What Kids Should Learn About Mental Health

The stigma and the misinformation surrounding mental illness are staggering.

How many adults believe that depression is “just being sad”? That the weather can be “bipolar”? That you can call yourself OCD because you’re a little too organized? That suicide threats are never acted on? That mentally ill people are dangerous? That prayer, or sunshine, or positive thinking will cure all mental disorders?

We can’t do much about educating and informing the adult population that all those beliefs are false. But we can avoid raising another generation that buys in to these misconceptions – if we start now with mental health education in schools.

Whenever someone proposes this idea, there are common objections. You want kindergartners to learn about schizophrenia. You’ll have impressionable kids thinking they have every disorder you teach about. Discussing suicide will give teens ideas.

Again, those are misconceptions. Mental health education in schools could look like this:

In kindergarten and grades 1-2, part of the health curriculum should be a unit about understanding emotions and how to deal with them. This is already being done when teachers tell kids to “use your words” or “use your indoor voice.” But more could be done in the area of teaching children how they can keep from letting anger, sadness, frustration, and other emotions cause them difficulties. Yes, this may involve techniques that resemble meditation and yes, these may be controversial, but the outcomes will be beneficial.

I also think that young children ought to be taught about autism. They will certainly meet autistic children in their classes at this age. Helping them understand the condition at their age level will, one can hope, lead to more inclusion and less bullying of kids who are “different.”

Older children can learn about mental illness in their science or health classes. This should be a unit that covers the basic facts: that mental illness is like physical illness in some ways, that treatment is available, that mental or emotional disorders will affect one in four Americans in their lifetimes, and that mentally ill persons are not generally dangerous.

Middle schoolers can be taught some more specifics: the names and symptoms of some of the most common disorders, the kinds of treatments available, famous people who have succeeded in spite of mental disorders and ordinary people who live fulfilling lives despite them. Speakers from local mental health centers or the school guidance counselor would be helpful.

The topics of self-harm and suicide should be brought up at the middle school level. It is sad but true that children in the middle school age range are affected by both – if not directly, by knowing a classmate who is. And suicide is the third leading cause of death for children ages 10-14. Learning the facts may help students who need it find help before it is too late.

In high school, the focus can shift to human psychology; more detail about serious psychological conditions; and the possibility of careers in mental health treatment, nursing, or advocacy. Topics of self-harm and suicide should be covered in greater detail, with discussions of how suicide affects the families and loved ones of those who die by suicide, how to recognize possible signs that a person is thinking about suicide or self-harm, and what does and doesn’t work when a person shows those signs.

The details of mental health education in schools still need to be worked out. These suggestions come from my experience as a person with bipolar disorder, who began showing symptoms while I was a child. Organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) provide resources that can help in understanding the need for mental health education among school-aged children.

Understanding mental health is as important for schoolchildren as understanding physical health. Why should one get all the attention and the other virtually none? Mental health education that begins early can help children and their families in ways that will resonate far into the future.

Most adults have little to no understanding of the realities of mental illness. It doesn’t have to be the same for the next generation.

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A Taste for Wine

Wednesday afternoons at 4:30 were special at my college. We’d gather in an auditorium and spit in buckets.

Well, that’s not all there is to the story.

It starts back when I graduated high school and was old enough to drink. I discovered wine. Really bad wine. Not quite as bad as Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. Not quite as bad as my mother’s Mogen David, but pretty bad. Pink champagne on New Year’s Eve bad.

Candy wine. (This was before distillers started putting marshmallow fluff in vodka, you understand.)

My tastes developed over the years. I graduated (as it were) to Yago Sangria. The only cheap wine that was too disgusting for me, besides the Mogen David, was Carlo Rossi Grenâche Rosé. So I added orange juice and seltzer water and called it a spritzer.

