Monday, August 26, 2013

Nowsurance (My Summer of Living Dangerously)

This photo needs no explanation...
I've been incommunicado the last few weeks, partly out of not really feeling inspired to write anything, but mostly out of living dangerously. No, I haven't joined the Merchant Marines or become a stripper, although a few weeks ago, I came pretty darn close to simulating the latter when I got annoyed about the fact that, as a woman living in the godforsaken state of Georgia, I'm not permitted to expose my breasts in public, no matter how uncomfortable I am in our stifling summertime heat and humidity. Says who?! After informing Spartacus that I was going to step outside in our public courtyard to enjoy the morning sunshine bare-chested, to which he responded, "Just make sure the po-po don't catch ya," I threw caution, and my T-shirt, to the wind. My boobs haven't stopped thanking me; in fact, they caught the cool late August breeze just this morning. Aaaah!

That moment of living on the edge got me thinking about just how ridiculous the concept of insurance is. Take disability insurance, for example. For several years now, I've been paying around $600 per month so that if I become disabled, I'll be guaranteed an $11,000 monthly income. That's an awful lot of dough for reassurance that I'm guessing will never be actualized. My income's dropped considerably since I negotiated that policy, and since my monthly expenses aren't anywhere near $11k, not to mention the fact that I dare to live in the moment and am healthy as a horse, I decided it was time to either drop that policy altogether or reduce it substantially. Even though I've already reduced my life insurance coverage, I'm still worth more dead than alive!

I'll let you in on a little secret. All summer long, I've been working on developing my own personal insurance. Nowsurance is probably more like it. Just because I live like there's no tomorrow doesn't mean each day doesn't count. Although traditional disability insurance is designed to prevent one from worrying about untoward future events, I can't help but think that it leads to complacence and a smug lack of caring about the here and now. My independence--being able to do things for myself--is incredibly valuable to me. I really can't imagine living any other way.'s what's for dinner.
There's no monetary premium for my nowsurance policy, just common sense and accountability. When my jeans started feeling tight a few weeks back--despite all my crazy-aggressive workouts--I quit drinking wine every night, substituting green juice instead, and guess what happened? I lost 10 pounds. Even though I wasn't technically overweight to begin with, making that adjustment has done wonders for my sleep and energy levels. If I do drink wine, it's no more than a glass now, as my alcohol tolerance has gone down to zero. Best of all, my jeans are back to fitting like a glove, which is a wonderful thing when you hate clothes shopping as much as I do. (I'm a bit of a freak in that regard, and will wear the same clothes for years, provided they fit). I've worn these jeans for 6 years, and they've still got plenty of mileage left. Another lifestyle modification that both Spartacus and I have made is skipping traditional dinners during the week. Because we tend to work out later in the evening, we weren't eating dinner until 9 pm, which meant we were going to sleep with full stomachs. That's precisely how sumo wrestlers gain so much weight, by eating massive amounts of food and napping right afterwards. Not sexy! After our workouts, I make us both some kind of well-balanced smoothie with homemade almond milk, fresh fruit and leafy greens, and a little hemp protein, leaving us both satisfied, instead of overstuffed. Best of all, I have no pots, pans, or dishes to wash.

Rory (pink glasses) with BearKnuckle, feelin' green :-)
Juicing might sound like a silly fad, but I've seen recent anecdotal evidence suggesting that it boosts immunity. A few weeks ago, my son, Rory, called and told me that his lung functions were down despite a two week course of oral antibiotics. His pulmonologist recommended continuing the antibiotics for a couple more weeks, but felt this was probably a cystic fibrosis exacerbation that would definitely require intravenous antibiotic therapy at home. Rory and I had a long talk about the role nutrition and exercise play in maintaining and improving one's health. Like most people, I think he viewed exercising as time-consuming drudgery. The new thinking about exercise is that short but intense workouts achieve the same level of cardiovascular fitness, without taking up a huge chunks of precious time. There's really no need to spend more than 30 minutes working out. I sent him a few of my favorite total body and high intensity interval training workouts, all of which can be performed with no equipment in 20 minutes or less, and he started exercising daily before going to work.  

Rory's Lung Power juice and my amazing sprouted raw granola bars
I read him the riot act about his diet, which doesn't contain much in the way of fresh produce. He agreed to try drinking some green juice on a regular basis. After researching juicing for cystic fibrosis, I came across a recipe for Lung Power juice. Apparently, the watercress and pineapple it calls for contain anti-inflammatory compounds, as do the golden beets and turmeric root that I added. Because I've been taking him a two-liter bottle of juice every few days, it means I get to see him more often, so that's been an added bonus for me. Anyway, after two weeks of juicing and exercising, he went back to the pulmonary clinic to get baseline lung functions prior to starting his IV antibiotics. Even though it sucks that he's having to go through another round of home intravenous therapy, I was delighted to hear that his lung functions had actually improved by 4%, instead of declining further as we'd anticipated. Since the only thing that had changed was his lifestyle, I think that's pretty significant. Hopefully, it will be good motivation for Rory to continue with his workouts and intake of raw micronutrients. 

