Last we we talked about how to become a productive planner. This week we’ll chat about some of the planner systems available to help you sort through the clutter and make your dreams a realit…
This month, the Sirens are all about reflection and decluttering. The year 2017 is at its halfway mark, and many of us may be gearing up to start the new school year. Let’s take this opportun…
It’s the day after the USA’s most patriotic holiday, Independence Day, and given our current political climate and the fact that we’re halfway through the year, it might be a good…
Here’s an intro to an informative article by author-trainer Pippa Mattinson giving a short history of dog training methods and research into their effectiveness. Readers raise a couple of interesting comments at the end. It’s a healthy debate and cool to think about how these issues effect other facets of our lives, like getting cooperation from kids, colleagues, our own students, and each other!
I used to joke that everything I learned about teaching, I learned from dog training. Then I’d scold my class, “Sit! Stay! Hush!” The truth is, especially since the rise of positive reinforcement techniques, experience training dogs has made my interactions everywhere, from my classroom to the IT Help Desk to my marriage, more pleasant than you might think.
Last spring semester, I made positive reinforcement the defining feature of my Advanced Fiction Writing course. I actually required it of my students in all their interactions, particularly their workshop peer reviews–their use of positive reinforcement was the only thing I graded them on. I made a sort of Kindness Rubric, and, however ironic, only docked them for using negative reinforcement. A few students grumbled at first, especially men who felt that searching for things to praise in others and not saying anything about the poor stuff made them weak and phony, even when the praise they gave was honest and accurate. By the end of the course, all of them felt uplifted, more creative, and more influential.
If you’d like to know more about positive reinforcement and dogs so that you, too, can extrapolate wildly to all facets of your own life, you’ll find an excellent article below. It’s overview of positive reinforcement techniques, their history, and their effectiveness. From what I’ve seen of our readers, you tend to be introspective, insightful, and committed to your own and others’ happiness, so I’m confident you’ll put the information to work adding a little more goodness to the world.
One more thing: for those of us who’ve been training dogs since the seventies, or who cut our teeth in business or academics during the Age of Sarcasm, it’s also nice to see this article remind us to forgive ourselves for having doled out negative reinforcement without knowing any better.
And remember, positive reinforcement works on yourself, too.
The Evidence for Positive Reinforcement Training In Dogs
by Pippa Mattinson, author of Happy Puppy Handbook, Total Recall and The Labrador Handbook. Read on at The Happy Puppy Site …
by Delaney Rose, on The Gloria Sirens
As literally everyone who has seen me knows, I’m fat. My doctor knows, and, unless I have a cold, refuses to give me any medical advice other than “lose weight.” People on online dating sites know. Before I started dating my girlfriend, I’d get messages from ladies that read things like, “You’re pretty for a big girl,” “I don’t mind a lady with a little extra meat,” or “You look like a big ol’ teddy bear!” They never got a response, and I remained single for awhile, since my dating prospects seemed limited to people who begrudgingly accepted a size 18 if it was attached to a china doll face or fat fetishists.
You know who else knows I’m fat? My computer. Every time I get tagged in a full-body picture, I get weight loss ads on Facebook for at least a week. It takes at least 4 cat pictures to start getting ads for home pet euthanasia again. I also can’t Google a cake recipe for a birthday without getting ads for Bill’s Shake Shack.
Food has always been an issue for me. The second I started to grow breasts, I struggled with my weight and with disordered eating for more than a decade. I’ve tried many diets, like Weight Watchers and the “nothing-but-almonds diet,” weird pills and cleanses, and even bulimia, but honestly, nothing seems to work long-term. It’s hard not to want to give up.
But what’s even harder is feeling like you’re constantly disappointing everyone around you. It seems it’s okay for society to treat obese people the same way we treat people who litter. The assumption is that there is a willful laziness involved, that would only take, like, a second to fix. The sense that I’m disappointing everyone with my weight has caused me to stop celebrating holidays. I no longer go home for Thanksgiving, I don’t have birthday parties, there’s no more 4th of July barbecues. I might start skipping Christmas too.
A lot of my weight came from the stress of graduate school and living on a student’s budget. I had to make meals that cost little, filled us up, and pleased both me and my girlfriend. That’s not easy. My weight skyrocketed, and I haven’t been able to lose it.
