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Archive for September, 2012

So I was reading this roundup article that tells about how people are having problems being DIGITAL hoarders. I suppose this should come as no surprise. I’ve long been overwhelmed by the sheer number of emails, documents, photos and other things I have to keep track of and organize in the virtual world, so it stands to reason that there are people who simply keep all their virtual things.

What’s sad is that it’s tough enough to keep entropy at bay in the concrete world. It takes daily effort to go through my house and constantly sort and throw items that creep into all my hiding places and on top of counters, desks, and shelves. I seem to have almost no help in this battle, though, since my children tend to be squirrels, and my husband would much rather keep pretty much everything, just in case. I’ve mostly broken him of the habit of picking things up at garage sales and (when we lived in the South and people just put old things on the side of the road to get rid of) bringing junk home that other people were THROWING AWAY. But he doesn’t on his own take the initiative to regularly go through things and organize and toss. I’m practically the lone ranger as I fight the onslaught of clutter.

The great news as computers have taken root in our lives is that we’ve “gone green” in many ways, replacing paper documents with e-versions. Sure, we don’t have file cabinets quite as full anymore, but our Yahoo or Gmail inboxes are overflowing. Junk mail that arrives in my mailbox gets thrown right into my recycling can, and then when I go online, I have to do the same thing with its electronic siblings. And as wonderful as it has been to visually document our families’ lives and travels, photos now proliferate in the pictures folder, a cascading wave of so-so shots of wacky faces and blinked eyes washing over the desktop. In this regard, it also doesn’t help that I have a 16-year-old with her own camera who takes it EVERYWHERE she goes and is constantly snapping shots.

So not only do I spend lots of time and energy daily sorting through the pile of paperwork that seems to multiply like rabbits on my literal desktop, I also sit down at that same cluttered desk and face a screen that shows me inboxes and folders full of unnecessary items that ARE SIMPLY 1’s AND 0’s. Even though they are not “real,” not taking up any real estate in my real life, they still manage to plague me as they multiply in my virtual world. There is something fairly satisfying about cleaning out my house, room by room, or one counter or drawer at a time, but the satisfaction isn’t quite as concrete and lovely when I am simply reducing the number on my inbox from 300 down to 230. Nope. But I have to regularly go through everything I own that only takes up space by megabytes and put it in a tiny little icon that says “recycle bin.”

What has this world come to when I have to clean something that, in a way, doesn’t really exist?

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It’s funny; I simply don’t read a ton of “inspirational” books; I do read memoirs and biographies on occasion as part of the wide mix of things I do like to read. But I don’t read a lot that’s really intended as inspirational, except for some official religious/church books, which I consider more reading for spiritual/religious purposes. So it was a little unusual for me to decide to read popular blogger Stephanie Nielson’s Heaven Is Here. And the main reason I did read it is I wanted to include it as part of my overall research into the topic of beauty and self-image, which I blog about sometimes here; in this case, I was curious to see what she had to say about how she felt about her appearance after a horrific plane crash that burned 80% of the skin on her body.

It’s also an interesting and different experience reading a book by a Mormon written for a general audience. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints myself, I’m very used to the Mormon culture and way of talking and thinking about things, and I’m used to listening to speakers and reading books by Mormons aimed at other Mormons. But it’s rarer to read something one of “my own” has written that will be read mostly by people who aren’t familiar with some of our terminology, beliefs, and culture.

That said, it was such a fascinating experience reading this book. It actually elicited all kinds of interesting feelings and reactions as I went along. I will admit that we Mormons tend to have some interesting cultural quirks that may seem unusual to others; we marry young, for instance, typically after very short courtships, and have more children than the average. Some of our cultural quirks are particularly pronounced in the state of Utah and a few other pockets of concentrated Mormon population (note: I’m not a “Utah Mormon”: I grew up East of the Mississippi and only lived in Utah when I went to Brigham Young University). So it wasn’t surprising to me to read that Stephanie married at 19 after less than a year of knowing Christian Nielson. Or that she started having babies right away. Or that she was just thrilled at that young age to just get started with being a stay-at-home mom. At the same time, even though it was familiar territory, it was still different from what I chose to do (marry at 23, get a college degree, have first child at 26, work part-time off and on and freelance while raising kids). And there’s still just enough of cultural expectations and a kind of cultural divide that those (what outsiders may consider slight) differences just kind of grate a little somehow sometimes.

