Author Archives: Paula

A Bittersweet Walk

The 2017 Madison NEDA Walk, to raise funds in the fight against eating disorders was Saturday; and we exceeded our fund raising goal, raising over $25,000.

Mother Nature smiled on us with a gorgeous late summer day.  We had great music by Beth Kille to set the tone for an energetic  morning.  Speakers included Dr. Brad Smith from Rogers Memorial Hospital and Flora Csontos from Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office.  We had over 200 walkers in attendance and despite some troublesome runaway balloons and a few other minor glitches, everything went really well.

This year we included a silent auction,  — including the sale of a football with signatures from all the Packers players and coaches!  I ended up bidding on and winning a few items myself – some of which may end up as Christmas presents, since I feel a little sheepish going into a business for which I personally solicited a gift certificate, and using the gift certificate on myself.  (Really – I PAID for it!)

The local news did not cover the event itself this year, but they did invite us to do an Interview live on the Friday 4:00 news.  I think we got our point across, but this clip also serves as a reminder that no one will ever accuse me of being particularly photogenic.

The walk was bittersweet for me, as my youngest daughter, Guzzy, is currently experiencing a dip in her own roller coaster recovery journey, and was too ill to attend.  It is a  reminder that we walk not only for those that are able to be present on a beautiful September morning; but we walk for those that have lost their battles, and those that are too ill to join us.

It is not enough, but it is something.

End of Summer Ponderings

I write this on Labor Day weekend:  a bittersweet time of year as parents, teachers and students bid a wistful farewell to summer vacation and gear up for another school year.

Dan and I have had a busy summer with home projects and a big birthday bash that I threw myself as I mark another decade of living.  After much labor and check writing our log home is newly scrubbed and stained, and our new deck was in place just in time to celebrate my entry to the old geezer club!

We had a nice turn out of friends and family for my birthday bash; providing a needed and well-time reminder to me of how fortunate I am to have these people in my life.  A few of us lurched around the badmitton court as a sherrif’s car pulled up,looking for someone who had sent out some sort of electronic alarm.  Turns out, they were at the wrong house: but still–our our party was bad-ass enough for the cops to make an appearance!

The end of summer brings the US Open, which this year is missing many of its marquee men (including my petulant fav – Andy Murray) to injuries; leaving the field free for Roger and Rafa to renew their rivalry.  And, OMG – the American women are ROCKING the open!   Even with Serena out (having just given birth to her daughter);  there is a bumper crop of young American women keeping pace with big sis Venus into the second week.

My own tennis season has been frustrating — I have the third set tie-break blues, having lost too many close matches by the narrowest of margins. However, I am thankful to be healthy ‘enough’ to be out on the court swinging away… at my advanced age.

Today Dan and I are going on a sight-seeing airplane ride as my birthday gift:  the next logical follow-up to last year’s hot air balloon ride.  Today I am pondering whether my predilection for motion sickness is something that I have somehow ‘outgrown’ or if it has stuck with me into this new decade of life.  We shall soon find out.

For next year’s birthday, I’m going to ask for jewelry.

Are you outraged yet?

I just watched portions of today’s press conference with The D.   He continues to defend the actions of the white supremacists who brought their vile message of hate to Charlottesville last weekend. It is revolting.

This is not my President.   

I will stand with Charlottesville’s counter-protesters that risked their lives. I will stand against hate and intolerance along with my immigrant, LGBT, Jewish, Hispanic, Black and Muslim friends, family members and colleagues.   I will not turn my head aside and silently accept this kind of world for my beautiful Hispanic grand daughters.

Yet, I (and most of my colleagues and friends) live in a cocoon of white, middle-class privilege.  Many of us feel powerless to make a difference.  Today, a co-worker asked  “What can I do?”.   After pondering this much of the day, here is my suggested starter kit for white, middle-class fledgling activists:

Recognize and acknowledge the presence and power of white privilege.    Read Unpacking the backpack of white privilege or This essay if you want to learn more.

Be self-aware: take a close look at your own implicit biases – we all have them because we are human.  Be more aware of the lens you use to view the world, and where that lens may be ‘cracked’.

