Someone You Know Is Mentally Ill

Do you have ten friends, family members, and co-workers? If you do, then two of them are experiencing a mental health condition this year. And of the 20 people around you, at least one has a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, which is what I live with.

Despite those numbers, a large part of the population knows little to nothing about mental illness except what they see in the news, on television, or online. And, as you might guess, those portrayals are largely inaccurate.

What we see in the media teaches us to fear and hate the mentally ill. It says they are violent, incurable, homeless, suicidal, and dangerous. They are terrorists and mass shooters and need to be locked away for the rest of their lives.

Now think again about those ten or 20 people in your life. Do any of them fit that description? Probably not.

Those impressions are the result of stigma regarding the mentally ill. Here are some of the facts that can counter the stigma.

Anyone can have mental illness. From the woman who has PTSD after the trauma of a rape to the man who has depression that lasts years after his mother dies, to the person born with a tendency toward bipolar disorder (me), mental illness can be simply a fact of a person’s life that you most likely don’t even realize.

You can’t recognize the mentally ill just by looking at them. The wild, staring eyes, grimacing, and random outbursts are not the symptoms of most mental illnesses. Many people hide their conditions because of these stereotypes or the jokes told about “crazy people.”

Mental illness is often a lifelong condition. There is no “cure” for these conditions. With therapy, medication, and support from people like you, people with mental illness can achieve stability and relief from their disorder. But they will not “just snap out of it.”

Mentally ill people can live productive, useful lives. Many of them have friends, marry, have children (or not), work, go out in public, just like you (and me). Some may have difficulty with some of these activities, but they’re not always incapacitated. That’s another reason you can’t tell who’s mentally ill just by looking at them.

There are places where the mentally ill can get help. The mental health system, even more so than the regular healthcare system, is flawed and difficult to navigate. It is particularly difficult to find help in isolated, rural areas. There are not many beds for inpatients, emergency room treatment is often lacking, and the cost of treatment is prohibitive for many, especially those with no insurance. But community mental health centers with sliding fee scales do exist.

Stigma – false beliefs – about mental illness make people less likely to get help. If someone is mentally distressed but fears the stereotypes, he or she can be afraid to ask for help from a friend, relative, or even a doctor. The disorder may become worse, not better.

Just like the stigma regarding the homeless, the foreign-born, or the poor, mental illness stigma is pervasive and can be removed only by thought, discussion, and education.

Think about the people in your life. Might one or more of them be suffering in silence? Read books or magazines or newspaper articles or blogs (mine is bipolarjan.wordpress.com) about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, bulimia, or other conditions. Visit the websites of organizations that spread the word about mental illness and its treatment. (Some of them are listed below, along with some articles about mental illness and stigma.)

Most of all, talk to people. Some of us are open about our mental disorders and willing to help you understand yourself or a family member or friend better. Talk to the person you think may be in distress. He or she may share the false beliefs about mental illness. That’s right – the mentally ill themselves may give in to the stigma.

Care and improved treatment for the mentally ill – including the people in your life – will come only when we have erased the stigma that surrounds the topic.

Talk.

Educate.

Do your part.

 

References

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477
https://www.yahoo.com/news/stigma-mental-health-care-reduced-194144320.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brick-brick/201405/the-stigma-mental-illness-is-making-us-sicker
https://www.nextavenue.org/stigma-mental-illness-small-towns/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/25/stigma-of-mental-illness/9875351/

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Retirement: Small Change for a Freelancer

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When I retire – very soon now – it will make very little change in my life as a freelancer.

I’ll still be able to write my blogs and articles for support groups, which pay nothing, but allow me to stretch my writing muscles and speak about issues that I care about.

Nor will it be “small change” in the sense of being very little money. I worked enough years in Corporate America (editing, writing, and proofing) with freelance writing as my side gig to have made my 35 years of higher income. Even my first dozen years as a full-time freelancer went well enough to make a contribution to my accumulated earnings. The amount I’ll be receiving will be enough to pay the mortgage. My husband’s income will pay the other bills if we’re careful. (And don’t think he isn’t jealous that I can retire soon and he has to wait a few more years.)

No, the small change will be that I will have a steady income while still pursuing freelance work. And that will be sweet.

For while freelance work has fallen off for me of late, it hasn’t disappeared completely. I still write occasional articles or stories for paying markets and am working on a novel and a memoir. (Who isn’t?) And I’ve recently picked up a gig as a transcriptionist and proofreader.

