Weekend Diversions 4.29.16

Hello! I spent the past hour planting lettuce seeds for the garden, so I am in an especially good mood. I was feeling a bit flat when I woke up, and a good yoga session was only moderately helpful in lifting my spirits. Gardening -touching the dirt, making a safe and warm place for the seeds, fantasizing about produce-laden meals to come -transported me instantly into a happier place. I love thinking about all the life within each seed, the potential to grow from a hard fragment of nothing (lettuce seeds are especially small) into vibrant and hardy plants. Watching the seeds progress through their life cycle puts me into a state of wonderment. I find it unbelievable that something without a central nervous system can react so acutely to its surroundings. (And yes, I have read the research that says plants have feelings, secrete human hormones, fear the sound of a caterpillar munching -this synchronicity with the world only makes plants more fascinating. Bean plants, as Michael Pollan shows in this video reach for poles many feet away from them, and can achieve their mark using some sort of sensory mechanism. How do they do it? Nature is miraculous.)  So now I’m all happy about nature and wish it were a tad warmer here in Chicago so I could frolic in the garden and admire the kale, spinach, peas, garlic, Asian greens, beets, and kohlrabi that are already growing strong. Perhaps when I am done with this I will put on my jacket and inspect them all.

For the reading:

The food industrial complex: An economic analysis of why people eat more processed foods than fruits and vegetables. Basically, the government subsidizes large companies that produce products used primarily as animal feed or the base for processed food (corn, soy, rice). These crops are relatively easy and cheap to grow, and government assistance makes them even less expensive. This means that food made with these crops are also less expensive than their time-intensive, unsubsidized, healthier counterparts. The food lobbies for these crops also have much more political power than, say, organizations that protect broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Big agriculture is enmeshed in the American economy, influencing dietary guidelines and advertisements. This unmitigated influence is part of why we are facing epidemic proportions of obesity, diabetes, heart disease. Although it once may have seemed economically prudent to help out farmers growing cheap crops to feed the American people, this expense is outdated, however. Now, giving massive amounts of money to farming conglomerates is increasing the costs of healthcare and hurting our country’s bottom line. This article paints a clear picture of the economic and health related implications of continuing agricultural subsidies.

The uncomfortable truth about tipping, explained with stick figures: As a longtime waitress (and as someone who has definitely walked away from a haircut or manicure or bell hop unsure if my tip was adequate), I was excited to read about tipping guidelines across multiple industries. This article confirmed my suspicion that most people tip a set amount, unrelated to the degree or quality of service received. This is why I can be given a similar percentage tip from two adults having a quiet dinner who leave their table as clean as can be expected after a meal of barbecue and pizza, and from a family with four children who color on the table, break crayons, drop mac and cheese all over the floor, spill drinks, make experiments in their water cups (children routinely pour barbecue sauce, parmesan  cheese, salt, etc. into their beverages), and run around the dining room as if possessed. That it takes two or three times longer to clean up the mess from a family like this is only rarely reflected in my tips (or those of my co-workers).

Rant aside, this is a quite well-researched article about tipping habits (from customers) and tipping expectations (from workers). The author, Tim Urban, also has put together a nice chart showing how much you should tip from different people, and notes as to when a bigger tip might be appropriate (see scenario above for an example). Urban also goes into profiling of customers (who tips the best and worst). I found it sort of accurate to my life, but really my experience has shown that people can be surprisingly generous, even if they are from a category that is a stereotypically known to tip poorly. I have been given good tips by teenagers and horrible tips by groups of men; as well as the reverse. My policy is to treat everyone well, so that I can rest assured that a bad tip is not a reflection on my service.

The article is a little bit long to, but a lot of the space is taken up with illustrations, and Urban’s sense of humor makes it a quick read. Also I am sure I will be referencing his chart on tipping guidelines next time I am in an ambiguous situation.

