Making a New Home

For once, I’m not going to destroy something I’ve built. (If you know anything about me, that’s progress.)

I’m going to work through the process of buying and managing a site for 2013. I’ll still write about pop culture, civics, and social issues; but there will also be space for some hobbies and personal events. I have big ideas, and I will do a better job with social media integration.

There will be more announcements as I get everything together. Stay tuned.

Food Stamp Weekly Marathons and Poverty Tourism (I Don’t Get It)

So, I like Newark’s mayor Cory Booker. He does genuinely good things. Bringing pizzas to folks, linking his citizens to resources, rushing into burning buildings like he’s made of asbestos… That’s pretty decent, you know?

(Some people may disagree, for reasons.)

He announced that he is going on food stamps for a week to raise awareness of supporting a family’s food needs on a limited budget. He’ll be documenting his experiences on various social media outlets.

I’ve seen the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge pop up in various forms, and I question its purpose. Granted, I know the prevailing assumption is that poor people cannot have nice things, and if they do have nice things, they are not really poor.

Very often, this food stamp budget challenge is a dumb show of austerity. Don’t look at the Starbucks. Avoid the organic shelf. Healthy convenience is beyond your reach. But… is that really what you’re calling attention to? Being poor is hard? Is that the reason why during the political season, the word “poverty” is avoided thoroughly to concentrate on the discontent, benefit-ineligible middle class? Because if you talked to the middle class about the inadequacy of current benefit programs for the poor, they’d be even more turned off that current government policies favoring corporations are driving them below the poverty line?

It’s easier to cut down your consumption and say that being poor is hard, right?

Being poor isn’t easy. But it’s not for the reasons these challenge participants think.

Our culture has a problem with poor people. Socially, it takes every undesirable characteristic of living — violence, crime, racism, and general rudeness — and isolates it to the population with the least amount of means to defend itself. Instead of expanding social programs to feed and take care of its own people, America prefers to kill people on the other side of the world and accept no questions about its right to do so. Social programs, somehow, have become the demons of enlightened living.

So public officials deigning to expose themselves to the realities of public programs for a week? It strikes me as a token tossed to the poor.

I’d love to see public officials travel incognito to a department of social services office to apply for social benefits. I bet it takes them longer than a week to sign up.

Or maybe they should dress in their normal business suits, buy some Cheetos, and watch the reactions of more affluent folks as they pay with a food stamps card.

Or maybe they should learn how to buy a nutritious and delicious meal on a budget, so that they realize that the means are just that — the means — and can have a healthy end with some planning and knowing what you have.

Or relax the regulations to give food stamp recipients more freedom to choose what they eat.

Or increase food education for citizens generally.

I just… mayors and more affluent people doing these types of challenges strike me as empty, like putting on those rubber wristbands or wearing those ribbons.

If you’re going to do anything with that budget, why not use the money to buy goods for a food bank?

I… am potentially being a hater. But there are better ways to show you’re paying attention than a dip in the pool of poverty, isn’t there?

Signed,

The Woman Who Gave Away an Extensive 50 Cent Piece Collection

As a Preteen

to Buy a Pizza

When Her Family Was Out of Food and Food Stamps

 

so far gone.

A senior Israeli politician provoked controversy today when he warned that Palestinians firing rockets from Gaza would be punished with a “bigger holocaust” from Israeli armed forces.

The use of the Hebrew word for holocaust, “shoah”, tends to be used exclusively in Israel to describe the Nazi persecution of Jews.

Palestinian activists routinely claim to be suffering a “shoah” at the hands of Israel, but the Jewish state normally denies any moral equivalence between the suffering of Palestinians today and European jewry under the Nazis.

Matan Vilnai, deputy defence minister, broke that taboo when he used the term “shoah” during interview on Army Radio.

“The more qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” he said.

- Israeli minister vows Palestinian ‘holocaust,’ The Telegraph

I’ve seen comparisons to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now this?

