Some pithy title

Well, yesterday’s post was a real bummer. Sorry about that, average of 1.2 people who read my blog every month. This is the part where I would normally make a self-deprecating joke and delete the post.

Not going to do that this time. Even though I feel much better today, what I wrote yesterday was real. I rarely talk about my depression. I need to change that. Who is going to work toward removing the stigma? I am. Ahem.

I don’t think I’ve ever written in depth about my health care issues. I have “dysthymia, with recurring major depressive episodes” which basically means that I am chronically depressed and sometimes I get so depressed that I can’t get out of bed in the morning. I take medication every day and likely will need to keep doing that all my life if I want to continue to be alive.

Major depression isn’t like sadness. It isn’t something that can be talked away in therapy and it can be surprisingly difficult to get rid of even with medication. It is an experience I hope never to go through again. In fact, I am so afraid of falling into that pit again that any time I get sad, for any reason, I panic.

My goto defense mechanism against all this yuck is denial. At the first sign of sadness or anxiety, my body and mind go full on into “ignore this” mode. I have disassociated so hard at times that I seem to wake up after a fog days or even weeks later with a really fuzzy grasp of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Looking back over my past is like looking at a patchwork quilt with many of the pieces missing or so frayed as to be unrecognizable.

My therapists have been encouraging me for a long time to try to sit with my anxiety and sadness, to let myself feel it because after all it’s already there, to examine it and recognize what physical sensations it creates, or it’s made up of or whatever. It was so hard to do that, so scary. But, yesterday I really tried it. I also deliberately worked on some of my other coping mechanisms — physical exercise, meditation, and writing down my feelings.

I’m still sad. But, I’m ok with that (mostly). When someone you care for dies, it’s normal to be sad. I need to give myself the space for that. I realize that disappearing into a fog of denial is not terribly much better than falling into the pit.

So, deep sigh. One day at a time.

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Keep moving

Today I am fighting. I’m fighting to keep the dark grey encroaching on my mental horizon from crushing me under its weight. I’m fighting the overwhelming despair, the crippling melancholy, my old enemy. I know if I stop moving, it will catch up to me and I will fall. If I fall, it is so far, far, impossibly far to the bottom of that well. Living with this condition, this secret, invisible illness, means fighting. It seems that everything is fine and then just like that, out of the blue, there’s all this crushing despair. But, I have resources. I can fight this. I can remind myself that the hopelessness is (probably? mostly?) in my mind. Oh, it’s going to take a lot of reminding. I can do this. Somebody please tell me I can do this.

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On Skin Color

An interesting thing happened a few months ago that I have been processing ever since. Froggy, who was five at the time, wanted to draw a picture of my family.

This is not the unusual part. Hang with me for a bit of explanation. My parents and one sister live in Texas. My other sister lives in Tennessee. Froggy has met and spent time with my parents and TXSis recently enough that she remembers them and occasionally still mentions their visits, but the last time (only time?) she met TNSis was when Froggy was pretty little. So, she does not remember TNSis at all.

So, Froggy was drawing a picture. She drew Gran and Grandad, me and TXSis. Then she sat for a while staring at the paper. I was standing nearby because Froggy does not like to do anything by herself (something we REALLY need to work on!). Finally, she looked up at me and asked, “What color is TNSis?”

I didn’t understand the question at first, so I stared at her dumbly for a minute and then blurted out, “Same color as you.” Froggy looked down at her arm and went back to drawing.

It finally occurred to me that Froggy really didn’t know what color TNSis was. She knows that people can have dark or light skin, but she has no idea why that is. Some of her friends are brown and some are light-skinned. Some of her brown friends have at least one light-skinned parent, and at least one has a light-skinned sibling. So, why should it occur to her that skin color has anything to do with the people you’re related to?

I was and have been utterly fascinated by this little exchange ever since it happened. If only we could just let children be, they would save us all. As it is, I wonder in sadness how long it will take for someone to introduce her to racism. Our systems are designed to perpetuate it. Can I protect her from that? Is it possible that she could grow up seeing people first and skin color only when she’s ready to paint or draw?

I have this huge responsibility to help her understand the horror of our racist past without instiling any of that racism in her. Can I do that? I was raised in Texas. I have a long way to go just to purge the racism out of myself. I can’t do anything about my family either (I keep trying, but seriously some of them don’t even think they are racist, even as they hold their purses tighter when a black person walks by).