Nielson starts with telling about her very large, happy and tight-knit family in Utah and her fairy-tale courtship with Christian. She lays the groundwork of her happy, idyllic life before she moves on to the plane crash that changed it all — well, temporarily. No matter how you look at it, not everyone (well, rarely anyone) has that kind of idyllic upbringing, love story or marriage. And that’s OK. Even in our church, unmarried young people and adults are reminded not to expect an “easy” and “obvious” courtship that leads to marriage. Sometimes it is not clear if the person you’re dating is “the right one” (itself a myth). You mostly have to make sure you date good people and then choose wisely, marrying someone who has solid good qualities and should make a good partner. The answer is rarely written in the stars or with fireworks. And most of us know that idyllic families happen far less often than we’d like. (We can’t change our own upbringings, let’s just say, but we can do the best we can to provide our own children with solid, happy homes.) So reading about Nielson’s happy-happy-happy life can honestly make one feel a little over-sugared.

But knowing going into the book what Nielson is going to experience makes that early part of the book palatable — it’s all too clear that she’s going to need every ounce of strength, idyllic family support system, and reserves of happiness and faith that she has stored up to be able to survive the ordeal that she does go through. Heaven Is Here doesn’t necessarily provide many details of the plane crash or the injuries she sustained, but it definitely shares the emotions she went through after the crash — the story is no longer idyllic. Nielson is painfully honest about her fears, her anxiety, and the many scary feelings she experienced in the months after she woke up from the 10-week medically-induced coma in which she stayed shielded from unbearable pain. She had support from family, but she often felt alone, and she wanted to shield herself from even many of her own loved ones and friends. She was scared of how people would react to her, how she looked, how she felt, how her life would never be the same. She was scared of having to face a new life, one that stood in stark contrast to her “before-crash” idyllic one. The bulk of the book, then, allows us to see inside her mind and heart, as she struggles and wants to stay in a cocoon but finally knows she must gradually burst free and move forward, as difficult as it will be.

As much as I felt some reservations and knee-jerk reactions to her pre-crash account of life, I couldn’t help but be tremendously moved and, yes, inspired, by how she lived after that crash. I loved her honesty about all of the moments she had that were not supposedly inspirational. Because that’s what lent reality and depth to all that was truly uplifting. It felt authentic. She was able to do what she’d set out to do: give hope to readers and show that life is beautiful, particularly when filled with love. And a perfect body or perfect face has little to do with that. For all that, I was grateful to have read her story.

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Unfortunately, thanks to being a busy mom and writer, I do not keep up on the news just as it happens. So I was not informed ahead of time that the space shuttle Endeavor would be flying around California, perhaps even over my own area. Otherwise, I might have been one of those people standing outside waiting and watching for it to pass by. Perhaps it’s for the best; I simply didn’t have the time to do it.

Photo by Shari Vialpando-Hill, Las Cruces Sun-News

But reading about the retired shuttle’s fly-by over the state afterward and looking at pictures absolutely warmed my heart. It made me incredibly nostalgic for an era that started in my childhood and has now ended.

When I was probably around seven or eight years old, my grandparents gave me a subscription to the National Geographic children’s magazine, called the World at the time. I remember so clearly where I was living and the room I had when an issue arrived explaining all about the new shuttle program. The issue had a poster, I think, and it included — COOL!! — a cardstock model of the shuttle that I could assemble. I put it together and looked at it in awe. What a neat concept: a new series of “rockets” that would take intrepid explorers into space and then be able to come right back into the atmosphere and glide to landing much like an airplane.

Over the years, I watched the shuttles launch and return with fascination. I have always loved the idea of traveling into space. I will say right now that I would NEVER want to be submerged deep in the water or explore the seas in any way, but I would LOVE to go into space. If I had a spare quarter-mil, I would pay to go on a rocket once those private flights become available. No question. Just think about the fantastic view. I love to fly, and going even higher to be able to see the earth from space would be incredible.

