Saturday, April 9, 2016

Habit: What Do Our Habits Reveal about Our Lives? #AtoZChallenge Letter H

During April I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a letter of the alphabet with the goal to write 26 posts.
April is National Poetry Month.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my broken garage door and my inability to use the opener for a few days. Even though I could not use the garage until my husband installed a new opener last Saturday, I still headed for the garage instead of the front driveway every day when I left the house. I still punched the opener each day when I returned home. I did both these things despite knowing that 1) my car was not in the garage, and 2) the door would not open. 

Such is the nature of habits. 

We form habits through repetitive behavior. Often our habits attach themselves to our lives much like a ganglion cyst. Changing a habit requires behavior modification for many, concerted effort and cognizance of the habit for others. 

In The Power of Habit; Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Charles Duhigg explains that habits embody processes: 

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Blogging challenges such as the A to Z challenge and The Slice of Life Story Challenge, which I participated in during March, state their purpose as forming a daily writing habit in participants. However, breaking an old habit--the not writing habit, if you will--takes longer than a month. Psychologists typically posit that it takes at least six weeks to replace an old habit with a new one. 

Six weeks sounds like a short time, but in the world of habit formation, six weeks can feel like six months, one reason why few keep New Year resolutions. 

We see habits in all cultural and social structures and 

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize--they are so strong, in fact, they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

The poet Howard Nemerov describes the habits of an ordinary man as well as the cost of those habits in a poem. 

Life Cycle of Common Man by Howard Nemerov

Roughly figured, this man of moderate habits,
This average consumer of the middle class,
Consumed in the course of his average life span
Just under half a million cigarettes,
Four thousand fifths of gin and about
A quarter as much vermouth; he drank
Maybe a hundred thousand cups of coffee,
And counting his parents’ share it cost
Something like half a million dollars
To put him through life. How many beasts
Died to provide him with meat, belt and shoes
Cannot be certainly said.
                                     But anyhow,
It is in this way that a man travels through time,
Leaving behind him a lengthening trail
Of empty bottles and bones, of broken shoes,
Frayed collars and worn out or outgrown
Diapers and dinnerjackets, silk ties and slickers.

Given the energy and security thus achieved,
He did . . . ? What? The usual things, of course,
The eating, dreaming, drinking and begetting,
And he worked for the money which was to pay
For the eating, et cetera, which were necessary
If he were to go on working for the money, et cetera,
But chiefly he talked. As the bottles and bones
Accumulated behind him, the words proceeded
Steadily from the front of his face as he
Advanced into the silence and made it verbal.
Who can tally the tale of his words? A lifetime
Would barely suffice for their repetition;
If you merely printed all his commas the result
Would be a very large volume, and the number of times
He said “thank you” or “very little sugar, please,”
Would stagger the imagination. There were also
Witticisms, platitudes, and statements beginning
“It seems to me” or “As I always say.”
Consider the courage in all that, and behold the man
Walking into deep silence, with the ectoplastic
Cartoon’s balloon of speech proceeding
Steadily out of the front of his face, the words
Borne along on the breath which is his spirit
Telling the numberless tale of his untold Word
Which makes the world his apple, and forces him to eat.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Geese: Are Incidents of Geese Dying a Warning of Impending Environmental Degradation? #AtoZChallenge Letter G

During April I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a letter of the alphabet with the goal to write 26 posts.
April is National Poetry Month.
In March of 2015, 2,000 snow geese falling dead from the sky here in Idaho made national headlines. The Washington Post reported that the geese "basically just fell from the sky" during their migration from Mexico to Alaska. 

This story has seeped into my conscious thoughts often, particularly since Idaho Fish and Game found the dead geese in southeast Idaho close to where I live and since my husband works for the Idaho Department of Agriculture, which contracts with the EPA since that organization doesn't have offices in the state. 

Recently, approximately 200 additional gees fell dead from the sky. This most recent incident did not warrant reporting, and I couldn't find a reference to it via an internet search. 

Although the geese deaths resulted from arian cholera, according to authorities, the geese deaths alarm me on a scale comparable to that of the decimation of the bee population. 

Even though avian cholera is a bacterial infection, buried in the Washington Post story is an alarming note: 

Aerosol transmission--in this case, from birds landing, splashing or otherwise disturbing a body of infected water and spraying it onto nearby birds--is also thought to be possible. 

The speed at which stories bout wildlife and insect mass deaths leave the public consciousness concerns me. 

I've often lamented to my husband that shopping for groceries poses difficulty. Most of the products masquerade as food when in fact they are as stuffed with foreign substances--fillers such as high fructose corn syrup, GMOs, pesticide residue, dyes, etc.--as a Thanksgiving turkey is with stuffing.

