Living Our Values

When a former student of mine, now a young woman in her late twenties who is bi-racial (black and white), shared this question on Facebook last week, I had a choice: respond or keep scrolling.

It was a provocative question. I might have passed over it, if not for her adding: This is not a rhetorical question, I really want to hear.

I didn’t want to respond. Matters of race can be contentious. Especially for white people who want to pretend they don’t exist, or who just don’t know what to say and figure saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing.

My finger hovered over the post. I knew she was hurting from yet another senseless murder of a black American man. Many of my colleagues of color were hurting, too, as was clear in their posts. Responding with a sad or angry emoji seemed wholly  inadequate.

Though I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, I placed my finger in the comment box and began to type: We live in a diverse neighborhood and I value this. My little street has every race and multiple ethnicities within the races represented. We also have an interracial couple, a lesbian couple, and the black family across the street adopted two white kids….I truly value diversity and feel it is a strength of our country.

I said more, but I want to focus on this part because I think many people talk a good talk, but don’t walk the talk. Normally, I would consider this none of my business, but lately I’ve noticed a lot of people saying one thing with their words, and another with their actions (or memes) which, as the cliche states, speak louder than words.

I know people that claim to value diversity, but live in neighborhoods where everyone looks and sounds like them. They send their kids to schools where everyone looks and sounds like them. All of their friends look and sound like them.

I know people who would never consider themselves xenophobic, yet post memes that say things like Don’t buy from China. One person I know who did this forgot that the American daughter of her good friend is married to a Chinese man, lives in China with him, and that their toddler,  the friend’s granddaughter, is half-Chinese. She forgot that she is Facebook friends with the daughter and the husband until he, not unkindly, wished her good luck trying to buy anything, for example her car, that doesn’t contain some parts made in China.

One might argue it is the Chinese government the woman has a beef with, not the Chinese people. Tell that to the husband, his wife, his child, and the friend.

Things get ugly fast when we don’t live by the values we claim to possess.

I know people who value Christianity, yet their values seem not to extend  to loving their neighbors as themselves, not if the neighbors don’t look like them or practice their religion or come from another country.

I know people who claim to value children and family, just not when they come to America seeking asylum. Then it’s okay for them to be separated and placed in cages indefinitely.

Things get ugly fast when you point these inconsistencies out to people.

In all fairness, some people may value the rule of law more than their Christian values. But who is making the laws and what are their values? What is government anyway at its core, but a set of values that guide a nation?

I responded to my former student’s post instead of scrolling by it because I want to live my values. I responded to the question because I want to be part of the solution, even if it means being uncomfortable or vulnerable. I knew no matter what I said, she wouldn’t be unkind, but there was a risk. I could lose her respect forever.

She loved my comment and thanked me for standing in the gap. I hadn’t lost her respect, or even her love, but I was appropriately humbled, and saddened to realize that standing in the gap was probably the most I would be able to offer.

I believe that one of the reasons matters of race, religion, sexism, xenophobia, and politics get so contentious is because they force us to reckon with our values. When the values we believe we have and the values we actually live don’t align, we become defensive.

We owe it to ourselves, our neighbors, our colleagues, our students, and especially to our children to conduct a thorough inventory and examination of our values. Are we really living what we say we believe or is it possible that our actual lives are truer reflections of our deepest beliefs?

Coronavirus Calories

When it comes to diet and exercise, my motto is moderation. I don’t believe in extremes or in deprivation. Exceptions to this are fast food burgers, because God only knows where the meat comes from,  soda, never liked it, and anything labeled diet, sugar-free or low-calorie, all gimmicks in my view. Otherwise, I enjoy most foods and indulge in sweets a few times a week, because life is too short to go without chocolate.

My usual exercise routine includes power yoga, brisk walks, and twice weekly gym workouts. I never owned a scale until my mother bought me one two years ago. Though I think she really bought it for her. She’d just retired and moved to another state, and so started staying with us during holidays and visits. She’s always been scale-obsessed. I receive regular text updates whenever she gains or loses a pound, which means near-daily. I stopped telling her that it’s probably water weight.

Typically, I maintain a healthy weight for my 5’4″ frame, with one bout of weight gain several years ago when I was stressed from pursuing an advanced degree while working full-time. I worked hard to lose the 10 pounds by restricting calories for the first time in my life and ramping up exercise. It was torture, and I never wanted to do that again.

Enter COVID-19.

In the six weeks I’ve been working from home, I’ve gained six pounds. At a pound a week, I’m in big trouble if our state’s stay home, stay safe order lasts much longer, as it likely will. This on top of the four pounds I gained over winter.

Though I’ve been walking, doing moderate yoga, and even running up and down a steep hill a couple times a week, being glued to a screen all day and stuck home has made for a far more sedentary lifestyle. Being over 50 doesn’t help. My metabolism is slowing, I’m sleeping poorly, likely because of pre-menopause and increased work-related stress, and as a Gen Xer, I’m sandwiched between two generations that need me.

But the real story is, I’m eating way too much, and too much of the wrong kinds of food.

To begin with, the refrigerator is always there. One little rumbly in my tumbly and it’s off to the kitchen. Then there is the panic grocery shopping I did in the first weeks of the pandemic. I spent inordinate amounts of money on food, fearing a shelter-in-place order any moment. I started buying things I never usually do, like bread flour and yeast in case I had to bake bread (which I actually did a few times and it was so good). I definitely suffered deprivation mentality for a while.

Another challenge is having two sons hunkered down with us. Our 21 year old sleeps most of the day and, like a vampire, stays up all night, eating everything in sight, healthy or unhealthy. There’s my 13 year old who, God love him, has become a vegetarian and overall health nut. He eats everything healthy in the house like a vulture. Between these two, I wake up most mornings to an empty fridge and a full sink, forced to resort to high-fat, carb-packed meals like grilled cheese sandwiches and potato pancakes.