Then, in my junior year of college, I had an epiphany. It was called Wine Tasting 101 for Non-Majors. The class met on Wednesday afternoons in the aforementioned auditorium and sampled various wines. Good wines. Bad wines. Wines from France and Italy and California and New York. We passed bottles of wine and small plastic cups down the row like we were in church, only without the collection baskets. There was a spit bucket at the end of each row of the auditorium seating for those who didn’t drink (very few) or those who hated a particular wine.

There was lots to hate, as well as lots to love. We sampled the candy wines (I was actually fond of Pear Ripple, which I don’t think you can get nowadays). We sampled wines that had gone bad in various ways so that we knew what to say to snooty wine stewards: “This wine is foxy,” for example. (Or “musty” or “oxidized.” Those were ones for the spit bucket.

Every week we tackled wines from a different part of the world. We learned to tell a Bordeaux from a Beaujolais, a Sauvignon from a Sauterne, and which ones we liked better. We learned why you swirl the wine in the glass before you drink it and what information you can get from that.

But this, as I mentioned, was the course for non-majors. Cornell had, in addition to the usual schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture, and the like, a Hotel School, which ran an actual hotel on campus, much beloved of alumni and visiting parents. Hotel majors had a very different wine class, the sort in which you took a sip and had to identify the country, the variety, the grape, and the name of the woman who stomped it. It was not pass/fail, the way the course for non-majors was. It was not a jolly passing of bottles. It did not enliven Wednesday afternoons.

I never took the class for majors, though I once thought about transferring to the Hotel School. But over the years, my taste in wine has changed. I now like dry red wines, and I no longer drink them chilled. I ask for Brut or Extra Brut champagne at New Year’s Eve. I can tell when a wine is oaky or has undertones of cherry. Oh, I still drink Three-Buck Chuck when I’m down on my luck. And I will indulge in the sweeter, fruitier wines like Pinot Grigio that my husband prefers, when I’d rather have a Pinot Noir.

The only gap in my education is German wines. I still can’t tell a Riesling from a Liebfraumilch. I was absent that Wednesday.

Every other Wednesday I would roll home to my sorority house, bathed in a grape-y glow, satisfied with the knowledge that I had just furthered my education – and with something that would be useful in years to come.

 

Who Needs the Department of Education?

Once when I was traveling with my mother, we met a woman from Australia and discovered that, despite the fact that we all spoke English, we still had cultural differences. My mother told her about this wonderful vest I had with all the pockets so I could keep my money, passport, photo equipment, maps, bus schedules, brochures, snacks, and other gear handy. (It was from Banana Republic.) Slowly I realized that to the Australian woman, “vest” meant “undershirt,” and she was getting a very odd idea of how I carried around my travel supplies.

She also said that she couldn’t understand how there could be a different speed limit in every state, especially since we had 50 of them. (Australia has six.)

“That’s nothing,” I said. “You should see the liquor laws. Those can vary by county or even city or township – when and where you can buy beer, wine, and liquor, if they allow it at all; what days and times liquor stores can be open; and so on.”

That’s not unlike how the education system in the United States works. “Local control” of education is held sacred in many schools and districts, even if it means that students in one state learn about evolution while others don’t, or that school boards have control of curriculum instead of states, or that children in certain states use textbooks the content of which is dictated by people in other states.

It’s a patchwork and a hodge-podge, and a big mess. Attempts to make school funding more fair, to eliminate de facto segregation, and to standardize curriculum are loudly and effectively resisted.

Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. Secretary of Education, is at best a loose cannon. Her nomination was confirmed by only the slimmest of margins – hardly a ringing endorsement for her agenda. And what is that agenda likely to contain?

More patchwork, more hodge-podge, more mess. In addition to waving the banner of local control, Ms. DeVos is a proponent of private and charter schools, which suck students and money away from the public schools. And she promotes the practice of home-schooling, which can be beneficial or not, depending on the skill and oversight of the home-schoolers, and what they teach their children.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we may not have to deal with whatever changes Ms. DeVos would like to make, since shortly after her confirmation it was announced that the entire Department of Education was slated for destruction.

