everything you could from your food. That’s why vitamin supplementation is particularly important for hypoglycemics like me.

When my intestine was really upset, I would take my yeast-free vitamin with nothing but water a half hour or hour after my morning probiotics. This seems counterintuitive, given all the labeling on vitamin bottles and many people’s experience with stomach upset from taking vitamins.  However, my allergist told me this stomach upset is actually the result of the vitamins taking their time going through the intestinal tract when they’re slowed down by the food you’ve eaten and are trying to digest at the same time — hence, his recommendation to take them with nothing but water to flush them through an irritated system as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, this worked for me.

Like this, only inside my colon.

3) CoQ10.  This is another supplement my allergist recommended. This enzyme — an energy generator — is often deficient in diabetics as well, and again, because hypoglycemia and diabetes are both metabolic disorders sharing many of the same dysfunctions, this can be helpful to both. I’d take this once a day with a meal — typically breakfast.

4) Evening primrose oil. This omega 6 is actually great not only for reducing inflammation, but for addressing female hormonal issues as well. Now, I know there’s a lot of controversy over omega balances (“We get too much omega 6, not enough omega 3, yadda-yadda), but I took this omega without any others under my allergist’s recommendation, as it’s helpful for many gastrointestinal disorders, including ulcerative colitis and IBS. I’d take one 500 mg capsule twice a day with food.

5) And now, the food. And your new best friend, the glycemic index.

The glycemic index tells you from a glucose-and-insulin perspective how a food is going to affect the average human being. The lower the number, the less impact the food will have on blood sugar. Note that white flour spaghetti has a lower number than whole grain brown rice, which in turn has a lower number than a banana. (This will be important for what I discuss later on.)

Damn you, vixen!

In my worst phase of intestinal distress, I’d begun to develop food intolerances, which in my case were not true food allergies, but instead allergic-type reactions due to the fact that I simply wasn’t digesting food properly. I became temporarily (but thankfully only mildly) intolerant of chicken, for example, while hypoglycemic.

And in the worst phase of my hypoglycemia, I was eating every two to three hours just to avoid the ensuing panic (a mental feeling actually induced by blood sugar levels), head pounding, and general sense that I was going to pass out that occurred for me when my blood sugar started dropping too low. It was a pain in the butt and annoying as hell, preparing that much food and having to interrupt my life just to feed, but it did get better over time, and I’m grateful every day that I held pretty strictly to the diet so I could speed the process, even though it did feel like it took forever. I can eat at more regular intervals like the rest of humanity now, and it’s the frickin’ best thing ever.

Actually, I lied. THIS is the best thing ever.

The typical reactive hypoglycemia diets out there got it wrong in a couple different areas for me — and again, this is likely because I was dealing with hypoglycemia somehow related to improper digestion.

A) Whole grains were not my friend. Actually, any kind of insoluble fiber was not my friend. This fiber is indigestible to humans, and while it can help with constipation, it can also give someone with the opposite problem one heck of a time. Whole grains will likely make most hypoglycemics’ plight worse in the latter case, because the more irritated one’s colon is, the less it digests and absorbs, and the more out of control insulin and blood sugar levels become. Whole grains — like brown rice and quinoa, for example — were particularly gruesome for me, because not only are they insoluble fibers, but they’re carbs to boot. Keeping a food journal and documenting especially awful blood sugar swings associated with larger (though not large by any means) amounts of brown rice I consumed in a single sitting helped me figure this one out.

B) Conversely — and counterintuively — refined grain products (e.g., white flour pasta and white rice) in moderation helped me. I’m not saying go out and eat some donuts and cake. I’m saying the carbohydrates from sugar-free or low-sugar (low being 5 g of sugar per serving or less) refined grain products helped me. My body needed some kind of carbohydrates to keep going, but table sugar and fruit sugar were too much for me to handle.

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona,...

Stay back! Don’t come any closer! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can hear all the gluten-free hoi palloi whining now: “I can’t eat gluten! I’ll die!” Look, unless you have celiac disease — the legitimate gluten allergy for which you can be tested but likely would’ve had severe, life-threatening symptoms of your whole life — you’re probably just brainwashed by all of today’s gluten-free propaganda. Or perhaps you developed an intolerance (which will likely be temporary) because you’ve got something funky going on with your intestines. But just in case you’re still not convinced, did you know that white flour pasta is actually about 9o% gluten-free because the flour it’s made from is so heavily refined? (I didn’t, either, until my allergist told me.)