Yes, I remember distinctly when the Challenger exploded. It was a shock to my system to just see it break into pieces in the sky, knowing those astronauts were aboard. We were watching it on television in our school’s cafeteria, and it was so sad to see that tragic event as it unfolded.

But even knowing that those risks were involved in space exploration, I still have a soft spot for the program. There are always risks and dangers involved in new things, and the things we learn outweigh those risks.

So it just broke my heart when NASA announced a few years back that the space shuttle program would be discontinued. I understand its reasoning, but it’s always sad to see an era come to an end.

I told my oldest yesterday that what excites me now is that private enterprises are now leading the way to get more people into space. The federal agencies are working officially on getting people further out into space, which is definitely very exciting and a logical next step. But the idea of finally having the possibility of us normal people being able to go into space, just far enough to get a view of the earth and its continents and landmarks from that far up, thrills me. I’m not a mechanical person; my talents just don’t lie in designing things other than newspaper or web pages. I don’t build space ships. But there are some brilliant engineers out there who do. With all my heart, I say, Go for it! I’d like to get to space before I die.

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It’s been a rough year, folks. Financially, we’ve gotten hit a bunch by big and little things. I’ve had some personal frustrations and disappointments. I broke my foot this summer and was sidelined from my regular routine for what seemed a very long time. The stresses added up and sent my emotions into overdrive.

Now that some of those stressors have receded and my kids are back in school (including the youngest — half-day kindergarten!), I’ve had a little time every day to slowly get my life pieced back together. I hate to say I’ve “taken control,” because that is one thing about how I see things that I’d like to change. I guess I can just say I’m going to just do the best I can to take care of my responsibilities and take care of myself, including reducing some of the things I do that I can control.

I’ve allowed myself to get into a bunch of bad habits. I got so stressed that I went back to emotional eating, and it’s become an addiction of sorts. I’m now taking the time to think and be mindful about what I’m eating and to do some reading to help me figure out how to rid myself of that bad habit, or reduce it significantly.

Consequently, my body is at a very unhealthy weight. At this point in my life, I don’t expect myself to be back wearing size-6 dresses anytime soon… or ever. But I would like to be at the top of the range of what I know is a healthy weight for me. I’d like to feel better physically and know that I’m eating healthy foods almost all the time, without the added sweets. I’d like to be able to just bend over, for pity’s sake, without my belly getting in the way. (Yes, there’s a reason I’ve had my 10-year-old paint my toenails. I’d like to get rid of that reason.)

I want to emphasize again that I hope to do this for reasons of taking care of this one and only body I have. I don’t want to aspire to some kind of ideal or do this for image reasons. I am still working on doing my part to raise awareness about how image-oriented our society is, and I don’t want to buy into it.

I’ve wanted to do this for some months now, but I finally am feeling confident enough to be able to just summon the emotional energy to be able to do this. To change bad habits and battle the urges to eat bad food takes emotional reserves. I finally have gathered some together, after a year of having them sapped. Here I am, writing about this because I want to remind myself of what I want to do, and to just know that other people know I’m working on myself.

So here goes. More to come.

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Motherhood did not come naturally to me. Babysitting, on the rare occasions I consented to do it, was a rough job, one that wasn’t worth nearly the small pay I got to do it. So once I gave birth for the first time and was presented with a tiny little stranger, I was absolutely flummoxed about what to do with her. Even looking at pictures of me with that first child, I can see the confusion and nervousness in my eyes: “What now?” I was thinking.

And that first child gave me fits. She was a very demanding baby. She didn’t eat for half an hour and then settle down quietly for the next four hours. She snacked for ten minutes and then needed to eat again two hours later. She did NOT like to be put down. I had to hold her constantly. For someone who was pretty independent and used to going about my business, having the little seven-pound interloper in my arms nonstop made it pretty difficult to get anything done.

So that darling child did not ease me gently into motherhood. It was a bumpy ride, and I did not enjoy it. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and overloaded. I remember many times that first year thinking, “I can’t wait til I’m done having children and they grow up a bit.”