The only thing those tragedies share is humanity’s willingness to test how far they can push violent solutions, and the answer in both instances was “until it breaks the moral psyche of the world’s citizenry and encourages a dangerous nihilism.”

We are not free so long as people who claim to represent our interests control militaristic strikes and wield words that can create our destruction. We do not win freedom with violence and annihilation.

Danger

Is it unreasonable of me to fear that I’ve forgotten how to care for others in learning to care for myself?

In the past, when I’d write about different issues, I tapped and depleted reserves of energy and empathy I did not know I had.

Now, when turned on myself and healing old wounds, I worry that I will never stop knitting and patching the holes in my psyche. I will never have enough time to reverse the damage of not being present in my body. I will spend so much time rebuilding and repairing my sense of self that there will be nothing left to give to anyone. What part of the game is that?

This post is for those who have seen this portion of the journey and circled back to the cycle of giving. How do you balance your needs in the exchange of love that surrounds active engagement with the world (beauty, flaws, and all)?

Things I’ve Been Doing

Followers of the blog (hi, if you’re still out there) have seen I haven’t updated my blog in ages, and occasionally I make excuses about why I’ve been absent. But the biggest reason I’ve absented myself is I’m reluctant to return to my old posting habits when I started this blog. Have you ever read your old essays and cringed because you know you’re capable of better writing? In addition, you have new experiences to share, and the old writing dredges up memories of places you had to visit to reach your current destination. Not-so-good memories.

Well, I’m back. I’ll write. But I don’t want to revisit the echo chambers of explaining why I’m human and why others like me are human. I still want to defend what is right and to speak with integrity; but I will not internalize or tolerate any debate of why I am less than or more than anyone else.

I wrote faithfully on human rights, and I am a writer. I am not a media correspondent. I don’t want to be a media correspondent. I’m fine off camera and off the microphone. (But I’ll take a book deal. :-P)

So, what has happened over the past months, beyond graduating from law school and earning my license to practice law? Not much, I’m afraid.

  • I read a lot of fiction and watch (possibly too much) TV.
  • I’ve started reading devotionals and praying more to connect more deeply with my Christianity.
  • I am having a love-hate relationship with physical fitness and exercise. Specifically, I am starting to run (!) and I want to resume practicing yoga. (At this point, “resume” probably isn’t the right word. I want to start again because I haven’t faithfully done yoga since 2004/2005! And anyone who practices yoga knows that when you haven’t done it for years, you’re starting from scratch.)
  • I’m preparing myself to become a caregiver for a parent.
  • I’m cooking and baking, and I enjoy it so much it may result in a career change or a side hustle in the future.
  • I’m making plans to visit a friend who lives abroad.
  • I’m doing more crafting — another form of relaxation and enjoyment.

I’m not watching the news cycles, tweeting incessantly, obsessing over anyone, eating my feelings (at least, not with junk food), or playing King of the Hill games with anyone. Loving others, combined with a healthy and liberal dose of self-care, is the new world order, folks. With that declared, I think I can compose myself here again.

For folks who want to connect with me on social media, I am on Pinterest if you want to see the recipes I have collected, along with other interests like fashion and general geekery. My Twitter account is still open; but I’ve been off that for a while. If I start again, I’ll let you know.

In conclusion, I guess what I’m trying to say is hello, world.

On Shame, Fitness Consciousness, and What Fat Friendliness Means

In the quest to achieve physical fitness, being fat is not the enemy.    

Exercise and eating well-balanced meals help people achieve a healthy lifestyle.  Some meals provide more nutrients and health benefits than others.  It depends on the food, the preparation, and the body absorbing it.  Some exercises achieve better results than others.  Again, it depends on the exercise, the body doing the exercise, and the intensity/frequency.  

Everyone who starts a journey to become fit enters the game at different levels of unfitness.  The amount of weight someone carries is another level, just as someone lean who wants to build muscle is at another level, just as someone who wants to maintain current weight is at another level.  