When should kids start learning about sex and consent?: By refraining to talk about sex to children, many of the experts interviewed in this article believe, sex becomes a taboo that is often either avoided or misused. And, delaying sex education until middle or high school only compounds the problem. Kids are given a bunch of information (some of which they may know, some of which may be new), explained with varying degrees of thoroughness, and then sent back to their lives. Sexuality is not part of the greater education structure; it is set off, and minimized. This results in confusion and negative conceptions of sex; the minute sexual education many students receive does not promote healthy sexuality.

I especially like the closing statement, which quotes the stances of sexuality educators Elizabeth Schroeder and Evan Goldfarb:

“I think we should teach [sexuality] the way we teach every other topic in school,” says Schroeder. “Start basic. Build that scaffolding in a way that is age and developmentally appropriate.” Both Schroeder and Goldfarb give as an example the way schools approach math education. “My son is learning algebra now in the eighth grade,” says Schroeder, “but it’s not the first time he’s getting math. It’s antithetical that we wouldn’t do the same with sexuality.”

Sexuality is a part of life, and crucial in many ways to achieving healthy adulthood. It is an almost universally necessary skill and yet it is shoved under the rug of society. I am heartened to know that there are people advocating for greater education and understanding.

This post is a bit longer than I was anticipating, so I am going to cut it off here and save my other reads for another day. Take care, have a wonderful weekend! (And, if you are able, spend some time enjoying the outdoors.)



Finding space in the process

I ran a 10k this past Sunday, in celebration of Earth Day. It wasn’t supposed to be hard. It wasn’t even supposed to be a race. It was supposed to be a nice run with a few hundred other people in a pretty setting (the Morton Arboretum: lots of trees and nature). I was supposed to be one of those runners who emphasizes the fun in “fun run.” I was supposed to go easy until the last few miles, when I would present myself with the option of going harder or continuing at a leisurely pace. 
Well, I failed at these “supposed to’s” in grand fashion, racing to the best of my current ability and ignoring the complaints of my increasingly weak and angry legs. I felt good at the start, of course. I had only run one very slow mile to warm up. My legs were fresh and the surrounding crowd of runners and spectators filled me with excitement. The scene felt familiar, although it had been more than a year since I last toed a starting line, and almost a decade since my last 10k. It was like a homecoming and I found myself unable to resist the habit of a strong race start, just as when I visit my parents I am reduced to my childhood self, deferring responsibility to the adults. 

Within seconds of hearing the horn denoting the race’s beginning, I abondoned my plan of moderation. Or, rather, I convinced myself that I was being moderate because I was not instantly tired by my increased pace. That I was not collapsing within the first few hundred feet was proof enough that this sudden change in plan was reasonable. 

And I was passing people! And then passing more people! If you have never run a race, the elation of passing might not make sense. It is a race, the point is to run faster than as many others as possible. But each person I passed was proof that I am not the slowest person in the world (a thought that had crossed my irrational mind on many an agonizingly slow run during my recovery from the winter’s stress fracture). It was also proof that I can still hold my own in a race. That although I am not a Runner (or at least don’t want to be) I can still run, and well. It was proof that I have not gone soft, although my expectations for myself have changed. That even though my journal is filled with lists and charts I have made to chronicle the removal of running as the ultimate cure-all in my life, I am still competitive, I am still me. I have not lost my drive, and the bond I have formed with running is still strong. 

Shortly past mile two in the race, my confidence flagged. The course went up a hill (nothing like those that cover the Boston Marathon course, but much more steep than my flat Chicagoland training had prepared me for) and my legs began to seize. What followed was a torturous four point two miles during which I found it very hard to take in the scenery I had been so excited to enjoy. I noted trees and flowers and greenery on occasion, but the majority of my focus was on my legs and their intense disagreement with my pace. They fantasized about collapsing (just for a few minutes!) on the side of the road, where they could be calm and still. They shook and trembled in their quest to make me stop long before crossing the finish line. They made a pretty good point: I had not trained to go faster than a ten minute mile since returning from injury, nor had I run more than four miles since early January. I had every excuse to stop; this race was an experiment, after all, to see how I would hold up at a longer distance. If the experiment failed and I had to walk to the finish line, no one would think less of me and I could burrow under the guise of pain. 