The point is, I’ll still be able to do freelance work – up to approximately $17,000 a year – without reducing my Social Security benefits. For me at least, that total will be a healthy sum. Not a stunning one, but healthy. (And if my mystery novel takes off, who knows?)

So what is the small change I mentioned in the title? A steady income. We all know the ups and downs of freelance life and lately I’ve come to hate them. It’s not an adventure, I don’t know where the next check is coming from, and at this point in my life I need to. A steady income combined with the ability to keep freelancing will bring some much-needed balance into my life.

It’s kind of like when I worked 9-5 and freelanced as a side-gig. The difference is that the steady income will come not from work that I’m doing, but from work that I’ve already done. That Social Security money is mine. It was merely lent to the government to invest in whatever they wanted and to pay for things I don’t necessarily approve of.

Now they have to give it back. (At least until and unless they gut the fund to do away with Social Security or do something else I won’t like. Then I’ll get to be the boomer version of a Gray Panther and write in protest of their actions.)

And with that steady money coming back to me, I will have a cushion and an opportunity to concentrate more on my freelance writing (transcribing, editing, proofing, blogging, writing my novel, whatever) – the freedom of the freelance life without many of the hassles.

I’ve checked with my accountant and we concur. Even my husband agrees.

I’d be a fool not to do it.

 

Burn Down the “She Shed”!

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At first it sounded like a good idea: a dedicated space where a woman could pursue her interests. Kind of like a Man Cave, but with curtains and flowers.

You’d think that as a writer, I’d love a She Shed where I could create and recreate to my heart’s content. Maybe have a friend over for a glass of wine or some tea and cookies.  But the more I thought about it, though, the more I kept asking myself: Do I really want a First-World, savings-sucking, sexually segregated hut that smells like mulch and motor oil to pursue my dreams in? I think not. And here’s why.

The She Shed Is Elitist

The only people who can have She Sheds are those who live in suburban or rural areas and own at least a quarter-acre of ground. Just imagine living in a three-room apartment in an urban center and asking the landlord if you can build a She Shed on the roof. It seems to me that the woman in that situation is the one who needs a She Shed the most.

Of course, this is true of the Man Cave as well. Small apartments just don’t have a garage or a spare room to devote to manly pursuits (whatever they may be).

The She Shed Is Expensive

You can certainly build a She Shed from scratch, but even the materials are pricey. The smallest pre-fab DIY shed kit I’ve seen runs over $1000. And that’s without furnishings, paint, amenities, and whatever equipment you need to pursue your hobbies or dreams.

The Man Cave is expensive too, with all those super-sized televisions, kegerators or mini-fridges, billiard tables, recliners, work-out equipment, and possibly power tools.

The She Shed Is Impractical

Many of the articles I’ve seen recommend repurposing an old shed you already have – say, a lawnmower shed – for your dream woman-friendly den. Never mind that most existing sheds either already serve a function (say, lawnmower storage), they are also too small for all the necessities and frills that Pinterest tells us are part of a proper She Shed. A potting shed, maybe – but who has a potting shed that they’re not using for actually potting? Or is that supposed to be the woman’s fun and fulfilling activity? If so, why build another shed for it?

Besides, tool sheds and potting sheds lack many of the necessaries for a properly inviting environment – electricity, say, for the writer’s computer or the reader’s lights, or even running water. Just to go to the bathroom, a woman must leave her She Shed, troop back into the “real” house and avail herself of the plumbing, then reverse the process. Unless, of course, there is another shed-like building outside – the kind with a crescent moon carved on the door.

Man Caves have the advantage here, since they’re usually located in an “unused” room or a garage, which usually have all the modern conveniences built in or within easy reach.

The She Shed Is Sexist

Which bring us to another point. Why should a man get to take over an entire room of a house, while a woman is relegated to an outside structure, which has the feeling of a children’s playhouse (not to say doghouse)? The house is hers too. Doesn’t she have as much right to that den or garage as anyone? A couple could also share that den, spending alternate days in it and leaving it empty one day a week.

Man Caves are sexist too. They imply that women are so awful or annoying that men must have a place where they can be alone or with other men. That a woman, if not forbidden to decorate a room, will fill it up with frou-frou furnishings and paint colors like daquoise and saffron and elderberry. That no woman enjoys sports and beer. That men are such boors that no one but other men can stand to be around them. It insults both sexes, which in its way is quasi-egalitarian, though not desirable.