Pay attention to every-day micro and macro aggressions towards yourself and others.  It is likely that you have people in your life that exhibit their own implicit (or explicit) biases in unkind, thoughtless or hurtful ways.

Get out of your comfort zone to challenge  inappropriate or hurtful comments or other micro-aggressions that you encounter.  Call out the sexist or homophobic joke, the  racist reference, or the casual nasty remark about a woman’s body.

Find your voice and find your power.  Power is the ability to affect change, in yourself and others.  You are not powerless.

Get involved.  Volunteer in a homeless shelter, tutor someone, attend a march, organize a fund-raiser, volunteer for a political candidate, write  a blog, donate money,  join a group that is focused on resistance.  But …  DO something.

Be brave.  By taking a stand, you will risk ridicule and risk being misunderstood.  Yet, your best and most authentic self will stand up for what you know to be right, even when it is not easy.  Try being brave in small ways first; you may just surprise yourself!  

Finally, Be Kind.  Be the Change you want to see in the world.

 

Camping Caution

I am prepping to enter Monday’s Moth story slam, with the theme of ‘Caution”.   I will be reminiscing about one of my many adventures with Dan.  This is a preview of my entry.

A few years ago my husband, Dan, started a campaign to get me to like camping.    I’ve had some bad camping experiences before I met him;  and I am a huge fan of indoor plumbing.

Dan wanted to spend a week camping near Lake Superior, So, he decided we should go on a trial weekend camping trip, after which (according to his plan) I would be smitten by the camping bug.  Day 1 went well – but, by evening time, we had 42 mosquito bites, 36 of which were on my ankles.  In addition to being very tasty mosquito meat, I am extremely allergic, and didn’t sleep at all.  Day 2 brought a lot of rain—we quickly decamped and drove home amidst the deluge.

Needless to say, we rented a cabin for our longer vacation near lake Superior–  A beautiful, gorgeous cabin with a flush toilet and a solid roof over our heads.  We did many nature related activities such as hiking, canoeing and eating pasties.

Our canoe trip started out by visiting the canoe ‘guy’…  he had set up shop on the roadside in a trailer home.  In response to our knock on his door, he emerged amid a plume of herbal medicinal smoke—for which he assured us he had a prescription.  We hung out with the canoe dude for a while, before venturing out into the water… in a slightly impaired state.

We had a great time gently paddling through the water admiring the wildlife and beautiful vistas all around us – including a large family of ducks sunning themselves on a log.   We stopped at a sandbar for a rest and some lunch, before heading back down into the water.

We didn’t get far before someone passing us  asked if that was our backpack on the sandbar…. Upon closer inspection we realized we had left our backpack on dry land behind us…. we did the canoe equivalent of a   U-ey and went back to the sandbar.

What happens next is where Dan and I have a different recollection of events.  However, I am the one with the blog, so you will be hearing MY version –although Dan is happy to offer HIS version of events to anyone who asks.

I was at the front of the canoe, and as we arrived at the sandbar I stepped onto land and started heading towards our backpack, when I heard sounds of distress behind me… I turned around to see Dan, who had inexplicably managed to get tangled up in the branches of a dead tree that had fallen into the water near shore;  and he was slowly tipping over in the canoe, while emitting sounds of distress.   As I watched him tip over in slow motion, I yelled out:  “I will jump in and rescue you as soon as I quite laughing”!

In Dan’s version –   as I exited the canoe I pushed it backwards  into the current, carrying him directly into the  ‘punji sticks of death”:  which seems a tad over-dramatic to me.

Eventually, I stopped laughing, and Dan emerged from under the canoe.  We set the canoe upright, retrieved our bag, and headed back into the water;  retrieving more of our items that were now floating IN the water as we went. Once we were recombobulated,  Dan suggested that we go out into Lake Superior… That’s right, Dan wanted to go out into the cold depths of Lake Gitchigoonie…  right after capsizing our canoe in 18 inches of water.    Instead, we decided we’d had enough canoeing for the day – and stopped at a restaurant for a nice duck dinner.

 

As the D Turns

Our current administration is reminiscent of a soap-opera, complete with an ever-changing colorful cast of characters and over-the-top melodrama. The lead actor in this ultimate reality show thrives on the attention and chaos.