Even Michael Pollen's mandate to eschew products grandma wouldn't recognize as food and to shop on the periferie  of the supermarket challenges the most discriminate chef. We have few options for organic produce in our community. 

I suspect that many of the autoimmune diseases on the rise result from the systematic poisoning of our food supply. Last fall I stopped drinking Diet Mountain Dew after hearing a student speech about additives in it. Brominated Vegetable Oil inhibits the body from metabolizing iodine, resulting in hopothyroidism. Excessive consumption of Mountain Dew may lead to memory loss. 

What other health risks do "food" manufactures deem appropriate collateral damage in the name of profiteering? 

Over the past ten years I've made significant changes in my diet to improve my health, but I know I'm not doing enough. 

Earlier this year I taught Mary Oliver's sublime poem "Wild Geese" in my AP Lit and Comp class. In it Oliver writes 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

We are the wild geese. Our imaginations call on us to treat our animal selves as well as the animals among us with reverence and respect. We must ask, what is "our place in the family of things" and how can we preserve it so that "the world goes on," so that the wild geese can head home again.

Geese flying in formation. Image via Google images
labeled for noncommercial reuse. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fitbit: What Does It Take to Make the Body Politic Fit? #AtoZChallenge Letter: F

During April I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a letter of the alphabet with the goal to write 26 posts. April is National Poetry Month.

In January I purchased a Fitbit Flex for myself and a Fitbit Surge for my husband. Although I exercise regularly, the past couple of years I've struggled. Where I used to attend classes at Gold's Gym five to six days a week, this winter I've attended four a week. 
Image via Google Search: Labeled for non-commercial use.
I mistakenly thought a Fitbit would motivate me. I thought that little black band possessed a magic elixir. I soon discovered that as the newness of the device waned, so too did its magic. I manipulate my Fitbit by logging the food I want to log and ignore logging ice cream. I'm happy to log water as I drink a lot of water. The Fitbit smiles at me when I make my goal. 

I rationalize not walking 10,000 steps by focusing on the calories I've burned. 

My Fitbit reminds me of Pavlov's dogs. It is, after all, a form of operant conditioning. 

My Fitbit reminds me of the way politicians attempt to condition the body politic, a topic I contemplate regularly. 

The American Poet Ambrose Bierce captures the nature of politicians and voters in a classic satirical poem. "The Statesman" chronicles the myriad promises politicians swear to voters eager to believe that they, the politicians, will offer a magic elixir to cure them of their woes, many undiagnosed by the body politic or politician: 

As many "cures" as addle-wits
      Who know not what the ailment is!
Meanwhile the patient foams and spits
      Like a gin fizz.

Alas, poor Body Politic,
      Your fate is all too clearly read:
To be not altogether quick,
      Nor very dead.

You take your exercise in squirms,
      Your rest in fainting fits between.
'Tis plain that your disorder's worms—
      Worms fat and lean.

 As with the unfit Body Politic looking for cures from Politician A, B, C, D, and E, I've too often taken my "exercise in squirms." For my Fitbit to work, my "disorder" needs a healthy does of exercise day in and day out. It's up to me to control my fate, to be alive in my awareness of my fitness and not dead to my role in maintaining it. To do that, I need more than the ringing of a bell, more than the smiling face and flashing lights on a little black band. 

Here's the poem in its entirety. It's quite relevant today as it was when Ambrose Bierce wrote it in the nineteenth century. 

The StatesmenBy Ambrose Bierce

How blest the land that counts among
      Her sons so many good and wise,
To execute great feats of tongue
      When troubles rise.

Behold them mounting every stump,
      By speech our liberty to guard.
Observe their courage—see them jump,
      And come down hard!

"Walk up, walk up!" each cries aloud,
      "And learn from me what you must do
To turn aside the thunder cloud,
      The earthquake too.

"Beware the wiles of yonder quack
      Who stuffs the ears of all that pass.
I—I alone can show that black
      Is white as grass."

They shout through all the day and break
      The silence of the night as well.
They'd make—I wish they'd go and make—
      Of Heaven a Hell.

A advocates free silver, B
      Free trade and C free banking laws.
Free board, clothes, lodging would from me
      Win warm applause.

Lo, D lifts up his voice: "You see
      The single tax on land would fall
On all alike." More evenly
      No tax at all.

"With paper money," bellows E,
      "We'll all be rich as lords." No doubt—
And richest of the lot will be
      The chap without.

As many "cures" as addle-wits
      Who know not what the ailment is!
Meanwhile the patient foams and spits
      Like a gin fizz.