For a brief moment, somewhere in the middle of this internal discussion about stopping, I did feel a phantom pain in my sacrum. “Aha!” I remember thinking, “here is my ticket out of this mess! I can’t be expected to finish now!” This was quickly followed, however, by the realization that I did not want to give up, I did did not want to stop. 

I concentrated on feeling strong in the places that weren’t my legs, which can were spent beyond control. I kept my back straight, my center of gravity pushed forward, my pelvis tilted up, my arms swinging across my body. If nothing else, my form did not deteriorate. 

For amusement, I read the signs posted along the course, which were rife with nature puns: “we are ROOTING for you”; “we know this race is a BEECH [tree] but you are looking great”; “we see that SPRING in your step”; “use those LIMBS”; “be-LEAF in yourself” (my personal favorite). 

I remembered all the emotional workouts I did during the two months I was injured to transform running from an activity of habit to one of spontaneity and joy. I remembered, too, the physical workouts I have completed in the two months since I have returned to running, growing strong and flexible to ward off new injury. I remembered to be grateful for the process, for the simple act of running, for the unexpected gift of my competitive fire. I knew if I stopped, no matter how good rest might feel in the moment, I would undo this effort. 

I slowed my pace as a concession to my legs, but I did not give up. I ran hard (for me, at this moment in time), I found the energy to sprint down the final stretch, and I finished almost ten minutes ahead of my original goal. My average pace was slower than that of my pre-injury slow runs. But rather than feeling bad for myself for my slowness, I was proud of how fast I have been in the past. My pre-injury body was amazing, almost without effort. I have appreciation now for my past accomplishments, most of which I had taken for granted. I was unable to appreciate my talent when it was normal. 

I am sore still. My legs really did not like those hills, but I am glad I raced and did not just run. I pushed myself. I stayed in the moment. I found new goals (to run an 8:30 mile again with ease) and I remembered that I can do hard work, even when my body and mind beg me to stop. 

Weekend Diversions 4.22.16

It has been about eight weeks since I began running after an equally long period of rest and rehabilitation for my sacral stress fracture. I am going very slow and keeping my mileage low (three or four miles four times a week). It is hard to be so far behind where I think my fitness should be, based on past experience, but I try to set aside time on each run for gratitude that my body is growing strong again. Those two months without running in the middle of the winter were incredibly hard for me. I rely on running for a daily boost of happiness, especially in the middle of the cold darkness of winter. Writing here was an enormous help, though. This blog gave me the space to work through many of the challenges I faced as I learned how to rest. I still am figuring out how to maintain balance with running. Now that the initial thrill of returning to my sport is over (in those first few days even five minutes of running was exhilarating), I feel the pull to run longer, run harder. I have started going through the notebook I kept during my injury to remind myself why balance is important. I do not want to reinjure myself and I also want running to become just one of many activities I do to maintain happiness. Yoga, hiking, biking -all practices which brought me joy when running was impossible. I do not want these newfound passions to be subsumed by running. Day by day right now.

I have signed up to run an Earth Day 10K this Sunday at the Morton Arboretum. This will be the longest I have gone since returning to running. I am excited to take part in the race experience, although I have to constantly remind myself it will be more like a long run with lots of other people than a typical-for-me race. I want to enjoy the process of sharing a run with strangers and am going to do my best not to become caught up in my competitive drive.

And now, for the weekly reading.

Banana bread muffin tops: These are the most delicious snacks. I haven’t made them in a while, but I think I will make time to bake a batch for a post-race treat on Sunday.  My one warning: sometimes the dough doesn’t make it from the bowl to the baking tray; my pesky mouth has a habit of getting in the way. Super tasty. Super easy. Highly recommend.

How runners get high: Part of the allure of running is the high that comes after a few miles on the roads or trails. The high can make long runs feel like nothing, and can create a powerful feeling of flow between mind and body. This high, I suspect, is part of the reason I have found running so difficult to moderate: I like the feeling of total bliss that comes after a long run or a hard workout. A study published last fall in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that this high might not come from endorphins, as commonly believed, by from endocannabinoids (related to the substance released by marijuana). Endocannabinoids are smaller than endorphins, and more easily attach to brain receptors. After a run, mice with blocked endorphin receptors were relaxed, while those with blocked endocannabinoid receptors remained in an anxious state. It makes me wonder if other forms of exercise have a similar effect on the brain, or if the high is isolated in running.