I’m also bored. Doing the same things day after day and never being able to go out gets tiresome. Daily sweet and salty snacks make life more exciting. So does wine. I’m drinking it nearly every evening now, even on work nights, which is usually a no-no for me.

Summer is coming. I don’t know if beaches will be open, but I am determined to get my body bathing suit ready, or as ready as a 51 year old woman can. I did it once, and I can do it again.

This means saying no to sweets, bread, pasta, and heavy cheeses on weekdays. Choosing hard-boiled eggs and bananas for breakfast, salads for lunch, and rice, vegetables, and lean proteins for dinner. The only snacks will be nuts and pineapple, because the latter is so sweet it takes away my chocolate cravings. When my belly rumbles, I will remind myself that I’m eating three meals a day plus snacks, and therefore I am absolutely not starving to death.

On weekends, anything will go. Calorie restriction during the week, and then eating what you want on weekends (within reason), tricks the body, which would normally start storing fat if calorie-deprived, into restarting burning calories. I don’t have proof of this, other than it worked last time.

I admit that weight gain is a small price to pay compared to what some folks are going through during this pandemic. This isn’t just about my physical appearance, though. It’s about how I feel. Right now, I feel physically, mentally, and energetically heavy and drained. I want to feel light, nimble, and strong in every way. I have always believed that our physical bodies are reflections of our inner state, and vice-versa.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, this pandemic will end. In the meantime, I’ve warned the boys that beginning this week, I’m labeling a drawer in the fridge and a cabinet just for my food, and they are under strict hands-off orders.

Tangled in the Narcissist’s Web

240A5B26-8B4D-4A6B-A652-3AC5488E0521Let me begin by making it clear that I do not like Donald Trump. Never have, never will. He has been on the scene my entire adult life, 30 plus years, and I was never impressed by his billionaire playboy persona. When he ran for president, I blew him off an another unfulfilled rich guy searching for more.

Yet here he is.

This post is not about him, though. It is about me, and people like me who, despite our dislike, have managed to get tangled in his narcissistic web. This tangling goes beyond Trump Derangement Syndrome. It is about boundaries, manipulation, and abuse.

Donald Trump is an abusive person. One need only read his angry tweets, watch his hate-filled rallies, and hear the insults he hurls at foes to know this. Yet it wasn’t until reading psychologist John Gartner’s take on Trump, in an article published by Salon, that I realized how the president’s malignant narcissism has damaged our collective American psyche. Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is like an abusive, narcissistic husband and we, the American people, are the long-suffering wife.

The difference is one wife stays and enables the behavior, the other wife does what is necessary to survive while plotting her escape.

I understand not everyone will see it this way or agree. Some might lash out at me for saying so. I am opening up a can of worms here and I don’t care. Like a beaten, battered wife, I am saying enough. I am done allowing this man to manipulate and abuse me. I am setting boundaries.

My decision, in some ways my awakening, started with my oldest son. A Trump supporter, he challenged me to take one day off from posting negative articles and memes about the president on social media. I accepted his challenge and raised him a week. I am not so lacking in self-awareness that I don’t recognize my dislike of Trump is  unhealthy.

On the same day of my son’s challenge, I read the article mentioned above and something clicked. For over three years, I have accused Trump supporters of being manipulated by this president. I have felt angry over the way they  excuse and defend his poor behaviors. I have even felt sorry for them for not seeing how abusive he is, and speculated that something must be very wrong with them – perhaps racism, misogyny, internalized misogyny, low self-esteem, etc. –  to allow this.

That day I realized something was wrong with me. I, too, was equally tangled in the narcissist’s web.

For three years, I have lived in a near-constant state of outrage over this man. Every day I wake up, vow not to post anything about him, then start scrolling through the news online and become so riled up, it’s as if I have no control. Copy, paste, post or share. I work, spend time with family and friends, read, exercise, do yoga, go for walks and hikes, watch Netflix, drink wine, but in between these things Trump is too much on my mind.

What horrible, outrageous thing did he do or say today? What lie did he tell? What dumb thing did he proclaim, then later deny, much in the way a husband, caught with lipstick on his collar, might try and convince his wife it was her lipstick, even though she never wears the stuff? I have felt an almost civic duty to show people, especially people that I love who support him, that they are wrong. He is fooling them. He doesn’t care.

I have allowed myself to be driven crazy by this man, to be consumed by everything he says and does in a psychologically unhealthy way. This is exactly what the malignant narcissist wants.

No more, though I do expect some withdrawal symptoms as time goes by, even some relapses. Such is the nature of unhealthy relationships when you seek to end them.

Open Your Sails and Fly with the Wind

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
~John A. Shedd

Newport Harbor, Newport, Ri http://www.dailyherald.com

When was the last time you really went for something? (And no,  hoarding toilet paper during a pandemic doesn’t count.) Seriously, though, what is it you want? What might be holding you back from going for it? Are the barriers you face real or imagined? Can you find a way around them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and dreams.

Man Sings in NYC Subway Station

Imagine how magical this moment must have been for New Yorkers waiting for the subway in 2016? Art has been a saving grace for so many of us during this COVID-19 pandemic, and this video is one more reason to love New York as it tackles an unprecedented crisis. This is the land of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Rockefeller Center. The city that wept and grieved and came back stronger after 9/11. This is the city that needs our prayers right now. It is the epicenter of our country’s COVID-19 crisis, and it is the epicenter for all that our country stands for: Diversity, freedom, innovation, capitalism, and so much more. Enjoy this moment of music.