Alas, poor Body Politic,
      Your fate is all too clearly read:
To be not altogether quick,
      Nor very dead.

You take your exercise in squirms,
      Your rest in fainting fits between.
'Tis plain that your disorder's worms—
      Worms fat and lean.

Worm Capital, Worm Labor dwell
      Within your maw and muscle's scope.
Their quarrels make your life a Hell,
      Your death a hope.

God send you find not such an end
      To ills however sharp and huge!
God send you convalesce! God send
      You vermifuge.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Exhaustion: Why am I Always Tired? #A2ZChallenge Letter E #SOL16

I saw a meme on Facebook that sums up how I feel these days: 
The meme should say, "I've been tired since 1984" because that's the year my first child arrived. 

No worries, there is a somee card to commemorate the exhaustion that accompanies a new baby. 
Unfortunately, exhaustion is a serious problem and can lead to these thoughts: 

Chronic sleeplessness has some serious side effects, as noted on WebMD: 

  • Industrial Accidents: The 1979 Three Mile Island Accident was caused by sleep deprivation.
  • Cognition suffers when we're sleep deprived.
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to health problems, such as weight gain and heart disease to diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on libido.
  • Lack of sleep can cause depression.
  • Skin suffers when we don't get enough sleep.
  • Memory suffers when we're sleep deprived.
  • Lack of sleep can decrease life expectancy.
  • Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on judgment, including the way we see our sleep needs. 
Burning the candle at both ends works in poetry, but my pragmatic nature tells me I need some ZZZZZZs! 

First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Milay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

*How well do you sleep? Do you have any tricks for ensuring a good night's sleep?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Demographics: What Would the World's Population Look Like with Only 100 People? #AtoZChallenge Letter D #SOL16

Join other slicers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge via
Two Writing Teachers Blog. Thanks, TWT Team!
I recently saw a video from GOOD Magazine offering an analysis of the world's demographic makeup if there were only 100 people on earth. The video is only 2:27 minutes and a fascinating view of demographics based on gender, age, wealth, nationality, race, language, education, access to technology, and other information relevant to quality of life. 

It's an noteworthy way to contemplate and see the world because by reducing the numbers from a seven billion, roughly the current population of earth, to 100, we can begin understanding our abundance and how the rest of the earth's population may view us in Western cultures.

Back in the 1970s, Dan Smith, author of The State of the World Atlas, addressed this challenge of demographics:

As we encounter each other, we see our diversity--of background, race, ethnicity, belief--and how we handle that diversity will have much to say about whether we will in the end be able to rise successfully to the great challenges we face today. 

The infographic below, which the creator has made available for sharing, offers another layer of information addressing the same idea: 

The World as 100 People

From Visually.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Catharsis: How Do Stories Help Us Express Emotion and Heal Our Souls? #A2ZChallenge Letter C

Two moments with students recently reminded me of the ways literature offers catharsis for readers. But first a brief explanation of catharsis

In literature, catharsis describes the ways characters cleanse their emotions. This concept originated with the Greeks who believed catharsis, an emotional "discharge," offered moral and spiritual renewal resulting in stress and anxiety reduction.  

First Madison, as she prepares to compose the analytical essay for her senior project on The Color Purple, and I discussed the approach she's taking. Her plan is to analyze the ways art, songs, and letters inform our understanding of the women in The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Madison and I talked about Celie's sexuality as an umbrella for the analysis she'll offer in her essay. 

Although we have not discussed specific support from the novel she'll use, I can see Maddie identifying with this passage: 

I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way...I can't apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to...We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful...We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose.

Madison and I have had numerous discussions about the ways girls in our community are taught and expected to diminish themselves, to make themselves less than, to silence themselves, to pander to patriarchal expectations and power structures. Literature that presents strong women who refuse to pander, who refuse to be less than anyone or thing appeals to Madison. Indeed, it speaks to all the young women in the class, many of whom have grown weary of the lack of egalitarianism in our culture. 

As we experience catharsis in literature through characters, we learn to cope with our own emotions, with our own pain. 

Sam spoke about the way YA literature offers moments of identification for readers during his speech about YA author Laurie Halse Anderson. Through Halse-Anderson's personal story, Sam sees himself. During his speech, he showed the class one of her high school report cards! Sam knows he's not alone in the struggles he faces as a teen. Two of the books that mean the most to Sam are Speak and Twisted
Sam right after his speech w/ one of his Visual Aides.
Sam and Madison both know the truth of Laurie Halse Anderson's words that "when people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time." (Speak) This is the cathartic power of stories. They offer us and our students a way to express ourselves, and that's the first step in healing.