I mean, obviously being a parent is a huge responsibility. We all know that (or should know that) before we have kids. In most cases, I think I’m up to the challenge. But, this one is really difficult. I’m going to have to have help. At least I am aware of that now. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. Froggy is amazing like that, always challenging me with new problems. 😀

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Spiders vs Legomaniacs

In this post-fact era, people frequently ask me and each other (and the stars in the sky), “How can people still keep believing in Trump when all he does is lie?”

There have been so many answers to this question.  Social scientists and philosophers have asked similar questions for thousands of years.  Why do people believe the things they believe, especially in the presence of contradictory facts?  I have even seen academic studies pronouncing the differences between liberal and conservative reactions, and even brain structure. Even academics are fascinated by this problem.

However, it is not liberal vs conservative thought that I am obsessing over.  It is the extremes to which people seem to be going in each direction these days.  We all have our own values and we tend to gravitate to politicians and leaders who will enact policy to match them.  It is a give and take and overall we end up with a reasonable system.  The problems arise with extremism, in either direction, which causes problems.  Unfortunately, we seem to be overrun by extremists just now.

To me, it all boils down to one thing.  Childhood.  Seriously.  Most of us develop some sort of worldview during our childhood.  Some of us experience some kind of trauma or time of serious questioning during adolescence or shortly thereafter that causes our worldview to shatter.  We pick up the pieces and put things back together, often trying to reconcile whatever happened with our previous core beliefs.  The more disillusioned we become, the less sure we are about anything.  Nothing is quite as concrete after that.  That is how a skeptic is born.  Parents who shield their children from these types of questions are failing as parents.

The world changes.  Civilizations change.  Science reveals new theories or reveals proof (or disproof) of older ones.   Thousands of years ago, one person’s lifetime may not have been long enough to see earth-shattering changes.  In the last hundred or so, one could experience several before reaching adulthood.  Understanding how to integrate the changes into our worldview, rather than trying to weaponize our worldview against every change, is an important life skill.

Learning to be flexible does not have to be traumatic, as it was for me.  Parents can ease their children into rational adulthood by encouraging them to question things from an early age.  Why do you think that?  Can we do an experiment to see if that is true?  What have other people who have studied the issue thought? Is that an opinion or a fact?  What is the difference? (Some adults do not understand this, which is sad.)

It seems to me that  the longer one goes in life without having their worldview shaken all the way down to the core beliefs, the more inflexible they become.  The more they look for answers in the same book, or from the same set of authors, the more stagnant and solidified their beliefs become. The further they go in life being self-righteous and “Sure,” the more they depend on their beliefs for their self-worth.   The more they depend upon their beliefs, the less likely they are to accept contradictory facts and try to re-shape their beliefs to fit reality.  Instead, they try to shape reality to fit their beliefs, going back again to the same sources that formed their beliefs instead of looking outward for new ideas.

I have no patience with believers.  When someone ignores any fact that disagrees with their beliefs, they live a life of hypocrisy.  Not only that, but belief without facts to back them up can make people vulnerable to all kinds of propaganda.  Once you get in the habit of ignoring the truth, it becomes easier and easier.  Once you decide to only listen to a certain sources, those sources can tell you anything.

It occurs to me that this solidifying of belief systems may be why the farthest groups on both the left and the right tend toward authoritarianism.  When your beliefs become so solidified that they can no longer be questioned, it becomes almost logical to look for a leader who will enforce those views on everyone.  The only difference is that the right tends toward fascism and the left tends toward communism, but both ultimately end in authoritarianism of some sort once they go far enough into the realm of “belief”.

Take any belief to its furthest extreme and it becomes distorted, dangerous.  Right now in the US, we have two groups of extremists battling for control.  The the far (“christian”) right has the reins just now, but the far left is attempting to strike back.  Those of us who are more moderate in our views are caught in the middle.

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Culture Wars

Not long ago Richard Spencer, the white supremacist best known for getting punched in the face on video, was asked a question about religion.  He said that he was a “cultural christian,” later admitting  he is an atheist.  So, he was not referring to “Christianity” as a religion, but as a set of cultural mores.   I like to call this lower case christianity.  There are no ethical demands inherent in lower case christianity.  No Biblical standards to uphold, no uncomfortable questions about what Jesus would do.  Nobody cares what Jesus would do.  If Jesus were here, he’d be just another unwelcome brown person.

