Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I remember a few years ago when a coworker, who had just moved here from England, was laughing at all the fuss made over Thanksgiving. "We don't have that in England," she said, "We actually find it quite funny. Sounds like an excuse to eat too much. You Americans do that a lot, you know." I explained to her that it was more than that. That it was the "thankful" part that was important, and getting together with friends and family.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I am blessed with so many good friends who are interesting, cool people. A family of equally interesting people - a super-smart older brother, a sweetheart of a sister I love to pieces, and her twin - a very cool, extremely funny brother who I also adore...and parents who celebrated their 60th Anniversary this year. And a great fiance who is supportive, smart, and really fun.

I also feel fortunate that I am a paid writer now. I am on a deadline for an article right now that puts me up in the teen numbers for paid articles, as well as - I still can't believe this one - being published in a book a couple of weeks ago. And my day job isn't all that bad either: I get to help people everyday that are interesting and appreciative.

So, for the former coworker from England, it is more than just going into a food coma for all the food we consume. And for my long passed grandfather - also from England - it may seem like a menial holiday, but it really isn't. Because while we should remember what to be thankful for everyday, often times we get caught up in the busyness of life. So one day a year to pause to give thanks - and have some delicious food to toast it with - is actually a really important thing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Europe Takes a Stand on the Too Skinny

In a society where way too many people are overweight, we also have the opposite problem: people who are way too skinny. This is perpetuated by models that look like they are going to blow away in the wind. Neither is healthy. People should strive to be at an appropriate weight for their bodies, and be healthy and strong.

In a bold move that we can only hope would follow here, Europe has taken a stand with one of their major magazines. As reported in the Minnesota Women's Press:
You go, Europe!
Germany's most popular women's magazine, Brigitte, has decided to ban professional models from its pages in an effort to combat unrealistic social beauty standards. Editor-in-Chief Andreas Lebert said, "We will show women who have an identity - the 18-year-old student, the head of the board, the musician, the football player." He said the move is a response to readers increasingly saying they are tired of seeing "protruding bones" from models who weigh far less than the average woman.

Meanwhile, in England, a UK size 12 model (size 6-8 U.S.), and two other "curvy" women appeared alongside stick-figure models in Mark Fast's London Fashion Week show. Amanda May, Fast's creative director, said the designer 'wanted women to know they didn't have to be a size zero to wear a Mark Fast dress.' Fast is also involved in All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an initiative that uses models up to size 16 and age 65. Sources: and
It is about time a stand was taken on this issue. I love fashion, or creativity in any form, but models are way too thin and go to unhealthy measures to stay that way. It isn't just about the message it sends to young women, it is the message it sends to all people. Years ago models were a Size 8, now they strive for Size 0. That isn't so bad if you are a small, petite woman, but models are generally very tall and that is extremely underweight.

It is equally cool that this magazine is showing different ages and are coming off of the youth obsessed scene. Beauty comes in all ages and sizes. Showing normal sized women is a much clearer message - and showing athletic women also sends a healthy message.

So, thank you Europe for addressing this issue and making a clear statement. One can only hope it will be followed by others now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Media Frenzy

As a writer, the one thing I've never been interested in is pushy journalism. Or just plain silly or sensationalistic journalism. Of course, there are some excellent journalists, but they are greatly outnumbered by the sensationalistic ones. One of my favorite blogs, Margaret and Helen, had a post on October 30, 2009 where she summed up some things that had recently been in the news. In her usual funny way, she shows how the media went over the top on just a few things:

Here are my thoughts – for what they are worth:

  • Even if he got it for remembering to leave the seat down for Michelle and the girls, Barack Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize is a good thing. Don’t we want the United States to be seen as an instrument of peace in the world? Erick Erickson probably had trouble spelling his own name in grade school and Michael Steele is clueless as to the irony of his job title.
  • The little boy didn’t get into the balloon. End of story. To report anything more is helping a means to an end that leads to a reality show none of us needs to see.
  • Sarah Palin wrote a book. It was co-authored by a million monkeys on a million typewriters.
  • Is Jay Leno at 10PM really all that different from Jay Leno at 11PM? What network executive came up with that stroke of genius?
  • The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. The British Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts and the Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts by convening the First Continental Congress. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775. The 9-12 Project, by comparison, was proof positive that people who watch Glen Beck can’t spell.
  • The only person I like less than Rick Perry is Dick Cheney. What a shame Kay Bailey Hutchison has lost her sense of smell because that is one big pile of shit she just stepped into.
  • Palin having an opinion about Levi Johnson “selling his body” is like Roman Polanski having an opinion about Woody Allen’s choice in girlfriends. Pot meet Kettle.
  • John and Kate minus eight equals one jackass and the woman who deserves him.
  • Give Rush Limbaugh a football team. Who better than he understands the effects of massive head injuries?
I get that these news channels have to fill up 24 hours worth of programming. But what exactly would be wrong with filling up today’s 24 hours with thoughtful reporting on what happened during yesterday’s 24 hours? Anything else really is just opinions disguised as news.
As usual, well said. And funny. She basically says what most of us are thinking.

And for the overreaction from far too many on the trial of the 911 terrorists in New York City: Are you kidding me? First of all, no one has EVER escaped from a maximum security prison. Trials have been conducted on some of the worst criminals in history, and it hasn't gotten half of this reaction. Secondly, if these guys somehow did get free (ya, right), how far would they get in New York City? They wouldn't make it off of the courthouse steps. As discussed on the Daily Show:

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The point is, the media is so completely out of control on most of these things. Those of us who have (a) Common sense on the larger issues, and (b) Have a life so we don't give a rip about the stupid things (a floating balloon), find it all pretty ridiculous. It would actually be really sad if it didn't give writers and comedians such great material. I mean, seriously. Or, as Margaret always says at the end her posts: "I mean it. Really."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No Longer Silent

I frequently joke that working in social services gives me book material as a writer. But, it is actually quite serious. A serious comment. A serious business. My clients actually inspire me everyday. What they have had to overcome in their lifetimes, and on a daily basis, would make most people just roll over and quit. But they keep on trying, and better than just surviving, they keep on excelling.