Why do we even have a Department of Education? It was broken off as a separate Cabinet-level department from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now called Health and Human Services). For over 35 years, its function has been to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on U.S. schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” It had almost no influence on curriculum or standards until 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act. It has been opposed since its inception as being unconstitutional because education is not mentioned in that document.

Most of the Department of Education’s mission has been related to ensuring equal access to education, promoting legislation that particularly addresses access to education for children with disabilities. Under the Department’s aegis, these children have been determined to be entitled to a “free, appropriate, public education.”

Ms. DeVos has expressed opinions at odds with the laws that guarantee these rights for disabled students, especially IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Parents of children with disabilities and educators who work with those populations were particularly vocal opponents of her confirmation.

What this all means for education is a profoundly unsettled question. What will Ms. DeVos be able to accomplish before the Department disappears out from under her? Will the laws regarding access to education be weakened or even repealed? It’s almost certain that more and more matters will revert to local control, with all the confusion and inequities that system fosters. Will parents who want specific educational outcomes for their children be forced out of public schools and into home-schooling or private schools (if they can afford them)? Will families have to relocate to districts or even states with compatible educational programs and goals?

Increasingly, it’s going to be difficult to call the U.S. system of education a system at all.

Why I Should Get a Say About Raising Your Children

I know that childless people (of which I am one) like to bitch about how parents are raising their kids. I feel confident in saying that virtually every parent has had the experience of going out in public and being chastised for your children’s manners and behavior, your discipline, or the latest theories of child-raising. (Or for that matter, the good ol’ theories of child-raising.)

You’ve heard it all, from praise of Dr. Spock to “Dr. Spock is the root of all evil”; from “those kids could do with a good spanking” to “spanking is child abuse”; from “children should be seen and not heard” to “you’re stifling their creativity.”

The automatic reaction is, “You don’t have children, so you don’t know what it’s like.” And that statement is entirely true.

I don’t – and shouldn’t – have a thing to say about discipline, behavior, and manners (although I do wish your children wouldn’t fingerpaint with the salsa at a Mexican restaurant, especially when it’s at our table and you’ve assured me that the children know how to behave in a restaurant, to choose one example not completely at random).

Unless I see your child actually pocketing the server’s tip or harming an animal, I will keep my big mouth shut. And if I do see those things, I will do my best to respond in a polite, calm, and constructive manner.

What I can’t stand by and see without commenting is children not receiving a proper education. Even though I don’t have children, I still care deeply about – and will act upon – my notion of what is good for your children in school.

Part of this is selfish, I will admit. Your children will be the workers of their generation who will be affecting the quality of life for my generation. I don’t want to be governed by politicians who don’t understand civics, treated by doctors who don’t know the facts about human reproduction, or “informed” by scientists who have not had a chance to encounter the varied opinions of their field.

I also want my health aides, restaurant servers, mechanics, computer programmers, hair stylists, tour guides, garment workers – all workers – to be able at least to read and write basic English and do basic math. This is not entirely selfish – workers who do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills are more likely to be cheated by their employers and less able to negotiate the treacherous paths of bureaucracy that every American, without exception, must deal with. I want these things for children with disabilities as well, or at the very least the presence of well-educated aides and advocates.

For that matter, I want some of your children to grow up to be painters, musicians, singers, dancers, actors, athletes, craftspeople, writers, and animators who will make my future richer and more sustaining as I age.

In order to achieve these things, I have a vested interest in the education system. Just because I have no school-aged children – or any children at all – does not mean I should keep away from school boards, community volunteer programs, decision-making bodies, etc. I will support good education issues with my tax dollars and my votes. I will oppose any that limit a child’s access to good-quality, thorough, well-informed, factual, adequately funded, modern education.