Why am I starting on this now?  Because reaching a goal of fitness is something I’ve been chasing since my preteen years.  It’s eluded me, partly because of my demons (I eat my feelings, they taste rather like ice cream, and it is difficult to eat ice cream and work out at the same damn time) and partly because of the attitudes I have encountered on my journey.  

I joined a gym earlier this year with a friend.  We selected the gym pretty spontaneously; it’s not particularly close to where we live.  But it has decent machines and fun group fitness classes (my concerns), and it has a pool (her main concern).  Between the two of us, I am the one with the highest weight loss goal.  I’ve experienced different treatment from being overweight and obese most of my life.  But for some reason, I thought that a gym environment would treat me differently because ultimately, the goal is to get people fit and on the right track.

I was wrong. 

I sensed a red flag when after signing the contracts, my friend and I asked if they carried t-shirts with the gym’s name or anything that we could receive as a perk.  Our representative smiled and asked for our sizes.  I asked for a size ending in X, which sounds the Warning: Fat Woman alarm.  His face falters a little bit; but he excuses himself to go retrieve the shirts.  I think, “Hey, this gym actually may have something in my size.  How great would it be to keep getting smaller shirts as I start this journey!  I wonder how many people who have to lose over 100 pounds have come here…” 

He returns with a standard sized shirt for my friend and a beach towel for me.  

A beach towel?  My first thought, and I hate to admit this, is I must look like a whale.  Nevertheless, I accept my towel, and my friend is gushing about how this new gym will change everything.  A few months pass, and as she works out to prepare for her upcoming wedding, I am in the wind because the personal training sessions are too expensive.  We tried a free joint session with a trainer who walked us through the machines and then charged us an extremely high rate to persuade us to continue with him.  No thanks.  We do, however, take advantage of the club manager’s offer to set appointments with us every six weeks or so to take all of our measurements (and I mean all of them) and discuss our progress.  For me, that decision winds up being a big mistake.  

As I mentioned, the gym is not particularly convenient for me.  For those who know me, they know that I still don’t drive, and I don’t live in the best area.  If I can’t ride to the gym with my friend, getting there pretty much won’t happen for a while.  I don’t want to be in a situation where I am navigating an unreliable public transit system at night in a moderately dangerous area alone.  My safety ranked higher than the gym, and I wish it didn’t because I like the gym.  I like going and using the cardio machines much better than I like working out at home.  Being able to listen to music or watch a movie while moving motivates me more than popping in a DVD.  There’s also the communal aspect of the gym: this is the place where people go to exercise.  I can’t putz around and go to a refrigerator to check for cookie ingredients at the gym.  (Okay, I guess I could do that… but I wouldn’t be as successful as I would be at home.)  

Anyway, I reach an impasse where I don’t make it to the gym for multiple weeks.  My friend’s schedule and mine aren’t syncing, my personal life reaches a morass of unfulfilled potential and disappointments, and Talenti gelato tastes better than my sweat and doesn’t blind me when it gets in my eyes.  Not that I ever get it in my eyes.  Stop judging me.  

She takes our measurements, and I know that my results will suck.  I think I am mentally prepared to justify why I’ve gained back every pound I’ve lost.  Little did I know I was walking into a moment that would have appeared on any of these “reality shows” concerning weight loss.  The club manager confronted me, and as I explained the setbacks as best as I could, she kept asking if I wanted to lose weight and be fit.  Over and over and over.  Until I broke down.  Completely.

She seemed surprised that her barrage of questions elicited that emotional response from me.  I think I felt shocked, too.  The wide spectrum that lay between me and her led me to thinking about the beginning of this post.  I don’t dispute that I have a long way to go on my journey to be fit.  My health isn’t in jeopardy; but I don’t want to wait until it is giving me problems to change my ways.  