Now, I’m not touting the benefits of food engineering, and if you truly believe you feel better not eating gluten, fine, but I will tell you that white pasta helped this hypoglycemic manage blood sugar and actually calm — not irritate — her colon. And the gluten-free brown rice pasta I’d been eating to try to be “healthier” as a vegetarian? Higher on the glycemic index than white pasta, brown rice, and a banana, folks.

Sure, I look healthy… but I’m actually plotting to put you in a diabetic coma.

C) Speaking of bananas… fruit was the hardest thing on me when it came to managing my blood sugar. Staying away from all fruit and fruit products (even no-sugar-added juice) was one of the best things I ever did when I was really sick. And to this day, I still don’t drink fruit juice. Plenty of veggies have vitamin C and other nutrients you need — without all the simple sugars.

D) Cook all veggies, though, while your intestine is healing. Again, insoluble fiber was not my friend. Raw veggies, like whole grains, kept my colon irritated. Even at the expense of cooking away some of the nutrients, cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest. And after all, you can’t absorb any nutrients if your colon’s too irritated by fiber to digest anything. Better to give your body a shot at digesting by making it easier for it to through cooking.

E) One of my BFFs (best food friends) was meat. Deal with it, vegetarians and vegans. And pray you never become hypoglycemic, because you’ll probably have to ditch your high-fiber beans, and your fruits and grains will not save you. And, in fact, it is in part why vegetarians and vegans are more prone to yeast infections — which may explain why they’re so grouchy; candida is linked to depression and mental illness — and why it takes them much longer to heal.

The yeast makes us cray-zaaaay… The yeast makes us cray-zay-ay-ay…

F) One of my other BFFs was fat. Fat slows all sorts of carbs down, and let’s be honest: It’s delicious! Extra-virgin (huh-huh, she said “virgin”) olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, and organic butter were my top three. The only thing to be careful of here is to balance that out with some gut-stopping foods (e.g., white carbs, hard cheeses — unless casein irritates your colon — or certain meats), because fat can do the same work as fiber, though with less irritation to the intestinal lining.

G) Dairy: yes, please, and no, thanks. Hard cheese (heavy in casein protein, low in lactose) was helpful to me while I was having really bad hypoglycemic episodes. Milk, soft cheeses, and yogurt were not, because these things still have much of the lactose left in them, which upsets my stomach when I’m imbalanced (I’m fine with these products otherwise). Hard cheese constipates, milk and other liquid or soft dairy products generally don’t and can sometimes achieve the opposite of constipation.

So what did a typical day in the diet life of Rae Rae look like? Here’s just one example:

Breakfast: 2 eggs cooked in olive oil, baked sweet potato home fries.

Snack: Breakfast leftovers (because I had terrible nausea in the morning with my hypoglycemia, I generally couldn’t finish it all, even though I knew I had to eat).

Lunch: Turkey breast meat (and not that fake turkey lunch meat, either — the Thanksgiving kind), sauteed spinach and butter (sans garlic, since garlic bothered my tummy), olives.

Snack: High-quality, low-sugar beef jerky.

Dinner: Spaghetti and homemade ground beef meatballs in marinara sauce — heavy on the meatballs, easy on the spaghetti — and a little Parmesan cheese.

Now, I realize that this diet looks pretty darn sad. It was. But it worked and was necessary, as were those multivitamins, because on a regimen so strict with so many foods eliminated, you need to get the vitamins and minerals somewhere without the trouble the rest of a food containing them causes.

I’m living proof that hypoglycemia can and will get better and can be controlled entirely through diet if you are willing to be really strict with it and do what’s necessary. It’s hard, but it really is worth it. And as time goes on, foods can be incorporated back into your diet — though I’m guessing you (like me) will make significantly different choices when it comes to what you regularly eat once you’ve felt the pain of hypoglycemia. And it really is a pain — physically and mentally. Few people outside of those who’ve lived with it can truly appreciate what it’s like to look normal on the outside but be feeling like death on the inside, day in and day out, for months or even years on end.

The symptoms of low blood sugar are tough to live with, but at least there are warning signs — like those headaches or that panic out of nowhere for seemingly no reason. That’s why it’s so important to keep that food journal going and always keep snacks around. You’ll need them. For me, I find one or two raw apricots will do the trick until I can get a complete meal. This was the one way fruit was useful to me. It was a quick fix for an episode, though most people (foolishly) use candy or fruit juice, which is much harder on the hypoglycemic body.

Keep the faith, though, if you are hypoglycemic. You may be suffering now, but it can get better. Honor and obey your body, and it will serve you well once again!