A couple years ago I had a particularly difficult client - on a particularly difficult day - say something that hit me a bit hard. You develop a thick skin in this business, but I admit I'm still a sensitive soul, some days more than others. On this day he was really struggling and he lashed out at me, "It must be nice to not have anything wrong with you." As nicely as I could say without lashing back I said, "I suppose it would be, but I wouldn't know. I have plenty of things wrong with me. Remember, not everything is visible." I let it go at that, and changed the subject. Because, frankly, when you are working with someone who is having a hard time, you put the focus back where it belongs and off of you.

I've thought of that a few times since that time. Some of my clients are just elderly and frail, some are younger with physical problems, some have had traumatic brain injuries, and some are very mentally ill. I sincerely like all of my clients. I learn from them as much as I can teach them. I help them, and often times they unknowingly help me. I have numerous quotes for future books, many funny lines, and some characters that are so rich I couldn't make them up even if I tried.

But, one of the things I say all the time is that "we all have something wrong with us." We are all human. So, for my client that said it must be nice to not have anything wrong with you, at the time I actually felt fortunate that my issues were hidden. That I've had asthma since I was a kid, and until better medications came out a few years ago, I would frequently be in the emergency room getting adrenaline because I couldn't breathe. Or that I lost the ability to ever have a child like a normal woman a few years back. Those two things I've become open about. But, one I have always been quite silent about.

I wondered a few years ago if I would ever realize my dream of being a recognized writer. Now, about a dozen or so articles later, that has become a realization. But, this week, I finally got into my first book. An anthology. And this time the thing I've always been silent about has made it so I just can't be silent anymore.

Because, if you can help someone, you should. And if it is a story that reaches out to others, it should. And even if it is invisible, maybe there is someone else feeling the same way and it is time to use your voice to tell people that "Hey, I live with this. Everyday. But, I'm living pretty darn good. And I'm positive and happy. And I struggle like everyone else - no matter what their particular struggle is."

So, I'm honored to be in my first book ever. And I was thrilled when it was sitting on my doorstep two nights ago, wrapped in a cardboard box. An advanced copy of: "Voices of Multiple Sclerosis." The subtitle is the "The Healing Companion: Stories of Courage, Comfort, and Strength." And I'm honored to be a part of this book and as scary as it is to tell a then-awful story of the discovery of the disease, during a then-awful year, things are different now. I have trouble with my eyes sometimes, I'm a big unbalanced, I have some pain in my legs, and I have a hard time with fatigue and heat. But, like my clients, I too am not just a survivor. I am also excelling - and learning - everyday.

My friends remember all the horrible things I went through during that time and the MS diagnosis was just the tip of the iceberg. My little story near the back of the book called "Tough Year" sums it up pretty well. But I lived through it, and now it is just another example of how good always comes out of bad. My first anthology, my first book, my first real voice on the matter. And for that I am thankful, and blessed. And, most importantly, no longer silent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

When the Berlin Wall Came Crumbling Down

A very good friend of mine was in Berlin when the wall went down in 1989. Fortunate to work for the airlines at the time, he was there for the festivities and all the excitement. He said the best way he could describe it when the eastern residents came across to the western side was that it was like "black and white turning to color." They had not experienced the western side - the fresh food markets with crisp apples, salted nuts, and aromatic breads, and the freedom to do what they wanted to do.

He took home a large piece of the wall that he still has sitting on a bookshelf to this day. On one side is graffiti, on the other bleakness. He gave me a small piece of his part of the wall, which I still cherish to this day. It sits with other treasures of mine in a keepsake box on my writing desk.

Today Berlin Marks the 20th Anniversary of the Wall's Fall. As noted in Voice for America:
World leaders, dignitaries and thousands of visitors are in Berlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is a time to remember the past and celebrate the November day in 1989 that changed the future.

Despite the rain, crowds gathered at the Bornholm Bridge, the first checkpoint in the Berlin Wall to open the night of November 9, 1989.

The Wall stood for nearly three decades, dividing the city and Germany into East and West. But in the end, protests and peaceful revolutions, such as in Poland, and changes in Moscow brought it down. That led to the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War.

Americans cannot even begin to understand what it is like to live under a communist rule. To have so many limitations put on their lives. We have so many freedoms that we take for granted - because, as Americans, that is all we have ever known.

When I visited Germany in 2002 I did not make it to Berlin. But I did have the opportunity to go to Oktoberfest in Munich and visit friends in some other small towns, as well as see Rothenburg, a beautiful medieval city with wonderful sites and shops and a solid wall built around it. I wondered then what it must have been like just to be surrounded by that wall, let alone the Berlin Wall with its guards and barbed wire. Rothenburg's wall was originally about safety, the Berlin wall was about control.

I have not been back to Europe again since 2002, but hope to go again soon. I have always felt I would live there for a few years, especially in France or England. I felt very much at home in Europe, often times more than I do here in the Midwest.

Until that time, I wish the people of Germany the best in their celebration of the fall of the wall. I wish them happiness and health and to truly enjoy the freedom and unity that the destruction of the wall brought to them. And although I cannot get back there quite yet, at least I still have my little piece of the wall sitting on my desk at home.