The She Shed Is Ridiculous

We have a few sheds out by the driveway and around the side of the house. I suppose I could repurpose one of them into a writer’s retreat, except for the no-electricity thing and the trek to the bathroom thing. But these sheds are made by Rubbermaid. They have no windows for darling curtains or even fresh air. A person trapped inside would be overcome by a scent like the sole of a sneaker. Besides, they are full of lawn and gardening supplies, which means that if I took one over, we would need yet another shed. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve reproduced enough.

Besides, “She Shed”? The term is ridiculous. What do you keep in a shed? Gardening supplies. Chainsaws. Lawn tools. Cases of motor oil and washer fluid. Lumber. Chickens. Stuff you don’t know what else to do with.

“Man Cave” isn’t even alliterative like “She Shed.” At least call a woman’s retreat something dignified, like, well, a “Woman’s Retreat.” Personally, I call my study “My Study.” And my husband comes in regularly for conversation or to look up things on the computer. He doesn’t mind my collection of stuffed animals – he bought at least half of them for me. We write his appointments on my whiteboard along with my projects. And there’s a small TV and a sound system, plus iTunes on the computer.

And that’s what we do with our spare room. Make it inviting for both of us.

From Performance to the Pit

people at theater

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Fiddler on the Roof is a good selection for a local theater group, with all its sentimental and well-known songs. But once when it was performed in my town, things didn’t go quite as planned.

My husband decided to join the cast and make use of his marvelous baritone for the first time in years. He said his one line (“It was a horse!”) clearly and at just the right time. He celebrated and fell off his barstool on cue and left Anatevka sorrowfully. He sang and danced in the chorus with gusto.

The only thing was, he played parts of his role a bit too convincingly. He fell off his stool, as required at a party scene, but he always landed so that half of his body stuck out past where the curtain fell. Since he wouldn’t break character, the other performers had to drag him back before they could reset for the next scene.

And he had trouble with the lyrics.

This was not a recent problem. He still thinks that CCR sang “There’s a bathroom on the right.” But with Fiddler, he was positively innovative. Sometimes, instead of “I Belong in Anatevka,” he sang, “I Belong Under Anesthesia.” Or “Anastasia,” which must have disrupted the chorus no end.

But the biggest problem was with his costume. Since it was a local amateur production, there was no budget for wardrobe. Everyone made do with what they had on hand. My husband had a pair of corduroy pants, some leather boots, and a baggy shirt that were deemed acceptable.

That left his glasses. Horn rims were not considered period. So he had to perform without vision correction for his extreme nearsightedness.

And so he acted and danced. There was a real danger when he danced; he hora’d his way not just past the curtain, but close to the edge of the stage. And closer. And closer. Another chorus member grabbed his sleeve and dragged him back, just before he landed unceremoniously but noisily right in the orchestra pit. That person was thereafter assigned to dance next to him, hold onto his sleeve, and drag him in the right direction if necessary. Likewise, someone had to guide him behind the scenes to make entrances from the other side of the stage so he didn’t wander into the parking lot.

It was actually quite a good production of the musical. At the end, when the townspeople left Anatevka, performers dressed as ghosts waved goodbye to them, which was a lovely touch. And no one, including Dan, was injured during the performance.

Afterward, at the cast party, Dan was singled out for particular recognition. He even received an award.

It read, “Best Portrayal of a Sighted Jew by a Blind Gentile.”

He had worked hard for it. He had earned it and he framed it. It still hangs on our wall. If he gets new glasses, maybe he can even read it.

 

From Hell They Came

From Hell It Came is one of my favorite bad movies – possibly the worst that I can actually stand to watch. (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a close second.  And I love The Blob‘s theme song.) The plot, according to IMDB: Tabonga, a killer spirit reincarnated as a scowling tree stump, comes back to life and kills a bunch of natives of a South Seas island. A pair of American scientists save the day.

It wasn’t just the fact that the threat was a scowling tree stump that made it so awful. It was the fact that the actor in the Tabonga suit could only move at a pace of a few steps a minute. All of the terrified natives who tried to run away from it could easily have sat on a rock for a few minutes, moved a foot or two, sat on another rock, and kept waiting for it. Conversely, a whole bunch of natives could easily have surrounded the Tabonga and dispatched it with their primitive weapons.