Time slowly went by, and I gave birth two more times and adopted once. I knew what I was doing the second and third times, and the second baby was just the most easygoing child ever. She would eat and then sit in her bouncy seat or car seat and smile beatifically up at me, doing whatever I needed to do. Third child was somewhere in between. But by then I had help: two older sisters to distract her (and one time push her off the couch…). Fourth baby was a breeze in many ways because I didn’t breast-feed her, so everyone else could take turns feeding her a bottle. And changing diapers. And holding and playing with her. It was so much more fun that time around to have a little baby. I enjoyed her.

They all went through the terrible twos and their early stages of independence and potty training. Those days are now behind me. My oldest is now 16, and the youngest 5. They’re now all in school. They can feed and dress themselves and read to themselves, except for the kindergartener. Yes, I am finally getting to that magic place I imagined when I had that first demanding baby. And it’s struck me that this time is finite. The oldest is now not a squalling infant; she’s a high school junior. And she is amazing. She’s delightful and smart and talented and beautiful and makes me laugh. She can talk my ear off about her day. We can share jokes together. She’s one of my dearest friends, and I am loving life with her in it. Now the day of her leaving the nest is actually in sight (less than two years!), and it’s paining my heart to even think about. I DON’T WANT HER TO LEAVE!

Ah, what a difference 15 or 16 years can make.

So I have realized that, despite the absolutely crazy, hectic pace of my daily life with four children in school and all the needs they have, these are the best of times. In a few years, one daughter will be gone, and the others will be making their way towards that direction as well. The clock is ticking. And at this stage of my life, it’s not a biological clock. It’s the clock reminding me with every tock and tick that while motherhood is permanent, having children at home is not. I bemoan the lack of peace and quiet and sufficient time to myself now, but even in the midst of this busy-ness, I can’t imagine my house being quiet all the time. I love knowing that I can cuddle and squeeze all of my girls any time, that I can talk to them, listen to them, just study their faces. That we can laugh together.

I’m going to keep reminding myself during the tough days or moments that these really are the best of times. It might take a loud reminder during those moments, but I hope I can somehow still remember and appreciate what I have now.

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I’ve been fascinated for years by how our own minds can turn inside-out on us. Memories can and often do turn out to be slippery and even downright wrong in any “normal” individual. Brains getting eaten up by dementia lose familiar people and chunks of time entirely. Brains that are schizophrenic or otherwise split can create whole other lives out of nothing.

Stories that take those quirks of the human mind and turn them into horror tales or mysteries are particularly gripping for me. The movie Memento is just one example of a story that turned a character’s reality on its head once it played itself out. Oh, what horrors our own brains can subject us to!

But those stories generally just get me thinking about the mysteries of our minds and the reality of life and its quirks. One tale that shook me and just felt more personal, however, was the true story of mathematician John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind. For those who haven’t seen it, skip over this paragraph. But those of you who have will know what I’m talking about: Nash is schizophrenic and ends up realizing that he’s created people and scenarios in his life that are completely fictional — nonexistent. The story here is that Nash, against all advice, decided to just will himself into getting rid of his symptoms, telling himself over and over again that the people he thought were friends simply were not there, even though he could see them.

I love how Ron Howard fashioned this film: he takes the viewers right into Nash’s “reality” and makes us believe that what he sees is real. And it’s not. It’s absolutely shocking, jarring, to find out that what we saw and accepted as truth was not real.

As I’ve learned over the years that some of the feelings I experience — depression, despair, racing thoughts, and so on — are actually just symptoms of out-of-whack brain chemistry, I’ve come to appreciate just how scary it is to be under the control of a brain that is not in itself in control. At times, I’ve been able to kind of step away from my own feelings for a bit and coolly and rationally observe that they are simply constructs of my biology. Some moments I’ve felt extreme sadness or irritability have had no logical basis in reality; they haven’t been caused by any external event that would normally make someone feel sad or angry. I’ve found some comfort in those times I’ve been able to do that; it hasn’t changed entirely how I felt, but it’s made me realize that my biology has hijacked my mind and that I don’t have to be completely a slave to it.

But it’s unnerving nonetheless to know that my brain — basically the seat of who I am — is a traitor. It takes me places I don’t want or need to go. It terrorizes me.