The important thing about Christianity to the cultural christians, is that people believe in it.  In order to carry out the authoritarian goals of the so-called alt-right, cultural christian, etc. movement, people need to believe in things.  All great authoritarians have given the people something to believe in.  In most cases, at least in the beginning, it is belief in the leader himself, or at least belief that the leader has been anointed or ordained in some way.  Later it might just become belief in the overarching power of the leader with the resulting fear of retribution or self-protecting devotion.  Cultural christians (like Richard Spencer) argue that the United States government currently lacks that something to believe in.  They think that in order to be successful, government needs to be intertwined with religion.  Without belief in the government, they argue, the government can not succeed.  Belief in government can be achieved by attaching government to something people already believe in, religion.

These views run counter to modern, humanist philosophy which calls for a separation of church and state so that citizens can have religious freedom (and freedom from religion).   For most of United States history, it has been part of the mythos of the state that the US is a “Christian” nation.  Cultural christians want to legislate that and make it real.

Of course, when they talk about legislating  Christianity, they are not talking about the spiritual values of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that are spoken about in the Biblical book of Galatians and thought by most Christians to be the signs that a person is living in Christ.  Instead,  the cultural trappings of lower case christianity are what they want.  For instance, they want to repeal marriage equality. Some would go so far as to bring back laws that effectively make homosexuality illegal.   The white supremacist branch wants to get rid of civil rights legislation (and indeed, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has already instructed the Justice Department to “pull back” on police department civil rights suits).  Some have pushed for things as petty and territory-marking as  posting  the ten commandments at various state houses.  Some would like to make any religion other than Christianity illegal, although that group has not yet become as vocal as they inevitably will as the 45* regime wears on. They want to tie the state in with their religion as tightly as possible.  As Adolph Hitler said, “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.”  If people believe in the leader, they will follow him even against their own interests.  We have seen that happening already.

I’ve written before about the marriage of the republican party to the far right religious groups that I became aware of in the 1980’s.  Now, however, it seem that the far right religious groups have taken over the republican party altogether.  With Trump as their face, they are steadily progressing toward the authoritarian, religious state that the evangelicals, in particular, have longed for since before most of us were born.  But in the process, they have moved so far away from the basic tenets and principles of the Christian faith as to be almost unrecognizable as Christians.

The culture wars are not over.  The cultural christians are still in the minority.  People who actually try to live by Christian principles are starting to realize that the cultural christian movement is antithetical to Christianity, even though many established churches have been subsumed by it.  Non-Christians, meaning people of faith of other religions  as well as  “nones” (atheists, agnostics, etc.)  are not swayed by the religiosity being displayed.  But, it will not be easy to disentangle ourselves from the 45* regime.  As noted above, it is always more difficult to fight against belief than against facts.  No amount of factual data will sway the Trump true believers at this point.  We just need to hope that journalists with integrity will keep putting the truth out there so that less gullible, non-believing people can find it.

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For what it is worth

No one asked me, but I will say that I believe that Summer Zervos was genuinely hurt by Mr. Trump. I think she gave him a pass years ago for the same reason women in abusive relationships everywhere give their abusers a pass. Because she wanted to believe that she meant something to him, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Once she began to realize that she was not special to him (finally), the humiliation was likely overwhelming. She is still seeking validation from him. She will not get it. And her defamation lawsuit will have no impact on him, I suspect. I hope she has grown enough to survive that. 

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What is race?

I read an essay today (RACE IS ABOUT INTERPRETATION, NOT IDENTITY.) which spun up my thinking wheels.  Go read that essay and then come back.  I’ll wait.  Ready?  Did you really read it, or ..?  Ok, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

When I was a little girl, “race” was a simple concept (aren’t all concepts seemingly simpler when you look at them as a child?).  I thought that “white” meant people with pale or fair skin and “black” meant people with darker skin.  Simple, right?  But then I met a Japanese boy, who told me, “I’m not white, dummy, I’m Japanese.”  I was thoroughly confused.  His skin was literally the same color as mine.  How could he not be white just because he was Japanese?  The whole concept of “race” fell apart for me.  If a pale skinned person might not be white, then maybe some darker skinned people might not be black.  How was I supposed to know who was what?  And why did  I even need to?  If it was just an arbitrary designation, then what difference would it make if I got it wrong? But getting it wrong apparently made me a “dummy,” so I needed to get it right.  But how could I get it right if there were no reliable rules?  It was my first indication that “race,” like so many other things in my life had turned out to be,  was just something grownups made up to confuse children.  To be fair, it also confuses grownups, I have found.

Later, as I got older, I began to realize that the “white” people were considered the right kind of people and the people who were not “white” were the people who lived in the bad part of the next town (not in our town).  I understood that my parents were proud of their choice to move to the mostly all-white smaller town rather than the more racially diverse larger town nearby. That didn’t make any sense to me.  The larger town had better schools, a movie theater, lots of things that the smaller town didn’t have. (Pretty sure the smaller town didn’t even have a public library, for god’s sake), but they liked it because there weren’t so many … blacks.