It wasn’t a case of “Run, Forest, Run!” but of “Shuffle, Stump, Shuffle!” I get the giggles every time it moves or catches someone.

eyes cat coach sofa
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But the Tabonga is not the only creature from hell that I’ve ever encountered. Another was a cat. A kitten, really. The Devil Kitten From the Crawlspace of Hell.

My husband found the tiny feline under our house, too young really to be separated from its mother, who hadn’t hung around. Being a tender-hearted soul (read: sucker), Dan brought the little beast upstairs.

As always, when a new cat enters our house, we keep it isolated from the others until it can be vet-checked. The little guy decided that the floor of the bathroom closet was its favorite hidey-hole.

That was fine, except that when either one of us entered the bathroom, it would spring from its lair and savagely attack our ankles. Although the kitten was adorable, it had tiny needles for teeth and claws and could do a lot of damage. We had bleeding ankles. I had shredded pantyhose. That little sucker was fast (unlike its spiritual cousin, the Tabonga).

Again and again we detached the Devil Kitten from our tender flesh and – encouraged – it to retreat to the closet. We decided not to keep it, but when we took it to a no-kill shelter, they said it was too tiny for them to take. We’d have to bring it back once it grew some more and gained weight.

I did feel sorry for Devil Kitten. It obviously had what in humans would be called an attachment disorder – it had simply been taken from its mother too young and had never been socialized. It was left running on instinct and that instinct said, “Attack, shred, kill!”

I will admit that we considered feeding the little thing lead pellets to get its weight up more quickly, but that was just a passing fancy. We waited on its weight and then handed it over, quite thankfully, to the shelter.

I sometimes wonder whether the Devil Kitten ever found a substitute mama to show it the way to be a proper cat. I also wonder what family eventually took it home, and what the state of their ankles was, and whether they had to buy chainmail socks.

This all happened many years ago and I’m sure Devil Kitten (or whatever its adoptive family named it) is no longer around. Perhaps it is in the afterlife, using the Tabonga as its own personal scratching post. It would explain the scowling, anyway.

Word Weirdness: Hey, Lady!

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There are lots of things you can yell at a guy to let him know he’s getting a flat tire. “Hey, buddy,” “Hey, bro,” “Hey, dude,” “Hey, mister,” “Hey, Mac,” “Hey, man,” and the ever-popular “Hey, you!”

But there is only one thing you can reasonably yell to a woman in the same situation: “Hey, lady!” “Hey, you” or “Hey, woman!” just seems rude. You can’t even call her “miss” or “ma’am” without kicking in the instant, if insincere, politeness of “Excuse me.” And you can’t put casual terms for women after “Hey!” (sis, sister (unless she’s a nun), girl, gal, doll (unless you’re a trucker), or chick (unless you’re stuck in the 60s)). I suppose you could yell, “Hey, person of the female gender!” but by then you’d be past her and unable to get your message across.

There’s a similar problem referring to women in a group. “Ladies” is virtually the only choice. (“Here are your appetizers, ladies.”) Women can sometimes get away with calling other women “girls” or “gals” if they’re being informal, but if men try this, it sounds patronizing, because it is.

And mixed groups! What is one to do then? Once I was teaching a college class. One student called me out – and rightly so – because I referred to them as “guys.”

But what were the alternatives? “Guys and gals”? (Too casual.) “You-all” or “Y’all”? (This was in Ohio, not Texas.) “You folks”? (Too folksy.) “Dudes and dudettes”? (Really?) “Ladies and gentlemen”? (I was a teacher, not a ringmaster, though it felt like it at times.) “Class”? (Too Sister Mary Elephant.) “Students”? (Too juvenile to my ears.) “People”? (Well, maybe. I think that’s what I ended up with.)

Of course, I could have just used “you,” meaning the second person plural, but it being the first semester, I hadn’t taught them that yet.

I had solved the levels of address problem by referring to the class members as Mr. Jones and Ms. Smith, since I wished to be addressed as “Ms. Coburn.” (I briefly considered asking to be called “sensei,” but that would still have left me with the problem of what to call them.) The students were amused because they didn’t learn each other’s first names and had to use Mr. Jones and Ms. Smith when they crossed paths in the library or cafeteria.

I just looked up what the collective nouns are for men and women, to see whether they’d be any help. (Collective nouns are those oddball phrases like “a murder of crows” or “a brood of hens.” Many people I know are disappointed that there is no “squad of squids.”)