I want your children to be smart, motivated, curious, skilled, artistic, problem-solving, conscientious, well-adjusted, healthy, helpful, effective, competent, confident adults, both for my sake and theirs.

The best way for me to contribute to that is to support, fund, and, yes, influence both the local and national system of education. I will help all you parents who want the same things for your children, and I will oppose those who settle for second best (or worse, given the international statistics).

Give me a well-educated world of your grown-up children and I’ll even overlook the salsa fingerpainting.

 

 

 

Hungry Children: A One-Act Play

Sharing food with the needy

[Setting: The Halls of Power]

Guy in Suit: The media keep saying that there are hungry children in America.

Other Guy in Suit: Let them eat dinner.

Bleeding-Heart: That’s the problem. They don’t have dinner to eat. Or even breakfast maybe.

GIS: We already give them lunch at school. That’s five days a week.

B-H: Unless they’re absent or on vacation or a snow day.

OGIS: Then it’s the parents’ problem.

GIS: Why do schoolchildren have so many vacations, anyway? We don’t get all those vacations.

B-H: Uh, yes you do.

GIS: Oh. Well, never mind that now. We were talking about tax cuts…uh, job creators…uh, feeding children. That was it.

OGIS: Suppose the media are right?

GIS: The media are never right unless we tell them what to say.

OGIS: Well, just suppose. For a minute. OK? The problem I see is that it looks good for us to feed poor, hungry, starving American children. By the way, are they as pitiful-looking as poor, starving foreign children?

GIS: Probably not. You were saying?

OGIS: If there are hungry children, and we do need to feed them, how are we supposed to do that without feeding the lousy, lazy, good-for-nothing moochers at the same time?

GIS: Ah, yes, the parents. If we give the parents anything, it should be one bag of rice and one bag of beans. And — hey — they could feed their kids that too.

B-H: But children need good nutrition — fruits and vegetables and vitamins and minerals and enough to keep them full and healthy.

OGIS: Hey, we have plenty of minerals left over after fracking. Won’t those do?

B-H: No.

GIS: But if we give kids all that fancy food, what’s to keep the parents from eating it?

OGIS: Or selling it for booze or cigarettes or drugs?

GIS: Think about that! The drug dealers would be getting all the good nutrition. Then they could run faster from the police.

OGIS: We can’t have that, now can we?

B-H: But…the hungry children? Remember? Eating at most one meal a day, five days a week, when school is in session?

GIS: That’s plenty. I heard American children are obese, anyway. They could stand to lose a little weight.

[Curtain]

 

I thought it was time to revisit this post when my husband and I visited IHOP for their No Kid Hungry promotion, which raised money for www.nokidhungry.org. (You can donate at their website. I did. Besides buying all those pancakes.)

I was also reminded of a conversation I had with someone who works in the education sector. She was at a conference, talking with a group of teachers. One of them mentioned how many snow days they had that year and my friend responded, “Oh, boy! I bet the kids loved that!” There was an awkward silence. Finally, one of the teachers spoke up. “On a snow day,” she said, “many kids don’t get to eat. The only real meal that they get is at school.”

My friend had never thought about that, and neither had I. We both came from times and places when there was always food in the fridge and a hot dinner on the table. Sometimes we forget that life isn’t like that for everyone.

In this election year, we’ll hear a lot about welfare and funding for schools and improvements in educational policy. Childhood hunger may not be mentioned, but it is intimately tied up with all those issues.

You can donate to local food banks and charities. You can work with nokidhungry.org. Or you can leave it up to the Guys in Suits, for whatever they think it’s worth.