Needless to say, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with “race” as a concept.  I’m pretty sure that I am a  racist, on a deeply subconscious level.  I was raised that way.  I heard the “N word” growing up more than I can count, especially from my cousins who would call me and each other that as the worst insult they could think of.  I never remember saying it myself.  I never remember hearing my mother or either of my sisters say it.  But that was maybe more out of an ingrained need to be polite than an absence of racism.  But, I’ve always been skeptical that such a thing as “race” actually exists.  And in college I learned that the definition of “whiteness” has changed and evolved over the years.  New immigrants are almost always considered “not white.”  Over the course of time, the Irish, the Hungarians, and even the Italians all graduated to “whiteness,” but they had to be here a while first.  In some regions of the country, there are still debates about who gets to be “white” and there also exist hierarchies of “whiteness” (ever heard the term “white trash”?).  But the overarching idea is that “whiteness” is power.  “Whiteness” is privilege.

And “whiteness” is in the eye of the beholder.   As Marissa Jenae Johnson points out in her essay, the cop doesn’t know what race you identify as or what race your parents are when he pulls a gun on you because he has characterized you as “black” and therefore dangerous.   That means that a person with the “wrong” physical characteristics will be labelled by observers to be less worthy than another person whose characteristics are deemed more acceptable, regardless of the fact that said characteristics are surface-level and superficial and have nothing to do with the person’s actual character.

And as I noted above, the characteristics change over time and vary by region.  A person might be considered “white” in one place and “black” somewhere else.  Or maybe they might be considered “white” when on their own, but “black” when seen with their mixed-race family.  It’s achingly subjective.    It’s all subjective, ephemeral, and meaningless, but used to subjugate some lift up others.

We are not talking about genetics here.  To quote from the essay that I have now mentioned a few times, “There are no genetic markers for being Black and people born to one or more Black parents may or may not be born with features that label them as Black to the outside world.”  (bold in original, and I liked it so I kept it.) There have been people in every generation who were able to “pass” as “white,” because they possessed fewer of the superficial traits that are used to judge  “blackness.”  But what would it be like, to be such a person, living their life and being themselves but feeling like a fraud for “hiding” something that is ephemeral and subjective to begin with, and for living in the world of privilege denied to their darker-skinned or kinkier-haired or  more obviously (fill in the blank with some other random “black” trait)  than their family members?

Being perceived and treated as white is protective.  At one point in my life, I had over $500 in unpaid tickets and a warrant out for my arrest for not showing up to pay said tickets, when I got stopped because my license plate had expired.  Now, if I had been a black male in that situation, there’s a non-zero chance that I would have ended up shot to death.  If I had been a black woman, I most likely would have at least been arrested.   Instead, I just got another ticket, to add to the other $500 worth that I hadn’t paid.  (I ended up finally talking to a lawyer and by showing up to court  while white and in a suit, I ended up only paying like a quarter of the tickets and the rest were dismissed.  That is white privilege.)

I don’t have any answers.  I’ve spent most of my life trying to find the right questions to ask.  For instance, how do we get rid of the systemic racism that ties “blackness” to negative traits and causes blacks to be perceived as a threat just for being black?  How do we level the playing field so that all of us get a chance to reach our potential based on how hard we work and not on what we look like.  How do we disrupt the school to prison pipeline? It’s going to take white people caring about the issues and working toward fixing them.  But, we’re going to need black people to show us the way to help or we’re just going to look like supercilious, privileged people trying to assuage our own guilt.

I subscribed to this thing called The Safety Pin Box.  It’s useful information, plus assignments curated by black women.  The proceeds from the #safetypinbox go to help black women entrepreneurs succeed, so it would be worthwhile just for that.  But, you get so much more than just a warm, fuzzy. You get to actually learn new things and grow your own consciousness and do tangible, helpful things that you wouldn’t have thought of doing on your own.  Maybe I haven’t found any answers, but I’m definitely starting to ask the right questions.

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Fake News

I am so sad and broken. My own family, who I love and who I believe are good and intelligent people, have fallen for the infowars fake news. I have redirected my mom, my uncle, my sister to and other sites, debunking the stories they posted to Facebook. But, even still, they continue to gobble up the lies. They believe that I am the one who has been fooled. Alex Jones and his nutcase followers have become mainstream. The man who claims the Sandy Hook shooting didn’t really happen (in spite of evidence, photos, and heart-breaking stories from survivors) is now dictating my family’s beliefs. How did this happen?