Boringly enough, the collective nouns for persons are “a band of men” and “a bond of women,” both of which imply that they stick together. Other groups have much more evocative names like “a neverthriving of jugglers,” “a threatening of courtiers,” and “a fixie of hipsters.”

I’m jealous.

At the least we could be “a confusion of people” or “a division of citizens” or “a passel of persons.” A “brawl of men.” A “nest of women.” But then we’d need collective nouns for LGBTQIA+ people and there would be no end to it, what with the proliferation of new terms for sexual identities that seem to crop up every day. (I still don’t get the difference between gender-fluid and pansexual.)

Let’s just stick with “a commonality of humans.”

 

Satanic Panic and Politics in America

The U.S has long been uneasy with the idea of the occult, from Harry Potter to Halloween parties. But the most extreme form of fear occurred in the 1980s, when panic swept America. “Stranger Danger” and “Good-Touch/Bad-Touch” were taught in schools. Someone – many someones – were after America’s kids.

But these weren’t ordinary pedophiles the nation learned to fear. They were occultists. Satanic. Devil-worshippers. And they wanted our children for acts that were unholy as well as sexual. Black masses. Ritual killings. And of course there were the run-of-the-mill child pornography rings, made up of community leaders.

The center of the “Satanic Panic” was daycare centers. As Vox magazine pointed out:

Although it was a time of economic growth and financial prosperity, the Reagan Era was also a time of unease centered on population growth, urbanization, and the rise of the double-income family model, which necessitated a sharp rise in the need for daycare services. As a result, anxiety about protecting the nuclear family from the unknown dangers of this new era was high.

Uneasy with the idea of women of child-bearing age entering the workforce, society seemed bent on convincing them that leaving their children in the care of others was fraught with danger. Unspeakable danger. The worst anyone could envision. So bad that no one could be trusted.

The only safe thing to do was to stay home and keep your children under your own eyes at all times. The ultimate expression of this was the McMartin Preschool case and the ensuing trial.

Rumors of sexual abuse at the daycare center run by the Buckey family mushroomed into florid accounts of ritual abuse. Arrests were made. The community was outraged.

The Institute for Psychological Therapies explained it thus:

The formal charges were wrapped in a conspiracy theory that portrayed the defendants as satanists who used the preschool as headquarters for a vast kiddie porn/prostitution empire that produced millions of child sex photos. The children were allegedly drugged and forced to participate in satanic rituals and sex games with teachers and strangers at both on and off campus locations. During those episodes the children encountered turtles, rabbits, lions, a giraffe, a sexually abusive elephant, dead and burned babies, dead bodies in mortuaries and graveyards, goat men, flying witches, space mutants, a movie star, and local politicians.

The allegations seemed literally unbelievable, impossible in fact, but arrests were made and a years-long trial began. The call to action took the form of “Believe the Children!”

The result? Reports of similar atrocities around the nation and indeed around the world. More and more daycare owners and workers accused.

But the bottom line? Few convictions – none in the McMartin case – and many elsewhere that were later overturned. A new focus on how therapists should interview children for forensic purposes. And perhaps some women frightened out of the workplace, but no end to the profound need for daycare (although funding for that was another matter entirely).

By 1992, reported Vox, “the Department of Justice thoroughly debunked the myth of the ritualistic satanic sex abuse cult.” But the panic didn’t end there.

Flash forward to the 21st century – the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. Then there was “Pizzagate.” According to Salon, “this bizarre pizza-pedophilia piece of make-believe seems to have struck the right kind of nerve in this simultaneously gullible and paranoid time to become a lasting, serious concern.”

Accusations focused on a Washington pizza parlor called Comet Ping Pong. It was another theory based on dreadful, unthinkable threats to children.

There were rumors of human trafficking and child abuse in a seemingly innocent pizza place. Again the allegations veered into absurdity, such as emails contained code words – “cheese pizza” for “child pornography” because they have the same initials. Salon noted: “If ‘pizza’ is code for pedophilia, the rumor mongers reasoned, clearly a pizza restaurant is the dungeon where all the horrors go down.” The crimes were said to take place in the pizzeria’s basement. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the shop had no basement. (It’s perhaps notable that one of the accusations in McMartin was that much of the abuse occurred in underground tunnels, which didn’t exist either.)

As compared to the “Satanic Panic,” it didn’t gain much traction, except with one sorry citizen who believed it so wholeheartedly that he showed up at Comet Ping Pong Pizza with a rifle.