The anatomy of a heroin relapse: Speaking of highs. This is a beautifully written essay by Tony O’Neill about the unintended consequences of trauma and addiction. Ten years into sobriety, the author and his daughter were hit by a car as they crossed the street. The horror of almost losing his young daughter was an unprecedented emotional stress and, without thinking, he slipped back into old patterns. O’Neill spares the reader the graphic details of his relapse but does delve into the psychological pain he felt and why this led him back to heroin. Content aside, it is a powerful piece of writing. Worth reading for anyone interested in addiction or personal essays.

Moby on veganism: On a brighter note, here is an excellent interview in Food & Wine with Moby. The musician has been vegan since 1987, long before the word was popular. He talks about the evolution of vegan food and animal activism over the past three decades, and expresses his belief that predominant veganism is the inevitable movement of dietary patterns worldwide. I especially enjoy his description of the mental shift that took place for him after becoming vegetarian three years before cutting out all animal products: he likens it to a chiropractic adjustment for his mind. His whole worldview shifted and expanded in ways he could not have previously imagined. I felt a similar shift when I became vegan just over two years ago. Becoming more conscious about my food made me more compassionate toward all creatures. I am more forgiving, more open in my line of thought. I spend more time considering the connection between myself and the natural world, and this makes me more mindful about the consumer choices I make and also about how I treat people. We are all here to live; it is not my job to posit one life (human or non) over any other.

Hospitals face ad blitz over Chick-fil-A: Last year, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine launched a campaign to remove unhealthy food from hospital cafeterias. Hospitals are supposed to be places of health and wellness, and it is absurd that the food served does not always support this mission. Not only does including fast food as an option send a confusing message to patients and their families who may be at the hospital for diseases related to obesity, heart disease, diabetes (all of which are exacerbated by fast food) but creates an unhealthy food environment for doctors and nurses who (due to overbooked work schedules that do not leave much time for meal prep) may not have any other easy food options themselves. I hope the PCRM continues their efforts to spread good nutrition to hospitals around the country.

That’s it for this week. Have a happy Earth Day! And a wonderful weekend.


Writing about running 

Until I began this blog, I did not write about running. Not even, as I mentioned last week, in my journals. The few attempts I did make to capture my feelings about running, were stilted and hyperbolic. And while I know I have been entranced by running for eighteen years, I also know my superlative-laced sentences do not accurately reflect the totality of my experiences with running. Sure, there have been many moments of elation, but there have also been many (if not more) moments of agony, of frustration, of sadness. That time my senior year of college, for example, when I didn’t make the team for the end-of-season championship races, is all sadness in my memory (and yet the experience is absent from my journals). 

Because there is no written record of my reactions, observations, or emotions surrounding running, I worry that the narrative I am creating now (running as an activity shrouded in joy and pride and fear and relief) is not accurate. I want to know the arc of this relationship. I want to remember how I felt after certain races, practices, and solo runs. I want to be sure the conclusions I am reaching about running and me are accurate. But my memories are selective and not specific. The emotional resonance of past runs has been distilled by time, and feels apocryphal.
Running has been an integral part of my identity since I was twelve; it was so integral, it escaped scrunity. Running was always there and was so close to my concept of self, I had no reason to dissect its role in my life. And, too, because running was my identity, failure at running meant failure at being myself, a possibility too painful to analyze. 

Further, and perhaps more accurate, any stress I had regarding running during high school and college was subsumed by concern about making friends. Running was a constant, my social life was not. Although running was often hard and often disappointing, it was always there. Friends, on the other hand, have always been hard for me to to find and keep. And part of learning how to make and keep friends was learning who I was in my own head. I constantly compared myself to others, and critiqued my actions in all situations. 
Writing helped me figure out where I fit into the world. And running allowed me to escape these all-consuming thoughts. 