The Other Sex Talk

I’ve never had the “sex talk” that all people – both parents and children – seem to dread. I’m not a parent and when I was a child I received my technical understanding of reproduction from a health class film, which left a lot to the imagination, and the book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, which filled in a lot of gaps that the health film skipped right over. (The film referred to a menstrual period as “the weeping of a disappointed uterus.” Ick.)

erotic education button on computer pc keyboard keyBut that’s not the sex talk I mean. This is the sex talk for consenting adults that hardly anyone has but everyone needs to. It’s divided into two sections: The Health Chat and the Pleasure Chat. It’s best to conduct these conversations when everyone is still clothed and not engaged in heavy breathing. I would recommend choosing a time and place not conducive to sex – a park, for example. Both parties need time to consider the discussion before deciding whether to proceed.

The Health Chat

The easier part of the health chat is discussing birth control/safe sex. What method does each partner typically use or prefer? Barrier methods? Hormonal? Does either person have an allergy to latex? These are things it’s better to know beforehand.

So far the health chat has been fairly smooth and non-threatening. Next comes the part that too many people skip because it’s just so uncomfortable to talk about: STDs. Herpes and HIV infections are the most serious, as there is no cure for either, and both carry enormous stigma. But those are the very reasons potential partners must talk about them. They’re not just potential surprises but possibly life-changing ones.

STDs can be a deal-breaker. Talking about them in advance can eliminate the possibility of a revelation at an inopportune moment and give the other person a chance to consider the risks, the seriousness, the forms of protection, do research, or even discuss the subject with a physician.

How do you do this delicate dance? Be forthright, but not panicky. “I know we’re both thinking about having sex, but I need to tell you something. I have a herpes infection.” Explain what you’re doing about it. “I’ve been on anti-virals for over a year and haven’t had an outbreak in that time. I always use condoms, even when I’m not having an outbreak.” Then back off. “I’m sure you’ll want to think about this, maybe learn some more about it, before we decide whether to go further. And that’s okay. If you decide not to, I respect your decision.” There, that takes what? Two minutes? Three? (Working yourself up to having the conversation may take a tad bit longer.) But ethically, it’s something you need to do.

It’s also legitimate to ask if your prospective partner habitually practices safe sex. “I didn’t use condoms with my last girlfriend, but she was a very nice woman” is not a good enough answer. That nice person’s last partner might at some point have had sex with a diseased goat. The point is, you just don’t know. The safe option then is for you both to get tested. I once advised  a friend who was in this situation of what his hero Ronald Reagan said: “Trust, but verify.”

The Pleasure Chat

It can be best to check out with your partner what activities he or she finds enjoyable. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be very important. Again, it’s something you might want to discuss before you’re close to getting it on, to prevent knee-jerk reactions that might spoil an otherwise good time.

If both of you enjoy mainstream, middle-of-the road sex, that’s fine. But one or both of you may also like the more kinky side of things. Better to talk about it than be surprised when someone approaches an unexpected orifice or brings out an unfamiliar sex toy.

One saying in the kink community is that sex should be safe, sane, and consensual. It’s better to discuss the safety and sanity, and get the consent, before proceeding.

Also, discussing these matters beforehand gives you a chance to think seriously about what your boundaries are – what things you absolutely don’t want to do, what you might try once as an experiment, and what you’ve never done but have no objection to. You can also take time to ask yourself whether you are reacting automatically or have actually thought about the questions raised. Your instant instinct might be “Ew,” but on further reflection you might say, “I’ve never thought I’d like that, but if it gives my partner pleasure, maybe I could try it and see.” From these reflections can grow more varied – and more fulfilling – sex lives.

Talking about sex can be scary, or erotic, or sensible, or just plain necessary. One thing’s for sure. If you can’t have a sex talk with someone, you shouldn’t be having sex with that person.

 

(This is for my friend John and others who informed my thinking on these issues.)

 

A Story From the Art

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Usually you think of a writer writing and then an artist creating illustrations or a piece of art for the cover – one on every page, if it’s a children’s picture book. And usually that’s the way it goes.

But every once in a while the natural order of things goes awry. Every now and then, a writer must take a piece of art and shape a story to fit it.