But, like the “Satanic Panic,” Pizzagate had a political subtext. Well, not even a subtext, really. The thing that made Pizzagate special was that it was an attack on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who had only a vague connection to someone who knew someone who visited the pizzeria. It was unclear what her involvement in the supposed human trafficking/pedophile ring might have been, but it was clear from emails, the conspiracy theorists claimed, that she knew all about it.

Again, Salon nailed it:

Hoaxsters and the deranged collaborated to create a compelling and nonsensical story about depraved, satanic elites operating with impunity. This struck a chord with people who have long seen the mainstream media and politically powerful and well-connected people as manipulative and evil.

Especially if those implicated are people the theorists don’t like, such as working mothers, daycare center workers, or Hillary Clinton. Does it seem odd to anyone else that, while pedophilia is statistically a predominately male crime, women seem to be at the bottom of the dogpile, the subtext, the unseen movers?

References

http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume7/j7_2_1_9.htm

https://www.vox.com/2016/10/30/13413864/satanic-panic-ritual-abuse-history-explained

https://www.salon.com/2016/12/10/pizzagate-explained-everything-you-want-to-know-about-the-comet-ping-pong-pizzeria-conspiracy-theory-but-are-too-afraid-to-search-for-on-reddit/

Enough With the Ribbons, Already

assorted color ribbon with spool
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I understood it well enough when it started. Yellow ribbon = bring home the hostages. (Remember that, kids? Americans were being held hostage by Iran back in the late 1970s.) Even the hostages themselves wore yellow ribbons as a secret signal that they knew people back home cared about them.

To me, it made little sense and the message was just a tad “off.” The origin of the yellow ribbon meme (we didn’t call it that then) was in a song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree,” which was about a prisoner coming home to find a celebration of “a hundred yellow ribbons” around the tree.

Which was okay as far as it went, prisoners coming home, yellow ribbons to celebrate. But in the song, the ribbons were an answer to the question “Do you still want me?” (after being in prison). Regarding the hostages, that wasn’t a question at all. Of course we still wanted them (except possibly the one who read the Koran while captive).

Later came the pink ribbons, for breast cancer awareness. I have problems with this, too. Pink is the color that in our present society represents girls, so you’d think that pink would be a good choice. But the fact is that men get breast cancer too. And there are other diseases such as endometriosis and cervical cancer that are unique to those with female reproductive organs. What color ribbon do they get?

Actually, there’s an answer for that.

Endometriosis awareness ribbons are yellow, which adds to the confusion about prisoners and hostages. Cervical cancer awareness ribbons are teal and white (combined).

The number of diseases and conditions associated with each color has proliferated. My personal cause, bipolar disorder, shares the ribbon color green with adrenal cancer, bone marrow donation, cerebral palsy, dwarfism, eye injury, gastroparesis, glaucoma, leukemia, literacy, neurofibromatosis, and stem cell research, to name but a few.

These days we are encouraged to wear or decorate our profile pictures with orange ribbons for gun control. But orange already signifies awareness of:

  • ADHD
  • Agent Orange
  • COPD
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Kidney Cancer – Renal Cell Carcinoma
  • Leukemia
  • Lupus
  • Malnutrition
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).
  • Self Injury
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Spinal Cancer
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome

Admittedly, people who have those conditions and those who love them need support and awareness, but what does the ribbon actually mean when it means all of those things? Do people really go up to a ribbon-wearer and ask, “What are you wearing that ribbon for?” Or are they used only when a bunch of people gather who are advocating for the same thing, in which case why do they need ribbons?

The proliferation of ribbon colors is stunning, too. In addition to the green, yellow, pink, orange, and teal/white mentioned above, there are awareness ribbons in: black, blue (two-tone, blue/gray, denim jean blue, indigo, navy blue, light blue, robin’s egg blue, royal blue, pale blue), brown, burgundy, cloud (?), copper, cream, gray, gold, jade, peach, pearl, purple, puzzle (not technically a color), red, silver, teal, violet, yellow, and white, plus assorted combinations of the above and myriad shades of most. I could find only a few colors that represented a single condition or cause. And symbols proliferate, too: infinity, circle, star, butterfly, and even fox tail.