While I was gaining weight exponentially, I was taking online classes on medical librarianship. I’ve always loved medicine, and being a medical librarian seemed lucrative and fun. What I hadn’t counted on, though, was that much of the coursework centered on nutrition and invited fat-shaming.
“It’s so crazy how fat people come to the doctor and complain of pains and illnesses! It’s like, you’re fat, duh, of course you’re sick!” a student would say. The professor always seemed to agree. I kept my mouth shut until one day when I had to design an app for a project, and a teammate suggested we do something about nutrition and childhood obesity.
“It could warn kids not to eat sugar!” she said. “Or give them nutritional facts! And help parents know what their kids are eating!”
“How about more like meal tracking?” I said, “It could remind them to play each day, even.”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Well, a kid could write down what they normally eat, and after awhile, the app could be designed to suggest substitutions that would be healthier, but just as filling. Like, a kid who eats potato chips every day could be recommended carrot sticks, or baked chips, and if it’s sunny they could get a push notification that reads something like, ‘It’s a beautiful day! Go out and play!’”
“Why not just tell the kid to cut out snacks altogether?”
“That’s not realistic. They already hear that. Being hungry is hard. If it learned their appetite and how much they ate, making the transition would be easier. Giving them little goals and rewards is a good idea, too.”
She sighed. “I thought this would be easy.”
“Weight loss is hard.” I said, “But I was a fat kid. I know what I would have needed to help.”
We went with my idea.
People who’ve never struggled with their weight seem to assume that those of us who’re fat have never tried to be thinner. If we claim we’ve tried and tried, they think we’re lying. I decided about a year ago to stop going to the doctor because I had this conversation one too many times:
“Is there a way you can check my metabolism or recommend something?” I asked. “I’ve already changed my diet and—“
“Have you tried eating more vegetables and less sugar?” she said.
“Yes. I don’t eat much sugar,” I said.
“Have you tried cutting out red meat?” she said.
“I don’t eat meat at all. I’m vegetarian,” I said.
“Have you tried drinking diet soda?” she said.
“I don’t drink soda. When I do, it is diet,” I said.
“Are you sure you don’t eat meat?” she said.
“YES!” I said.
Once when I went to a doctor for nausea, and he said, “Good! Maybe you’ll lose weight!”
While that doctor was an asshole, I know most doctors are just trying to help. They also have no way of knowing that I’m NOT lying. They just don’t know how to help, and they likely don’t have the time or energy to get to know every overweight patient they have. They’ve also probably seem a lot of people who were unwilling to change their diet and suffered greatly, or died. The doctors I’ve seen, though, haven’t had much to say other than to tell me to do what I’m doing.
The fact is, losing weight is hard. It’s expensive, too. Replacing cheap and abundant fatty food with healthy food puts a real strain on your wallet. Even starving yourself can backfire. I found that out the hard way and keep re-learning that lesson. Every so often I get so frustrated that I just stop eating.
It might shock many people to learn that this is true of most fat people. There’s no ignorance involved, we don’t live with funhouse with mirrors that make us look thinner, when we went up a size we bought larger clothes, and we want to live. Many of us are just tired.
In my case, I live with my beautiful, skinny fiancée, who can eat anything she wants and whose interests in dieting stop at vitamin-enriched Pop Tarts. I am more than twice her size, and she’s studying to be a doctor. Every now and then, I watch her disparage herself in the mirror, calling herself fat. She’s not. Objectively or subjectively. I couldn’t think of any reason why she would think so, until I met her family.
Soon after I did, I noticed that whenever they phoned, they said, “Don’t get fat!” instead of “Do well in school!” or even “Good luck!” No well wishes. Just a warning to not allow her weight to go up. She must have been told that from a young age. I eventually stopped going to dinner with her to see them, and when I must for an event, I spend weeks steeling myself, because the subject always somehow magically turns to weight, nutrition, and indirect statements about how I must be failing myself.