Once it happened to me, when I was writing and editing reading passages for children’s textbooks. The tasks assigned were annoying enough – stories that were required to have certain numbers of parts of speech or phonological items, with restricted vocabulary and very specific reading levels.

Then one day we were given an already existing children’s story, one that had seven or eight illustrations that had been drawn specifically to go with the text. We were told to select four or five of those pictures and write completely new text to go with them. We could rearrange the pictures – put them in a different order – and we could choose which ones to use or eliminate. But that was the assignment: Take the pictures and then write the story. If it seems totally backward to you, it did to us as well. Of course the stories still had to have certain lexical  components, be entertaining, and provide a message or lesson for the readers.

I remember the set of pictures I was given. The illustrations showed a young girl in a tropical setting, at one point with her sitting on a throne. In my story, the little girl claimed that she could speak to animals. No one believed her and she was thrown in jail for lying.

The little girl really could speak to animals, however, and she called upon jungle friends to rescue her. The people who had jailed her discovered that she really had this unusual ability all along. They apologized profusely and threw a big party for her and she sat in the seat of honor.

It was a particularly difficult story to write. The pictures did not lend themselves to any story other than the obvious one about a jungle princess and her animal-filled realm. It was even harder to think of a tale that would convey a message.

What I tried to show in my story was that just because something had never been done, that didn’t mean it was impossible. And if someone made a claim, it was better to test the claim than merely assume the person was lying. I thought the idea of speaking to animals and having the animals rescue the little girl would also appeal to children.

One thing that is particularly frustrating about writing for textbooks and  other sorts of publications is that one never knows what happens to the fruits of one’s labor (at least until the internet, with number of views and “like” buttons and comments fields). Was the story accepted by the higher-up textbook folks? Did it get changed in the editing process? Did they even like what I had done with the illustrations? Did it make it into print? Most of all, I wondered whether any children read my story, perhaps enjoyed it, or understood what I was trying to say. To this day, I have no clue.

Writing in those circumstances is like dropping your work down a well. You never hear the splash, or even know if there is a bottom to the well.

I like to think that somewhere, some child liked my little stories, whether or not they learned about diphthongs or consonant clusters from them.

I also wonder about the illustrations. Did they get passed along to yet another writer who had to invent yet another story to go with them? If they did, I would certainly like to have seen what they came up with. It was an interesting exercise. But did it result in something educational or entertaining or even interesting?

Personally, I believe that children’s books should be written first and illustrated later. I also believe that requiring writers to abide by rigid rules makes it less likely that the story will be appealing. And if the story isn’t appealing, I believe it is less likely that the children who read it (or are supposed to read it) will get anything from it.

To me that’s not the way children’s literature should be written. But then textbooks aren’t really literature, are they?

Sapiosexual Seeks Same

cropped-heartbrain.jpg

If I were ever to write a personals ad, this is what it would say:

Sapiosexual Seeks Same

for friendship and conversation. If you like literature, science, trivia, genre fiction, cats, humor, journalism, artistic pursuits, creativity, and above all intelligence, I’d like to meet you. Race, appearance, gender identity unimportant. Prefer non-smokers. I’m open-minded. Are you?

Of course, I’m not going to write a personals ad, since I’m married, have been for 30 years, and barely socialize as it is. Polyamory is not an option at this point.

But there you have it. I don’t care about muscles, status, income, or what kind of car a man drives. I want someone who is bright, witty, and creative. Preferably with facial hair, although I will let that slide if everything else meets my criteria.

That describes my husband, my past boyfriends (even the disastrous ones), and my male friends, past and present. We are all interested in, attracted to, aroused by intelligence. That’s what “sapiosexual” means.

(It once occurred to me that the qualities I look for in a man are all above the neck. In fact, three of them – the most important – are above the eyebrows.)

Female sapiosexuals sometimes have a hard time finding someone to socialize with, date, love, and even marry. Part of this, I fear, is due to the ruthless socializing of women in what makes a man desirable – no fatties, no baldies, all the things you regularly see in personals ads. There is less of that among sapiosexual women, as many of them have learned to look past the physical in the search for the intellectual.