However, The D has had a rough couple of weeks.  Despite years of rhetoric blasting the Affordable Care Act, his Republican henchmen have been unable to agree on an alternative.   A bill that is cruel enough to satisfy the hard-core tea-partiers can’t get past the few Republican moderates that still have remnants of a spine.  One of their many kooky schemes was to deliberately pass a horrible bill, with a pre-agreement that the House would shoot it down.  They were going to kick a shit-can of a bill down the road with the hope that Paul Ryan’s House would rise above the stench.

The D’s bizarre policy-by-tweet approach is proving to be unsuccessful with top military brass, who were not consulted prior to The D’s s random tweet banning transgender troops.  The Brass have made it clear that tweets are not a substitute for actual policy, and have (bravely  and wisely) opted to take no action until and unless an actual command or policy emerges. On the bright side– It appears that the whole debacle has raised our awareness of the existence and bravery of our transgender troops.

It would be tough to screw up a speech to a bunch of wholesome Boy Scouts.  Yet, the D managed to blow it–bigly. It was a bizarre, curse-laced political and self-aggrandizing rant.  No merit badge for The D.

We should thank The D for one of the most entertaining episodes of his administration thus far–The Mooch!    Scaramucci’s pugnacious, confrontational  style stood out as over-the-top;  even among the colorful cast at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  Stephen Colbert had a field day with many Mooch quotes, including this “I don’t stab people in the back, I am more of a front-stabber”.

Sadly, for Colbert and his comic colleagues, The Mooch only lasted 10 days before getting ousted.  But stay tuned, who knows what the next episode of “as The D Turns” will bring?

 

Labels are shifty

I recently listened to a TED talk that included a story of a man who pretended to be mentally ill / crazy to get out of a criminal conviction.  The problem was that once he was in a mental institution, he could not convince anyone that he was sane.  Once he had a label of a mental illness, any attempts he made to defend himself were considered as further prove that he was manipulative and dangerous.  It was a vicious cycle.

We’ve probably all had the experience of someone jumping to an incorrect or incomplete conclusion about us –creating a label which becomes very hard to shake.  

When I am being honest with myself (something I frequently avoid), I recognize that I can be quick to label others.  Jumping to conclusions based on the imperfect sorting mechanism in my head is easier than really getting to know someone or having to consider an alternative point of view. 

Once we attribute a negative label to someone,  it can be really difficult to change that perception.  Our biases become self-sustaining as we find further evidence to support our initial conclusions.  Our brains love to accommodate our desire to prove ourselves right!  So — as the ‘crazy’ person desperately tries to prove they are sane — we see their desperation  as more evidence of their craziness.

Labels play out in family groups all the time:  a child may be labelled as a particular ‘type’:  The brain, the screw-up, the clumsy one, the lazy one, etc.   Labels at a young age influence a child’s emerging sense of self–for better or for worse.

From a business lens, these implicit biases result in the continued promotion and hiring of people who look, think and act similarly to existing leadership.   Yet, we know that inclusiveness and diversity make organizations stronger and that companies get stale through in-breeding. Leaders caught in the rip tide of the prevalent corporate culture, fail to recognize their implicit biases and the associated opportunity costs.

So, the next time that my loud-mouth, trouble-making co-worker gets on my nerves… I will ask him (or her) to go to lunch and talk about what is on their mind.  Maybe, just maybe, we will both be pleasantly surprised.

Ding, Dong the Bill is Dead

I dedicate this reposting to Republican Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins.  They are American Heros!

(Sung to the tune of Ding, Dong! The witch is dead–from the Wizard of Oz)

Ding, Dong! The Bill is dead. Which old bill? The Trump Care Bill!
Ding, dong! The wicked bill is dead.

Wake up – sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Bill is dead. It’s gone where the Crap bills go,
Below – below – below. Yo-ho, let’s open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong’ the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know
The Wicked Bill is dead!

As a legally registered voter, in the country that we all love
I welcome this failure most regally.
But we’ve got to verify it legally, to see
To see?
If the GOP; Is morally, ethic’lly,
Spiritually, politically,
Positively, absolutely
Undeniably and dangerously inept

As a pundit, I must opine, I thoroughly examined them;
And the GOP’s not just inept, they are really most sincerely Indept

Then this is a day of celebration for all who Care.
Yes, let the joyous news be spread ; The wicked bad BILL for now is dead!