No, I don’t hallucinate. I don’t experience some of the particularly challenging effects of certain brain disorders. But from my own experience, and thanks to that window into Nash’s world that Howard created, I can certainly empathize with those who do experience that. It’s harrowing.

We rely so much on our mind, on our memories, on everything that we’ve stored within and taught our brains. We expect our minds to be infallible, to always tell the truth. We expect them to reflect reality. Because reality is what we think we’ve always lived. But what if our minds aren’t storing memories quite as neatly as we’d thought? What if they are reflecting to us a life in a funhouse mirror?

I guess I’d like to thank my brain for mostly getting it right (I think …). And I’d like to make others aware that some people’s brains just don’t do what they should. That reality is not always real for everyone, that even depression is a state that feels absolutely and terribly real to its sufferer but looks very different on the outside in everyone else’s reality. That sometimes we have to visit someone else’s world so we can help them leave it behind. A bridge must be made between the two realities.

I’m grateful for the people who have taken the time to try to understand my reality, to try to empathize so they can offer the right words or gestures of help. I’m hoping that in writing about my particular mind and where it’s led me, it might help others as they build those bridges.

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Facebook has created all kinds of legal dilemmas, for the main reason that no one knows exactly how to pigeonhole it. Is it a public place? A mere website? How do we consider what people post and how they respond to others’ posts? The latest issue arose this past week over how the “like” button is supposed to be considered legally: is it free speech or not? Here’s a little bit more info, but I’m not going to review it all. Suffice it to say that the Internet and just Facebook alone are making legal types a bit dizzy.

Personally, I consider Facebook to be essentially a public forum. This is mostly thanks to the changes FB continues to make to how it shows and shares user information. Even though it keeps telling us as users that we can change privacy settings and other settings of how we see friends’ information and how they see ours, FB’s settings are automatically set to make us share and see as much information as possible. Even the settings that are tweakable are not nearly tweakable enough. I simply cannot make the kinds of restrictions that I would like to make.

Therefore, Facebook is public. I’m not friends with everyone, but it’s certain that I can see a whole lot of what my friends’ friends post on their walls and vice versa. We may not be sitting out on the sidewalk on a busy street, metaphorically speaking, but we are still sitting in a rather large room in a restaurant, let’s just say. People can overhear us and I can overhear others.

F-word, indeed.

I wrote before about profanity and vulgarity in public places, and now I’m going to apply this same stance to Facebook and other online forums. Imagine that you like to share crude and vulgar jokes with friends. OK, that’s absolutely your right. But you wouldn’t be able to do it at my gym, for instance, if you were working out next to me. The gym has rules against using profanity and vulgarity there. I don’t want to work out and hear you saying the f-word a bunch to your friend on the other machine near us. Simple as that. If you want to tell that joke or show that picture in private, like in your car or at home, then great. But not at the gym.

Facebook is going that same direction. Regardless of the settings, which are really, really imperfect and limited, and which change ALL THE TIME, it is still much like the big main exercise room at my gym. I can overhear you. Please try to find ways to share that vulgar stuff with your friends in a more private way that won’t be seen by so many people who probably don’t want to hear/see it.

Unfortunately, my little “rant” here isn’t going to change anything or anyone’s minds. Most of the people who post this vulgar stuff willy-nilly, tagging all their friends, are either young people who haven’t been taught to respect boundaries or other people’s feelings and accuse everyone else of being either prudes or being overly sensitive, etc.; or they’re older people who have never grown out of that immature phase. Mature people recognize that other people have feelings and boundaries, and we try to respect those as much as possible. I just remember my parents telling me when I was younger that “your right to swing your arm stops where your arm hits my face” or something along those lines. We are free to say and do what we want, UNTIL what we say and do hurts someone else. That’s why we have laws against stealing or assault, for example, and why we have basic courtesy. Yes, we live in a free country, but freedom is for everyone, and we simply can’t infringe on someone else’s freedom.

Yep, this all applies on Facebook and other public places online. The courts are going to have to scramble to figure out how to define and make old laws apply in new situations that didn’t exist even 20 years ago, let alone in 1776 or 1787. In the meantime, we as individuals can do our best to show a little courtesy to others in these public places.

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