I once saw a person soliciting donations with a black-and-white cow-spotted ribbon, for a dairy farmer who’d lost his barn in a fire. A number of the other colored ribbons are used for fundraising too, particularly the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s pink ribbons, which can be found on nearly any piece of merchandise you’d care to name. But if you have a t-shirt with, say, a green ribbon design and a slogan about bipolar awareness, why do you need the ribbon at all? The slogan carries the necessary information.

Will ribbons for causes go out of vogue? Not soon, anyway. I’m not saying that all these causes and conditions don’t need awareness and understanding and fundraising. And there are certainly “orphan diseases” that don’t have the awareness factor that pink ribbons convey.

What I’m worried about is the signal-to-noise ratio. With all the combinations, what does any particular one mean? (I had to look them up on a chart to write this post – https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/awareness/ribbons.php.)

After all, what does a pink ribbon really convey? Self-check your breasts monthly? Get mammograms? Celebrate survivors? Give money?

Ribbons are easy to make and to wear, but knowing what to do about what they represent is a matter for education, not just awareness.

Why a National Curriculum Makes Sense

I can hear the cries of outrage now: Local control! Washington bureaucrats! Educational fascism! One size doesn’t fit all! Who wants to be like France or Japan?

Settle down, now. I don’t mean that one central authority should determine everything taught in America’s schools.

But I do think some standardization is long overdue.

Jonathan Kozol’s 1991 book Savage Inequalities revealed massive problems with local funding in education – a system that rewarded already wealthy districts with more money. Local curriculum standards are also fraught with inequalities.

Some of the problems are due to state standards, while part of them are promulgated by local politics.

Let’s start with states. Only a few states drive the textbook industry. (I’m looking at you, Texas, California, and New York!) Textbook producers must tailor their content to the requirements of these large, influential states. Other states are lucky if they get a textbook supplement for their state or region.

When those textbook-dominating states wish to present a, let’s call it, idiosyncratic view of, say, history, much of the nation has to go along with them.

Difficult as it would be to arrive at a consensus U.S. history, given that some states appear to believe that slavery, for example, was a good or at least neutral, thing and others present U.S. presidents as paragons without regard to their flaws or challenges, a balanced, factual approach would be welcome. Not that we shouldn’t teach students to weigh various factors and form opinions – we certainly should, in pursuit of those critical-thinking skills that everyone talks about.

But in some areas of the curriculum, facts are facts. Students who live in districts or states that deny evolution are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to college biology, geology, history, and other classes. Schools that advocate “teaching the controversy” of creationism (or intelligent design, or whatever they’re calling it now) are doing their students a disservice. If you want the Christian Bible in K-12 schools, teach it as literature or in the context of comparative religions throughout history. It’s not like school shootings are caused by comparative religion classes.

And let’s talk sex education for a minute. Again, factual information, presented at age-appropriate times, is crucial. As the saying goes, “If they’re old enough to ask, they’re old enough to know.”

Presenting sex purely as reproduction is also problematic. The clitoris is not essential to reproduction, so there’s virtually no mention of it in discussions of sexual anatomy – in fact, in many states it’s forbidden. Non-reproductive but related topics like consent should also be covered.

And let’s dispel the notion that teaching kids about sex will make them have sex. Kids are going to have sex anyway – might as well see that they have the facts about it, if only to lower rates of teen pregnancies and STDs, which most people agree. Yes, that means teaching about condoms and how to use them.

So, what does my vision of a national curriculum look like? Actually, lots of things would be left up to local schools. They can spend time teaching the history of their state if they want, for instance, although with the mobility of current society, the students may end up living in another state entirely. Maybe that time could be better spent elsewhere.

I have no preference as to whether reading is taught via phonics or whole language. It should probably be a combination of both. In fact, most subjects should be taught with Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences in mind.

But when it comes to courses that are currently neglected, there are ones that I think need to be taught early and often. Civics is a big one: our town for youngsters, our state for the slightly older, and our nation for everyone.

Subjects to cover in those courses? The three branches of government (with an emphasis on what each can and cannot do, instead of the usual lip-service mention of checks and balances); the Constitution; and The Bill of Rights would be a good start. And no just memorizing the numbers of the Articles or Amendments! Students should graduate with an understanding of how these documents are supposed to work.

Other suggestions for a national curriculum?