 

Beauty and the Voice

Tonight I put my name in the hat at the local Moth Story Slam.  The theme was ‘beauty’.  Anyone who is interested in telling a story puts their name in the hat.  They pull out names, one at a time; until ten people have shared their stories.  Unfortunately, my name was not pulled out of the hat to share.  While I am disappointed, I’m happy to have this venue to share what would have certainly been the best story of the night!

“Beauty and the Voice”. 

Recently some friends and I were discussing movies that are different when you see them a second time – movies with a ‘twist’ at the ending:   once you know the ending, watching the movie a second time is an entirely difference experience because you see the clues you missed the first time around.  When watching Sixth Sense for a second time – you may find yourself yelling to Bruce Willis – Hey Dummy, you are DEAD!

The winter and spring of 2013, I missed a lot of clues that in retrospect were pretty obvious.  Granted, I had been distracted by my own emergency appendectomy and the arrival of my beautiful twin grand-daughters .  My youngest daughter turned 16 that spring – her nickname is Guzzy; the name my Alzheimer’s stricken mother came up one day when vainly trying to remember her correct name, and it stuck.

When I looked at Guzzy that spring I saw a beautiful and intelligent young woman.  However, she did not see her own beauty… This is what she saw, and ‘heard’ when she looked into a mirror:

You are ugly, you are sad, pathetic and FAT!      

At this point in her life, Guzzy had yet to tip the scales in triple digits.  I later learned that her goal was to get so thin that she could wrap her fingers around the largest part of her thigh;  yet even once she achieved that horrific milestone– the voice in her head telling her that she was ugly and fat only got louder.

At the time, Guzzy told me she was eating at school; she told her friends she was eating at home.  The truth was… she wasn’t much of anything at all – mostly  dill pickles and celery drenched in mustard.  She would bake treats almost every day to take to school – which fooled her brain into thinking she had eaten, because she had touched, smelled and ‘experienced’ the food in every way other than consuming it.  She would watch cooking shows obsessively, all while pacing   or jiggling at the edge of her seat – making sure she burned calories even while ‘relaxing’.  The cold spring made it easier for her to mask her alarming weight loss with baggy full coverage clothes.

Despite all these clues, I didn’t connect the dots.  No one smacked me in the head and said “Dummy – she’s starving herself”!  While I knew something I was wrong, I was  gobsmacked with the diagnosis of severe anorexia.  This led to a terrifying summer of hospitalizations, doctors, meal plans, therapies and a crash course on eating disorders.

Her diagnosis led me to ponder:  What is beauty?  We live in a   highly appearance-oriented and judgemental culture that is toxic to positive self-esteem and positive body image.   I have since talked to young women who have been complimented on their thinness up to and (incredibly) DURING their admission to the hospital to save their lives from starvation.  These impossible and unhealthy standards of beauty are cruel and dangerous.

At the end of the summer in 2013, Guzzy continued to decline.  Knowing that 20% of those with her diagnosis do not survive, we admitted her on an emergency basis to an intensive in-patient program in Minneapolis.  She received talking therapy, aroma therapy, massage therapy, dog therapy, bunny therapy, baby niece therapy, puzzle therapy, and the most important medicine of all – Food!

After almost 4 weeks of hospitalization, we saw glimmers of her former self and she was out of immediate danger.   She was released to my care;  I was on leave from work and she was on leave from school.   It was my job to feed her and it was her job to eat.

I read countless books aloud to distract her from the very real pain of eating; we played cards and did puzzles together for hours on end.  There was a memorable afternoon when after eating yet another mandatory snack, Guzzy looked down in her lap, and looked up wide-eyed and announced “I Have Cleavage”!  That was a good day!