Writing about running would have tainted it.
And so, the most important part of my life escaped analysis. 

Now, though, I feel it is time to connect running and writing as I purposefully rebuild my running practice to emphasize mindfulness. I do not want to run out of duty or habit. I want to run for the joy of movement. Joyful running is not my default, however, and so I will turn to writing to help me close the gaps between reality and aspiration. 
Running is a way to escape, writing is a way to understand why I want to escape. Running has been a sanctuary, too precious for words. But I don’t want it to be precious any longer. I want it to be vibrant, dynamic, vital. In this process of rebuilding, it is time to remove running from its pedestal and install it into my written explorations.

Hello, running, my old friend. Let’s sit down and figure out this life together.  

Weekend Diversions 4.15.16

The past few days have been filled with constantly changing plans, all out of my control, which has left me a bundle of stress. Some good things have come out of this uncertainty, however: I rediscovered my love for spontaneous solo dance parties, to the horror of my cat whose chiding looks tell me that now she has proof she is the superior being (but they are so good at relieving my anxiety and making me laugh instead of pulling out my hair); and, I had unexpected time this morning to catch up on reading and write this post.

  1. Almond and chickpea bread with dried fruit: I’ve had a bag of chickpea flour in burning a hole in my refrigerator for a while, purchased to make chickpea tofu. My attempt at the tofu fell far short of the delicious dish prepared for me while on vacation in Seattle by my friend, a chef at Hotel Albatros (side note, if you are in Seattle, the food there is amazing and most of it can be made vegan, or not, depending on your preferences). Although I do plan on trying to make the tofu again, I have also been searching for another, less experimental, way to use up some of the flour. This bread was a perfect way to do just that: it comes together like any breakfast bread, with the added bonus of being dense and not too sweet. Even my boyfriend, whose main criticism of my baked goods is that they are too dense, enjoyed it. I can also say it is amazing toasted and topped with almond butter.
  2. The problem with satisfied patients: This article in The Atlantic came out last year, but the problem it brings to light is still relevant. Hospitals make more money from Medicade reimbursements (a large percentage of their revenues) when patients report higher levels of satisfaction. But satisfaction does not always mean better care. A patient who dislikes the bland food they are served after heart surgery might report lower satisfaction, even though the care they receive supports their recovery best. In fact, the article shows, hospitals with high ratings also often have higher levels of mortality, readmission, and complications. A satisfied patient, therefore, is not always a well patient. The workaround from hospitals is not more nurses, more patient interaction, or an increased focus on patient care, but the inclusion of scripts nurses must recite to convince the patients they are receiving the best care possible, whether or not that is actually true. My boyfriend works in a hospital and he is constantly frustrated that efficiency and maximum productivity are prioritized over patient care.
  3. A portrait of an artist as a young mom: I am not yet a mother, and have no immediate plans to become one but it is a vague part of my goals for the future. As a writer, I have often thought about how motherhood will impact my creativity. Even without children I struggle to find time to write, between life and relationships and working and caring for my cats. I also use these obligations as excuses for not writing: I would love to write but I have to care for a sick friend, take my cat to the vet, clean my kitchen, go to the grocery store, relax after going to the grocery store, etc. Much as the author of this article has filled her days with the details of parenting (PTA meetings, birthday parties, dance classes). Her priorities shifted, or she thought they should and so allowed them to, and writing was not high on the list. I think that’s okay, at least for a while. But it feels unbalanced for me. I actually think I might go crazy (as do some of the women in the article) if I do not write.  I have tried it before, and I always feel lost and frustrated away from my craft. I am a firm believer in putting oneself first; I cannot be good to anyone (especially, I suspect, a child) if I am not good to myself. Maybe this will make me a horrible parent. I vacillated, when reading this, between nodding in agreement and being annoyed at the whiny nature of the authors complaints. I do not know if she has approached writing and motherhood from the wrong angle, if she over-exaggerated for the sake of literary appeal, or her experience is valid and the inevitable result of being creative and having young children. If any of you readers have children, how do you find time to write and care for them as well? I am curious to hear alternate perspectives on this .
  4. When women outlive their ovaries: A fascinating look at how women’s bodies have been subjugated by big pharma. The article focuses on advertisements from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that portray women as listless, anxious, annoying. Women are not excited to be housewives and, therefore, must be medicated into submission. None of this is news to me, but I have an obsession with old advertisements for and about women because I think they provide the best glimpse into popular conceptions of womanhood. I will certainly be reading the book, Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, from which this article was excerpted.