However, the level of investment it takes to devote yourself to better health in this society isn’t as simple as joining a gym.  It’s getting to the gym.  It’s setting aside time to exercise.  It’s setting aside time to find fresh produce and quality meat.  It’s time to research healthier ways of preparing foods.  It’s determining how much of a food you enjoy you can eat, and how it fits into your daily caloric intake.  (For example, my daily caloric intake is not 2,000 – 2,500 calories a day; so nutrition labels may give me a general idea but not the full picture of how to proceed.)  It’s time to cook and plan ahead.  It’s budgeting for grocery trips.  It’s fighting every urge in you to avoid riding the elevator to your floor at work.  It’s… so much more than worrying about disappointing a gym club manager.  

Which leads to my ultimate point… shouldn’t people involved in fitness be aware of these obstacles?  Food deserts and activity goals have sociological weight when you share them in the news or talk offhand to other politically aware folks.  I don’t dispute that.  But in the fitness business, where gyms and gurus sell products based on statistics of overweight and obese people making up X percent of Y population, shouldn’t basic understanding of how social shaming and deterrence of healthful living affect how Fitness Inc. interacts with overweight and obese people?  

Because I didn’t feel motivated when I left the office that day.  I felt ashamed.  I wanted to go home and stop because clearly, since I eat and work and don’t drive, clearly since I have days when I don’t want to cook or I simply want to enjoy a meal without thinking of its nutritional composition, clearly since I am taking the very slow route of learning what’s best for my body instead of falling for every nutrition label and chemically enhanced food designed to cater to my immediate need to Not Be Fat Right This Moment And Forever After, clearly fitness isn’t in the cards for me.

I believed that for a good bit.  Because I’m fat, right?  It costs more to make fat people clothes, and it’s fat people’s faults that unhealthy foods exist.  Or something.  

But then I changed my belief.  It is a person’s responsibility to take charge of how she lives and to make the changes according to what she can do.  But there is a sphere beyond her control, and in that sphere, people do not know how to treat positive, gradual change.  In this sphere, people don’t realize that a fitness conscious world is a fat friendly world, or that fat and fit are not mutually exclusive terms.  One person’s fat is another person’s fit, and the numbers may not match perfectly with the bodies or experiences.   

People think increases in compliments and sharing the knowledge that you’re not like those other bad people will motivate you instead of expose their biases.  I’m not getting fit for that.  I’m not undertaking this journey for that.  Some may be, and they may relish the day they can turn the ire, contempt, and shame they have internalized from society onto others.  But that’s… that’s not healthy.  And isn’t that largely what fitness is about?  Good health?  

Privilege 101

Privilege.  Let’s see.

Privilege is what happens when a group has so much power that they expect explanations and catering when none is deserved.

Privilege is what happens when closed spaces are opened, bigotry is exposed, and the powerful group demands 1) resuming closure of the ranks, or 2) opening all spaces created to avoid the closed spaces to them to import their ignorance.

Privilege is failing to understand why epithets are offensive at all.  Forget context or the speakers.  Language becomes “communication for human beings” instead of another mechanism for control and exclusion.

Privilege is a powerful group not having to worry about what they wear or who watches them as they perform daily tasks.

Privilege is a powerful group not being questioned about income sources, and escaping scrutiny and regulation because society deems them fit to live.

Privilege is never having to apologize and only regretting the possibility of offense.  Because surely, for privileged people, offense does not exist except when accused of offending.

Privilege is a group’s outrage when accommodating others unlike themselves with complete obliviousness to the customized world in which they thrive.

Privilege is a group bending and shaping unbreakable rules when applied to the unprivileged.

Privilege is a face with no eyes, no nose, no ears, and no mouth.  It is a steamroller that forges paths on the bodies of the powerless.

Privilege looks at the faces of the Others and only sees itself reflected back.  It does not look for common ground, only redemptive qualities and trends to absorb and possess.

Privilege is not friendship, scholarship, or authority.  It is chaos warped into world order.

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