It’s baffling to me how she even stays so thin. I sit next to her with a perfectly-portioned meal and dreaming later of my well-planned-for cookie, and she eats her meal, plus three cookies, plus a cheese stick and a late-night sandwich. We’ve stopped going out to eat, because I spend hours studying my meal choices online ahead of time, and then when we arrive, the waiter always gives me the Party ‘Till Your Pants Rip Burger and her the Whole Wheat Kale Surprise Wrap without asking who ordered what.
She eats at least twice as much as I do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not somehow magically absorbing her calories for her. Am I cursed? I’ll never know!
What I do know, though, is what doesn’t help. And, now that I’m done complaining, I’ll tell you the top 5 things you might be saying to an overweight loved one, or to yourself, that isn’t helpful:
- “Have you tried the _____ diet?” If it wasn’t invented last week, there’s a good chance the answer is yes, or that they looked in to it, and it wasn’t right for them. For example, I’m a vegetarian and almost completely vegan. Many diets are centered around lean meat and no carbs. I don’t do ANY meat, and cutting out carbs has always left me weak and eating pretty much nothing but vegetables, which makes you sick after awhile. Most fad diets also aren’t good for people who might need to be on them long-term, those who need to lose 100 pounds or more. That takes a looong time. Especially for women. You can recommend diets if someone asks, but do NOT offer them dietary advice uninvited. Especially as they’re taking a bite of a freshly-baked brownie. Seriously.
- “It hurts me to see you like this.” It hurts us to hurt you, but it’s not exactly a choice. It also hurts me to see people who wear basketball shorts with dress shoes, but they made that decision when they got up, and could just go home and change. The more we learn about metabolism, health, and weight loss, the more we learn that weight has a lot of complex causes. Making statements like that to someone who is heavy and likely doesn’t feel great about it themselves has been proven to backfire and cause long-term psychological damage.
- “Just stop buying bigger clothes!” I tried this for a long time. I decided I just wasn’t going to buy clothes in a size up. The idea here is that not buying larger clothes will inspire you to lose weight. In the meantime, though, squeezing day after day into clothing that doesn’t fit is discouraging, and gives you low self-esteem. People who are suffering from low self-esteem have more trouble turning down cookies than most. Instead, buy a couple cute outfits that fit you right and are in your favorite colors. The second I did, I started getting compliments, and even got catcalled twice for the first time in years. (While catcalling is bad, I was glad to know I looked good enough for a stranger to wolf-whistle me from his truck.)
- “You could get diabetes, you know.” We know. Some of us DO have it. Our doctors told us. They HAVE to tell us. You don’t.
- “Have you tried going to Curves/power walking/swimming/etc?” (Also, why is it almost always exercises that are stereotypically associated with people over 60?) There’s a good chance that, yes, we have. Maybe we didn’t like it. Maybe it wasn’t working fast, and we got discouraged. Maybe we didn’t have support. Maybe we have a health problem that prevents it, or puts us at risk of injury. If you want to help and be supportive, ask us to go on a long walk next time you do. If your loved one seems open to exercising, offer to go with them. You don’t want to know how many people are afraid to exercise due to judgement and would love to have a supportive friend to go with them to the gym. Hell, I’m one of them. I’d love a workout buddy.
The most important thing you can do is be supportive and compassionate. Understand that this is hard. Understand that making it about you or shaming your loved one won’t help them. Asking them what would help them might. Encouraging them when they make the decision on their own might. Letting them know you’re proud of them will. Celebrating small victories will.
Support is the greatest gift you can give someone who feels alone or ostracized, and that’s definitely true of us.
by Katie Riegel
I gave this talk as part of a panel with Casey Clague at the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers conference a couple of weeks ago, so forgive the speech-like feel. (And if you’re anywhere near Fairhope, Alabama, and a writer, consider coming to that conference next year—I’ve taken over as president, and it’s always a great time of community and connection. Not just for teachers, and not just for literary writers or writers within academia.)
I wanted to start my little talk with a joke, something to loosen people up and connect us to the here-and-now, something that might establish me as at least good-natured, a little bit clever, knowledgeable about the strategies of successful panels and conferences (as I should be at this point, having done this kind of thing for 25 years). I even thought about opening with my opening at the Other Words conference, my other favorite Southern writing conference, where all I had to say was, “I’m not funny. I’m from the Midwest,” and the audience burst into laughter.