I remember growing up in the Assembly of God church. I remember being taught to love my neighbor. I remember all the Bible verses we memorized in Sunday School. But all that changed in my youth. The church became darker, more political. The preacher spent almost as much time in the pulpit talking about this or that politician who was “from satan” as he did talking about the Bible. I left the church after hearing the pastor say from the pulpit that the Dallas Cowboys were bound to win because Tom Landry was a Christian and God was watching over him. It seemed to me then that they served a very petty god, who would watch over a football team and let children die.

What happened to the church? It became an arm of the republican party. It started with Reagan appearing on the 700 Club and warning about armageddon being nigh. Implying that electing democrats was the same as worshipping satan. It was smooth and almost unnoticeable, I did not really put the pieces together myself until many years and much heartache later.

Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family all began to put out political, not religious programming. They started conditioning people to accept an authoritarian regime. Individuals were encouraged not to believe what they saw with their eyes or touched with their own hands, but only to believe what “God”, in the form of their religious leaders told them to. My sister used to have that saying posted in a prominent place in her house. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something like “Don’t believe what you see with your eyes or what you hear with your ears or touch or taste, only believe what God tells you.” And how do you figure out what God is telling you? Just believe whatever you read in infowars?

1 John 4:4 says, “My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.” So, where is the discernment? Who is weighing and examining what people are telling them?

I get that it’s hard to tell sometimes in this post-fact world just who is telling the truth. The people at Fox and Infowars are constantly slamming the so-called “liberal media.” The bubbles are real. People are retreating more and more to safe spaces where other people around seem to think the same way they do.

I don’t know what the solution is. The fake news sites are entrenched and Infowars is not even the worst among them. Facebook refuses to address the issue of fake news being propagated there. Entire swathes of the country honestly believe that CNN and NYT are conspiring against them, when CNN and NYT are two of the outlets that most favored Trump and spread the most excrement about Hillary Clinton. There is no discernment, no logic to it.

Harvard did a study, counting the articles published about Trump and Clinton and came to the conclusion that the media was slanted against Clinton, using scientific method and actual numbers and content of articles. Would anyone in my family recognize the study as valid? Probably not. Who knows? I’m pretty sure most of them ignore all my posts to Facebook in favor of their more comfortable right-wing bubble.

My only consolation is that world history goes in cycles.  This too shall pass.  I hope it goes before I die.  I don’t want to leave my daughter unprotected in the world as it is going now.

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My donation page for ExtraLife

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This is the letter I sent out months ago about this event.  I admit I didn’t do most of the things in the letter.  I spent most of my time campaigning for HRC and donating and encouraging people to donate to Hillary or to the Democrats up and down the line.  BUT, I am still raising money for ExtraLife and I am only about halfway to my goal.  So, here’s the letter once again. :)

Dear friends and family,

As many of you know, I am gaming for ExtraLife again this year in an effort to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network. This year, my chosen hospital is Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint Michigan. Hurley has the only Pediatric Emergency Area, the only level III NICU, the only Burn Unit, and the only Pediatric Intensive Care unit in the region. Flint and surrounding areas are struggling to meet healthcare needs of the children affected by the water crisis. Regardless of the causes or the politics of the situatiuon, these children are still permanently affected by their elevated lead levels. Hurley Children’s Hospital, along with Michigan State University, is working tirelessly to address the problems and come up with a plan to assist these children in overcoming the health effects of this crisis. The affected children are likely to have more injuries, more illnesses and more behavior problems than children not exposed to high levels of lead. They will need extra care and support to counterract the effects of exposure.

Hurley Children’s Hospital has been a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital since 1990. Their committment to treating all children, regardless of their ability to pay as well as their community education programs and efforts to reduce childhood injuries and preventable illnesses made them a prime candidate for being invited to join this prestigious network of 170 hospitals in the US and Candada.

Back to ExtraLife! I will be doing various gaming events throughout the year to raise money and bring attention to Children’s Miracle Network and the awesome work they do around the country, as well as Hurley Children’s Hospital in particular. Watch my donations page or follow @talene on twitter for more informatiion and updates as we go along.

The final event will be a weekend long game-a-thon November 5-6, 2016 which will be broadcast live (or semi-live) on More information on that will be forthcoming as we get closer to the date.

In the meantime please visit my donations page for updates and consider donating whatever amount you can spare. Thank you for reading this!


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