  • STEM, but not to the exclusion of the arts.
  • Practical subjects such as budgeting and banking and credit, which could be taught in math or practical home skills classes.
  • Art and music appreciation at the very least, with not all attention in music given to the three B’s. Something modern would be nice, or even a unit on musical theater.
  • Physical fitness focusing on lifelong pursuits and health.
  • Keyboarding and use of common office software.
  • Hands-on pursuits such as woodworking, cooking, and gardening, but not segregated by sex.
  • Foreign languages to begin in grades K-3, when a child has the best chance of learning them fluently. ASL at any age.

Yes, I know that teachers already have too much to teach. A number of these subjects would have to be electives or mini-courses – gardening, for example. And we’d have to reconsider the time spent teaching to the ridiculous proliferation of “high-stakes testing,” which has too much effect on funding and not enough on actual, productive learning. And we’d have to give enough money to the schools to accomplish all this (see Savage Inequalities, above).

Who should determine the national curriculum? I don’t know, except that actual classroom teachers and school administrators should be involved as well as education theorists or bureaucrats. In fact, I don’t think anyone who has never spent time as a public school classroom teacher should have much of a say.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with all – or perhaps any – of these ideas. But as long as my tax dollars support our public schools, I’m as entitled to have an opinion as anyone else.

How I Learned I Was a Cat Person

cat-pet-furry-face-162319.jpegI looked around at the rooms full of cats. Black cats, white cats, orange cats, gray cats. Cats sleeping, playing, hiding. But I wasn’t a cat person. Or was I?

When I was a kid, we never had cats – only dogs. Back in those days, dogs didn’t live in the house but also weren’t allowed to run loose. So they usually had a length of chain or a fenced yard to circumscribe their limits. Only tiny fluff-dogs such as Pomeranians had the run of the house. My mom, it turned out later, liked little fluff-dogs, but my dad didn’t. So our dogs, first Blackie then Bootsie, lived in the garage, with a chain to run on.

I never really bonded with either one. Another thing that was uncommon back then was dog obedience school, so when I went out to feed the dog, he would jump all over me with muddy paws. And when he got to ride in the car for long weekends away, he would drool, track mud on the towel we laid down for him, and vomit (until we learned to give him half a Dramamine before we started).

I longed for a cuddly pet and one that I could call my own. My next pet was a rabbit, which I named Christina, the most beautiful name I could think of. This was also in the days before rabbits became indoor pets, so Christina lived in a wood and chicken-wire cage, in the yard in summer and in the garage in winter. No real opportunities for cuddling or bonding.

So it went. No pets in my college dorm. No pets in the apartment complex where I lived after I graduated. But I began to think more and more that what I needed was a cat. My father had hated cats because one had once bit his mother. Perhaps it was time for generations of antipathy to stop.

At last I got an apartment which was four rooms on the second floor of a house. I asked the landlady if I could have a cat – just one – and was given permission (if unenthusiastically).

The obvious place to find a cat was at the local Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA). And the obvious person to bring along to help me was my fiancé.

SICSA had rooms full of cats (and other rooms full of dogs). Some were in individual cages and others shared larger rooms with other cats. I thought I might want a calico cat as I found them the most attractive, but there were none at the shelter that day. There were, however, a few tortoiseshell cats.

Tortoiseshells are a variety of calico with mostly black fur, mottled with some orange, thanks to the same genetic arrangement that causes the distinctive calico pattern. Some people find them unattractive, but I was drawn to a little tortie. She was shy and quiet and gentle, the opposite of the dogs my family had had.

But there were other cats that attracted me too, to the point that I was overwhelmed. “Which cat do you think I should get?” I asked my fiancé.

“I don’t know, honey. They’re all nice cats,” he replied, proving that I had indeed chosen the right man to marry.

I took the little tortie home and called her Bijou. (Her nametag said, “Bejeau,” but I assumed it was a typo.)  She spent the first night sleeping across my throat. She was otherwise so shy that she didn’t want to be picked up. But every day when I came home from work, I picked her up and gave her a kiss and set her back down. Eventually, she gained enough confidence to sit with me on the sofa and watch the Today Show and for me to carry her around.

Ever since, I have had up to five cats at a time, and almost always a calico or a tortie – or both – among them. Bijou, Anjou, Julia, Laurel, Louise, and Dushenka have fulfilled my need for a calico or tortie to call my own. Not that I haven’t loved the orange tabbies and gray tabbies that my husband favors and the tuxedo cat, the gray, and the black-and-white spotted cat we’ve also lived with.

But the calicos and torties hold a special place in my heart. They taught me that cats were what I really needed.