Thank you as always for reading! Let me know what articles have piqued your interest (or fury) this past week in the comments below. Have a lovely weekend, take a walk, enjoy the weather.

Learning to write without editing 

I was reading through old journals yesterday in the hopes of finding entries on my relationship to running, or any running-related emotions I might have had over the years. Although some of my notebooks date back more than twenty years and several chronical my high school and college days when running was my most constant companion, running was a rare topic of discussion.

Even the entries from the summer I attended a week-long running camp focused more on the cliques (of which I was not a part, to my dismay), my loneliness, and Virginia Woolfe’s To the Lighthouse (my light summer-camp reading -perhaps related to my lack of friends?).

Prevalent, however, especially in my post-college years, was a desire to write without a filter. In high school, I heard a novelist speak about her process. In addition to writing for a set amount of time every morning without fail, she said she edits everything she writes, including emails. This was at once gratifying and damning: I too, edited even the least consequential bit of text I wrote and her words validated and reinforced my habit; but they also introduced the irrational belief that writing must be edited to be good. Good writers edit, good writers are careful, good writers keep first drafts to themselves. Bad writers share their sloppy first drafts because they don’t know any better.

I wanted to be a good writer, and so this belief grew, encouraged by teachers and professors who covered my papers with pen-marks as they taught me how to tighten, choose the right words for every context, and craft water-tight arguments for my ideas. I learned well, and grew to love the back and forth of the editing process. Culling words and paragraphs in order to create a perfect paper. I reveled in the hours spent refining research papers in the library, churning out draft after draft.

And then I graduated college and the stakes changed: I was no longer writing for grades but for pleasure. I tried to blog but the enormity of the shift from academic to real-life writing caused me to freeze. Away from the editing pen of my professors, how would I know when I had achieved success?

Further, the only way I knew how to write anymore was through long, detailed research papers. I no longer had the time nor the resources to churn out thirty-page tomes on the cultural relevance of obscure buildings or the relationship between Jaques Derrida and Peter Eisenman. And my writing faltered. I became tripped up in my desire for perfection, my desire to edit every bit of writing until it was deserving of the pedestal I had crafted for it in my mind’s eye. I envied other bloggers, whose breezy style taunted my own taught sentences. Their pieces read as if the thoughts moved from mind to fingers to screen, with no intermediate hair-pulling or over-analyzing to find the perfect description of anything.

In their easiness, they gained the status of perfection. Meanwhile I anguished over the way to create the most impressive, meaningful, and world-changingly observant essays. And wrote nothing but strings of (unpublishable) first drafts. I had many ideas but was stymied by my need for perfection. I could not let loose, even though I knew my audience was nonexistent.

My journals from this time are filled with pages in which I yearn to write without editing. In which I revile my inability to write with ease. In which I promise to start publishing first drafts (today! tomorrow! the next tomorrow!). I did publish a few pieces on that early blog but they were rare and heavily edited.

I have many stops and starts with blogging and writing since then, inching closer and closer each time to my goal of writing in a way that feels unforced. In a way I find sustainable and enjoyable.

This blog represents a certain success with writing. I still struggle to share my thoughts and I am constantly resisting the urge to edit before I hit publish. Sometimes this means sloppy sentences or meandering points. Sometimes I wonder if points are even made. But I am okay with this looseness, this freedom with form and language. Life is hard and change takes time but it is so gratifying to see these results after years of effort.

I feel a huge lift of pressure with this latest project: I can be myself, and that is enough. I do not have to be perfect. I do not really even want to be perfect. I just want to write. And I am. For the first time since childhood, I am writing without anxiety. I am writing for the joy of seeing my thoughts on page. I am am writing for the gratification of solving a problem through words. I am writing for me.