But. That conference was back in early November. That conference was before the election. We are living in a different world now, and I am even less funny now than I was then. I am, in fact, stricken. I try to write, to think, about anything other than the suffering that will be a consequence of the current administration—that is already happening—and, mostly, I can’t.
Except for meditation. I can think and write about meditation, because I first came to it due to suffering, and it is one of the few things that helps me deal with suffering, mine or others’.
So one of the things I’m writing about meditation is a short book, tentatively entitled, There’s No Wrong Way: 44 Meditations, in which I list a variety of ways you might meditate. Some are standard parts of Buddhist or mindfulness meditation practices, and some are a little weird, like stoplight meditation, cursing meditation, fabric store meditation, and time travel meditation.
I bring this up for two reasons.
- As both writers and readers, you know that how someone explains something is often as important—or more important—than what they are saying. Which means that some books and speakers on the topic of meditation and mindfulness will turn you off. Tone, word choice, metaphor, and all the other tools we work with daily will affect you. (Personally, the words of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, don’t work for me. Her tone reads to me like “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” when I need something more like “everything’s going to be ok,” or really, “everything’s going to be as it is, and you freaking out about it won’t make it better, so give yourself a break and chill out.”) There are tons of books and videos on meditation—in fact, I thought about calling my book Who needs another book on meditation?—so if one doesn’t resonate for you, try another one. Meditation itself may still work for you—I believe it works for nearly all of us—but you need to find the right perspective and wording.
- If you think you’ve tried meditating and you can’t do it, I’m here to say that I don’t believe you. Because if you’re a writer, you’ve meditated. What do you think that “zone” is, that “flow,” where you’re writing the first draft and your hands can’t move quickly enough to get down your thoughts? Where do you think your crazy ideas come from, when your characters say things you didn’t plan for them to say or your poem loops back around to that image from the first stanza and you suddenly have an ending? I would argue that this state—which we all know is not all there is to writing—at the very least has a lot in common with meditation. It is a state of concentration without striving, a state of openness and receptivity that nevertheless excludes our usual worries about the future or regrets about the past. Success and failure are not part of it; when you’re in that state, you simply are.
Now, do you get to that state of being every time you sit down to write? No, of course not. Similarly, you don’t get to that state of being every time you sit down to meditate. But the more you practice meditation, the more likely you are to enter that state. I suspect there are writers here who would attest to a similar effect when writing, who know that it is the sitting down regularly that makes it possible for that “zone” to occur.
So, in this ultra-busy world, I can hear some of you thinking, if the writing “zone” is so much like meditation, why would you want to do both? Don’t they accomplish the same thing?
Ah…no. For us, writing is inevitably, inextricably tied to both the past and the future. It is connected to judgment at its very core: our writing is judged by teachers, mentors, and editors, as well as by our own inner critics. The zone may be free of all that, but as soon as we leave it, we’re back to the world in which we are writers, people whose careers depend on being published, people who want to be read. We suffer from our rejections, fall into self-doubt, spend months hoping for good news and dread having to publicize ourselves when the time comes. Yes, the writing zone is a beautiful state to be in, and it’s a vital mental practice, and it’s a high; but we’re always going to come back to the other parts of writing, the revision and submission, publication and reviews.
Meditation is not connected to all that. There’s no editorial board for meditation. No one will tell you whether you’re worthy as a meditator or not. Your income doesn’t depend on it, nor your public reputation. When you’re done meditating, you don’t then have to pick apart the results of that half hour, applying your overlay of craft knowledge to the raw materials of the imagination. The point of meditation is not to produce anything. For the time you’re meditating, you are out of the loop of work and judgment. In fact, two basic ideas of meditation are nonstriving and nonjudging.
But it is still a mental practice. Studies abound on the specific effects of meditation. Meditation improves creativity, flexible thinking, concentration, and decision-making. It improves resilience and lowers stress, which is measurable in lowered blood pressure and heart rates. Meditation will feed your writing, making it easier for you to access the writing zone, manage your time so you can write, and bounce back from the inevitable negative events of life so you can spend more time being productive and less time down the YouTube rabbit hole. Maybe you’ll find the courage to get really weird in your writing, break some rules, experiment. Practicing the shutting down of those inevitable inner voices of judgment and discouragement may make innovation more possible. Not to mention the ability to access quiet, stillness, and concentration in a world of constant, instant connection, stimulation, and information overload.