Many men are intimidated by sapiosexual women. First, many of us don’t meet the media’s idealized standards of beauty. (Let’s face it, hardly anyone does, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re apt to be very lonely.) We have large vocabularies and wide interests, and probably know more than a prospective male friend does on at least one subject. Many of us can and do hold our own in arguments.

These traits lead us to be seen as know-it-alls – Hermione Granger types – who don’t know how to have fun and don’t want anyone else to have fun either. The know-it-all complaint can be true, I must admit, but sapiosexual women do indeed know how to have fun. It’s just that our opinions about what is fun, like so much else about us, diverges from the norm. We have fun in conversations. We enjoy variety and newness. We appreciate learning something new and being challenged. We even enjoy doing those things in bed.

I don’t however, fall for just anyone who is bright, witty, creative and has facial hair. I try to avoid intellectual bullies and nose-looker-downers, those who wield their intelligence as a weapon to intimidate, humiliate, or dominate. You know, those people who glare and shout, “It’s pronounced ‘dis-sect,’ not ‘dy-sect’! TWO esses!” when you’re still in the middle of your sentence.

No, in addition to the above-mentioned traits, I want someone who’s kind. Believe it or not, kindness can be compatible with intelligence.

And let’s not forget that there are different kinds of intelligence. Some people, like me, are word people, who gather information by reading. You often hear readers put down others who watch a lot of television. But some people process information visually or in other ways. Also, some people forego college degrees to practice and improve their creative skills. And some people, like my husband, are experts on people and how they interact. I’ve learned a lot from him.

Where do you find sapiosexuals? Nearly anywhere. If you limit yourself to colleges and think tanks, you’re missing a lot of possibilities. I have known sapiosexuals who work as tow truck or front loader drivers, parks and rec workers, and restaurant managers. I have met them at work and at science fiction conventions (always a place rife with sapiosexuals). I have found them at folk music concerts and house parties. I found my husband outside a food tent at a music festival.

Is there a sexual component to sapiosexual relationships? Absolutely. Despite the stereotype of the brainy nerd who never gets laid, a sapiosexual can be physically as well as intellectually stimulating. Many a relationship has started with a mutual interest in poetry and ended up in bed.

And that’s the point. Sapiosexuals may have a hard time finding fulfilling relationships – whether friends, flirtations, lovers, or marriage partners. But when they do, it’s something special.

A Little Means a Lot

You know those pictures you see of a celebrity presenting an oversized novelty check to some person or organization? Well, I had that experience once – as the giver, not the givee.

At the time I was the editor of a magazine called Early Childhood News, which was for child care center owners and operators. It included articles on legal issues, safety and hygiene, playgrounds, food, self-esteem, volunteers, and more – polls on interesting topics and annual toy awards, to name two.

It was a small magazine (in terms of circulation), so our author payments were not extravagant.

Once I asked a person who was quite well known in the field to write an article, and asked whether I should send his check to his home or university office.

When I told him how much (or rather, little) it was, he said, “Just donate it to a Head Start program.”

So I called the Dayton Head Start program and told them that I had a $200 donation for them, courtesy of the professor.

To say they were flabbergasted would be an understatement. When I came to present the check (a normal-sized one), they figuratively rolled out the red carpet for me. I toured the facility, I met all the administrators and teachers. I had my picture taken presenting the check. (I was glad that I had worn my good green dress that day.)

Until that moment I never realized how such a relatively small sum could have such a big effect. It meant they could buy supplies without caregivers having to dip into their own meager funds. Or provide a special treat or party for the kids. Or purchase books that would enrich children’s minds for years to come.

To me it was modest compensation for what was an ordinary transaction in my business. For the professor, it was an amount too small to bother with. For Head Start it was a windfall.