Thank you for listening.

Weekend Diversions 4.8.2016

Another week, another set of diversions for you! Between allergies, a late night yesterday at work, and general life things I am feeling pretty tired today. You’re in luck, though, because I have chosen to write this post instead of a nap. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really do enjoy these weekly reading roundups. I love when other bloggers do these types of posts because because they expose me to articles and perspectives I might not have found on my own. In that spirit, what have you all been reading this week? What stories have caught your attention? What are your current obsessions?

  1. Lemon cupcakes they’ll never know are vegan: I have a non-vegan friend coming into town later this month who is always skeptical about the deliciousness of vegan treats. I have taken it upon myself to show her cookies and cakes can be just as decadent and wonderful without eggs, dairy milk, and butter. She always claims to be able to taste the lack of animal products. This recipe just might change her mind.
  2. What life is like on $7.25 per hourThe minimum wage has been in the press a lot over the past year or two, and for good reason: a full-time job at this level of earning is not enough to afford housing (defined as paying thirty percent of income for) anywhere in the country. Low-income earners are severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent and utilities. Little to nothing is left over for transportation, food, medical bills, or any other life expenses. Most minimum-wage workers are not allowed to work full-time in any one position, because that might mean they qualify for expensive benefits, meaning they either earn less than an inadequate income or they work multiple jobs and sacrifice sleep for money. I could (and have) talked about this for hours. I won’t bore you with statistics (although if you are interested, leave a comment and I am happy to provide resources). This article in the Los Angeles Times does a nice job of profiling a few adults in minimum wage jobs, giving all their energy (and then some) to subsistence. I thought the author humanized the individuals and the difficult realities of their lives. Most of the people contributing to the comments section below the article did not pick up on that human element (this is your warning: if you believe in raising the minimum wage, read the comments only if you want to be put into a foul mood).
  3. Humanizing homelessness at the San Francisco Public Library: In happier news, the San Francisco’s Main Public Library hired Leah Esguerra, a social worker in 2009 to support their homeless patrons. She performs a clinical evaluation of willing individuals (participation is not a caveat for library use) and connects them to mental health clinics, housing assistance programs, job training centers, and other supportive services. In the article she estimates she has connected almost 1,000 people with the care they need to support themselves. A big difference between this article and the one above from the Los Angeles Times (which portray similar populations) is the professional (or former professional) status of the profiled individuals. CityLab emphasizes that the people who use Esguerra’s services at the library had careers as medical professionals and business owners; those who have never held a job or who never advanced beyond an entry-level position are not included in the story. And while I know that people from all economic levels can experience homelessness and that current comfort is not always a guarantee against future poverty, this “safe” portrayal of homeless individuals makes me uneasy. I would prefer a more holistic picture of the care provided by the library. Truth is the only way to remove the stigma of homelessness and I think this story provides an elitist image of a situation that does not discriminate. The program is wonderful, but the reporting was one-dimensional.
  4. 8 things people said to ‘help’ me through my eating disorder that hurt me instead: Although I did not hear all of these comments while I was dealing with my disordered eating, I do know how people’s words, no matter how well meaning, can become the catalyst for more disorder. The moral is: never emphasize a person’s appearance; even compliments can be twisted. Support people where they are and as they ask for it and you cannot (hopefully) go too wrong .
  5. 6 ways good parents contribute to their child’s anxiety: Honestly, many of these (caring too much, overplaying strengths, hiding your troubles) apply to me, as an adult with anxiety, as well. Feeling supported is wonderful, but when my strengths are glorified I fear I will lose support if I fail. This fear kept me from writing (or enjoying writing) for years; if I couldn’t write well I worried I would disappoint everyone and so I did not practice writing, except in the very private realm of my journals. At basic levels, children and adults are not dissimilar. So maybe the advice is: treat your children as you would like to be treated yourself. Not the most groundbreaking advice, but something I think bears repeating often.

Alright, that’s all I have for this week. Please let me know if you come upon other interesting articles, I am always looking for more reading! Have a wonderful, relaxing, spring-like weekend. Take care.