One last thing: when I was younger, I worried that if I ever found a way to silence my inner demons, heal lifelong emotional wounds, that I’d lose the urge to write. I worried that I’d lose the inner itch, that urge to create, to try to understand the world through words. Meditation may seem like that kind of bandage, soothing your inner turmoil and simultaneously smothering the crazy, effed-up part of you that needs to write. Of course I can’t promise you won’t become a bodhisattva, an enlightened one, and levitate into the next world—but I suspect that, like the rest of us, you’ve got plenty of crazy for this lifetime. After all, you’re a writer.
Read this post and more by Katie Riegel at The Gloria Sirens.
BY LESLIE SALAS
As a Millenial and a new mom, I’ve got plenty of content to write about and share with friends, family, and all of you. There’s the unexpectedly brutal transition to motherhood, the many milestones my kid meets (or maybe doesn’t), and how all of this affects my relationship with my partner and my personal and professional life goals.
While I’m writing about all of this privately, I’m not posting about it. Even though I take dozens of pictures of my kid daily (at least), I won’t even post a public picture of me with them on Facebook. During maternity leave, I took a sabbatical from posting on social media altogether. I switched my Snapchat story to private. And even my Instagram has gone pretty quiet, with lots of #latergrams and occasional, vague mentions of my family. . . Read on at The Gloria Sirens.
being a good parent, dysfunctional family, empty nest, empty nest syndrome, fauxhawk, fauxhawks, functional family, helicopter parent, how do I forgive myself, how to be a good mom, how to be a good parent, how to reconcile family, mohawks, parenting mistakes, perfect family, picket fence, raising children, soccer mom, when to get divorced
by Suzannah Gilman
When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I would put everything I had into raising my children. I would be someone they respected even after they were grown. I reached those goals. But what I didn’t know was that I was going to make mistakes anyway. Here’s how I failed.
1. Not Letting My Children Struggle
I mediated every snag or wrinkle in their lives, from disagreements they had in elementary school to delivering a project they forgot at home, because I had a single mother who didn’t even do all the basics for me. They didn’t have to solve their own problems. I took that up as my job, and I was good at it because I’d been solving problems my whole life. Big mistake. My children grew to adulthood without picking up survival skills.
I micro-managed my eldest going off to college. He had the guts to say “Mom, stop doing so much for me. Let me do it myself.” I tried to back down with my other two sons, a junior and a senior in high school. I gave my youngest, my daughter, the most room to look out for herself. She became financially aware, got her first credit card as a college freshman, and later refused to let me pay her tuition. At 23, she got a mortgage on her own. She has survival skills. At least I didn’t fail her.
2. Comparing My Children to Myself
When my youngest started kindergarten, I went back to college and finished my last three years on academic scholarships and then went to law school. “I had a hard life, quit school in 9th grade, got a GED, had three kids by age 22, and look at me! Straight A’s, and now I’m a lawyer! You can do at least as well!” Wrong thing to say, apparently, though I thought of it as cheerleading.
Other encouragement I gave, such as “You could do better on that paper you’re writing if you let me proofread it” or “Your eyes would really show up if you wore makeup” didn’t help, either. They took it as “You aren’t good enough.” This is something two of them worked on with their therapists as adults. Now I praise them for their accomplishments and mention their strengths with no attached expectations. If only I’d done that sooner. Keep reading . . .
do-si-dos, girl scout cookie addiction, girl scout cookie season, girl scout cookie temptation, girl scout cookies, illegal drugs, samoas, savannah smiles, strong wills, sugar addiction, tagalongs, thin mints, women & drugs
“This entire post made me laugh!” said a reviewer. Made my day!
by Crowcombe Al Girl Scout Cookie season is upon us, and I’m scared. A bunch of Girl Scouts formed a gang that hangs out in front of my neighborhood grocery store. As I’m heading to my car, they step in front of me and say, “Hey, hey, hey. Not so fast, lady. We’ve made you…