I think we sometimes fail to realize what even our smallest good deeds – or ordinary actions – can mean to people and groups that struggle. I still had a lot to learn.

That fact was again brought home to me again when I heard someone tell a story about an educational conference she attended. When the topic turned to snow days, she said to the teachers, “I bet you really look forward to those.”

She was met with a profound, awkward silence.

Finally, someone explained it to her: “On snow days, we know that some of our students won’t get a good, nutritious breakfast or a hot lunch. They’ll go hungry.”

It’s a bit embarrassing to think about. To most of us, a snow day means relaxing with hot cocoa, staying in bed an extra hour, or baking cookies with the kids. To teachers and the children they serve, it may mean something a lot less heart-warming.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought of that effect of snow days either. Like the woman at the conference, I thought of snow days the way they had been for me in my childhood – a break, virtually a vacation. Because that was all I saw, I thought that was the norm. And for well-off suburban kids like me, it was.

A free or reduced-price school lunch program, or a local food pantry, can mean the difference between hunger and a full tummy to a child. A small donation can help a nonprofit service fulfill its mission to improve children’s lives. In this time of talk about budget cuts for social programs and safety nets that become “hammocks” of dependency (as Paul Ryan believes), let’s spare a thought – or even a small check – for people, especially children, to whom hot, nutritious food; safe and loving care; and enrichment for the mind are luxuries.

It’s something we often think about during the Christmas season, but need is year-round.

Poetry Keeps Knocking

When I was a kid I was sure I was going to be a poet. Or a bus driver. Or an FBI agent. Or a stewardess. Some of those ambitions faded away and others were squelched by reality.

Whenever I take one of those right brain/left brain test I always come out in the middle. Half my brain is scientific and half is artistic.

Mostly, the artistic side has expressed itself over the years. As far back as grade school I remember writing poems. As I got older my poetry tended toward the free verse and the depressing. As many teenagers do, I let my angst, fueled by undiagnosed bipolar disorder, take over. I studied creative writing in high school and took poetry classes as in college.

I even came in second in a poetry contest run by the local newspaper after I graduated. My poems were printed in the paper along with an interview in which I snarked at Helen Steiner Rice and Rod McKuen. I still have some of those poems – somewhere – and I still think some of them are pretty good.

But as life went on my writing changed. The more I wrote in free verse – without rhyme or meter (which Robert Frost famously called “playing tennis without a net”), the more my poetry came to resemble prose. Eventually I gave up on poetry and simply wrote prose instead.

This natural evolution of my writing proved to be a good thing, since everyone knows no one makes any money at poetry unless you’re Helen Steiner Rice or Rod McKuen. Prose has served me well. I have written for many magazines (including Catechist and Black Belt) and for textbooks and now for blogs. For some of these I’ve even gotten paid.

Also I have occasionally made attempts at longer pieces of writing – books. I wrote a mystery novel in which I killed off my Rotten Ex-Boyfriend Who Almost Ruined My Life. I had a proposal going around for a nonfiction book about Lisa Simpson. I have not given up the ambition of writing a book. I am currently 25,000 words into a mystery that involves no one I have ever known, and a memoir which includes the person I know best.

I find, however, that my desire to write poetry has not completely disappeared. Sometimes I find myself playing around with various poetic forms, usually in my blogs. Some of them are the kind of free verse poetry I used to write, but I have learned that I need structure in my life and now it seems I need structure in my poetry too.

I started out simply with a group of haikus – not that haikus are really simple. Later I had a go at a sonnet. I would love to write a sestina but I am afraid to jump into anything that large. I would love to write a villanelle but I am afraid to jump into anything that tightly crafted. And once you’ve read “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” everything else seems – is – inferior. So I continue with my blogs and my editing and my book proposals and my novel and memoir, but poetry lurks at the back of my brain and now and then threatens to break free.

I think that’s the way of poetry. If you suppress it too long, it finds some way to knock on your brain until you answer.