Yes, my beautiful girl was slowly emerging from her Eating Disorder haze into a healthier and stronger version of herself.   For her 17th birthday that spring we we went to one of the most beautiful places on earth:  Hawaii!!   We were surrounded by beautiful nature:  miles of beaches, ocean vistas, we saw a breeching humpback whale and sea turtles on the beach.    But by far, the most beautiful sight of that trip was this:

My gorgeous daughter wearing a swimsuit, sitting on a blanket at the beach while happily  munching on a bag of potato chips.    Now THAT, my friends, is true beauty!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our National Shame

Today I watched the chilling dash cam video of the Philandro Castile shooting.   I will be haunted for a long time by the image of his girlfriend’s young daughter slowly emerging from that car after seeing Philandro shot 7 times.  He was shot as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his driver’s license, per the police officer’s request.  While he was en route to the hospital, where he would die of his injuries; his girlfriend was (unbelievably) put into handcuffs and held in the back of a squad car.

Last week the jury acquitted the police officer, just as juries have acquitted a long sequence of police officers  for killing black men  and women.  But, This happened in Minnesota, not Missouri or Alabama. Minnesota for god’s sake.  It makes me ashamed.

Black. Lives. Matter.  As a white woman, I hesitate to co-opt that phrase; but I do so respectfully, to make the point that we are all diminished when men like Philandro Castile are executed for what appears to be ‘the crime’ of being black in America.  The history of race in America is incredibly complex–but there can be no doubt that implicit bias is alive and well in every state of the union, not ‘just’ the south.

Black and brown mothers and fathers all over American face the challenge of sitting their children down to have THE talk; a talk I didn’t need to have with MY children; THE talk about being deferential to the police at all times–how to speak (politely) and how to move (slowly); knowing the likelihood of a brown or black child being stopped and questioned is much higher than that of their white friends; and knowing that sometimes, even if their child does nothing wrong, the result can still be tragic.

Racism in America is one of our greatest national shames, manifesting itself in large and small ways in the pattern of our lives.  I see it at work, with a striking imbalance between the demographics of our technical teams and the all-white faces at the leadership level.  My home state of Wisconsin has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) gaps in high school graduation between black and white students.

In her excellent book, The New Jim Crow,  Michelle Alexander demonstrates that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. This effectively strips the right to vote from a large percentage of African Americans, who have been convicted of even minor drug charges.

I had hoped that having a black president for 8 years would have made a difference, but I was naive. Our current administration is a backlash –from those who felt threatened and disenfranchised by that very hope.  Make America Great Again is a thinly veiled slogan for white supremacy, contributing to a culture of white entitlement and acceptance of violence against minorities.

America cannot be truly great unless and until we address the blight of racism.

Summer Inspiration

Summer is here in full force and I have the mosquito bites to prove it. (I seem to get tastier as I get older.)  June brings transitions as schools let out and schedules shift into summer mode.  For me, June means  outdoor music, outdoor tennis, and the Project Mar:a Art jam.

My USTA tennis team is in full swing (pun intended) and we’ve already had several matches.  We were short-staffed last week, and our captain was desperate enough to put me in on the singles court against a much younger opponent.  Gak – I had my misgivings, but was willing to give it a go.  We ended up having a great match, and after two plus  sweaty hours, I managed to eke out a close victory .  We were the last ones on the court, and our match was the decider among the teams.  Good thing i didn’t know that at the time!

Saturday night was an art jam  sponsored by Project Mar:a.  The use of the semicolon instead of an ‘i’ is intentional.  The Semicolon has become a symbol of a movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those struggling with a variety of mental illnesses.  “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to.  The author is you and the sentence is your life”  (from Project Semicolon)

The featured speaker was Dawn Smith-Theodore, author of “Tutu Thin” who spoke of her own struggles, and the pervasiveness of eating disorders among dancers.  There were some local performers and speakers, including myself–I spoke of my experiences as a mother and as an eating disorder advocate.

I was pleasantly surprised.  I had gone to the art jam last year, and it was a nice, but very small-scale affair.  This year, they used the High School stage for several performances, and had about 50ish people in attendance.  It  has been several decades since I was on a High School stage, and I had to fight the temptation to break into a song from Fiddler on the Roof.

After my speech, a lovely young woman approached me in tears, and asked for my phone number.  She’s been struggling for 15 years with anorexia and she wanted to give my number to her mom — so her mom could have someone who ‘understands’ to talk with.  We chatted a bit, and hugged.  You just never know what people are going through.

While I was at the art jam, Dan went to a live rock concert downtown – where he ran into several friends.  All in all, we both had great evenings.