Attack of the Maple-Bourbon Cro-Doughs. 
Yesterday, Spartacus and I went out for doughnuts before running a few errands. Revolution just released its version of the cro-nut, so the queue was snaking itself outside the double doors. This was such a momentous event that I dolled myself up in my favorite (and only) pair of diamond earrings, which happen to be insured. At least, I thought I was wearing both of them. While we were standing in line, I kept noticing people looking at me oddly, as if maybe I had a booger in my nose. Spartacus confirmed the absence of any conspicuous nasal nuggets. I tried to ignore the continued awkward glances. Finally, when I ducked into the natural foods co-op to replenish my supply of buckwheat groats used for making my almost-famous sprouted raw granola bars (Spartacus stays in the car when we go there; he complains the place smells like B.O.), I figured out what all the stares were about. The cashier mentioned how pretty my "earring" was, and when I reached up instinctively to touch my earlobe, I discovered my right earring was MIA!

Diamonds, roughing it the concrete floor near the garbage can
A brief panic ensued, prompting us to retrace our steps. After thoroughly searching the car, we went back home to check the gravel lot where we park our cars. Nada. My original thought all along was that the earring had never even made it outside the house, that I'd somehow failed to engage the clasp, allowing the post to fall right out of the hole in my earlobe. Sure enough, Spartacus found it lying smack dab in the middle of the kitchen floor. After breathing a sigh of relief that we wouldn't have to notify the insurance provider, we talked about how bizarre it is to even have such material possessions in the first place. I purchased those earrings at a time in my life when, despite making an insane amount of money, I was the unhappiest I've ever been. Life's gotten much simpler since then, and I rarely shop at all. Having less "stuff" makes more room for happiness. The lost earring was a gentle reminder of that, and I was pleasantly surprised at how un-upset I was at the prospect of it really being gone. If I hadn't been walking around multi-tasking while I was putting those earrings on, it wouldn't have fallen out in the first place...the jeweler replaced the flimsy original clasps with spring-loaded ones that are fail-proof and unbreakable, and if engaged properly, will keep the earrings in place indefinitely. I've decided that from now on, I'll put the earrings on while standing in front of the mirror, gazing upon my womanly beauty, LOL. Seriously, though, multi-tasking is SO overrated!

Barefoot wife vs. husband's 2 ton briefcase...ouch!
On Thursday, I went to the doctor for the first time in two years. I don't have any health problems, except for two broken toes, but because two years have elapsed since my last mammogram and Pap exam, I figured it was time to get plugged back into the system. Initially, I was a little bit nervous about the visit with this new doc, but it couldn't have gone any better. She turned out to be a very cool lady, clearly a patient advocate like me. I liked her immediately. My blood pressure was 100/60 mm Hg, and my body mass index was normal at 22.8 kg/m2. She did an EKG on me because I'd had a history of premature beats, presumably from stress at my previous job. That, too, was stone cold normal. After examining me, Dr. Bernard looked me in the eye, smiled and said, "Welp. I can't find anything wrong with you." Cha-ching! My nowsurance has paid off. I've taken matters into my own hands, trading the comfort of future assurance for the risk of real change, and it's producing fantastic results. Now, if only my poor feet would cooperate... 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Worst Kind of Kindness

Me, immorally caressing the "forbidden" med cart at work (1987)
Something must be wrong with me. Not only am I not outraged by pretty much anything and everything that's wrong with society, I'm also not particularly inspired by what's right with it. I'm using the terms "wrong" and "right" loosely here, mostly because I'm not a big fan of society itself, just the individual human beings who comprise it. As someone who's always been attracted to what's considered immoral and degenerate, I don't really relate to society's mainstream. I'm much more moved by poetry than the random acts of kindness attracting the media's attention. Why is that?

I don't like the idea of anyone telling me how to live my life or how to be a better person. The notion that people can never be good or kind enough, that we always have to work on improving ourselves is a bunch of regret-engendering hooey. I'm already the person I want to be, always have been. I really can't think of anything worse than modeling myself according to someone else's principles. Self-righteousness has always rubbed me the wrong way. What I find particularly odd about most religions is how the prophets themselves were humble and self-effacing, whereas their disciples have taken themselves so seriously over time that killing in the name of God continues to be justified. Religion's problems are rooted in the concepts of God's kind mercy and forgiveness. Sounds good in theory, but in practice, not so much. The actual administration of God's kindness always seems to require a human intermediary who, more often than not, comes equipped with his or her own personal and repressive moral agenda. Since when do people need outside permission to be kind to themselves, accept themselves, and move on with life? 

Last night, Spartacus and I watched "The Godfather." I'd never seen it in its entirety before, and the one scene which really stood out was when Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) confided to his longtime girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) that, after a lifetime of resistance, he was now working for his mafioso father, Don Corleone (Marlon Brando). Unlike his brothers, Michael had shunned the family "business" in favor of a college education and military service. After his father was shot and seriously wounded by a rival mob family, Michael abandons his role as a civilian, eventually assuming leadership of the Corleones, all the while promising Kay that he'll make the family business legitimate within five years. Fully aware of the violent, criminal nature of Michael's new undertaking, Kay protests:

"But you're not like him, Michael. I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father. That's what you told me." 

The clarity of Michael's response is chilling. "My father's no different than any other powerful man, any man who's responsible for other people, like a senator or president." 

Shaking her head, Kay condescends, "Do you know how naïve you sound?"

Michael barely squeezes in "Why?" as Kay explains matter-of-factly, "Senators and presidents don't have men killed!"

Indeed, Kay, who's being naïve? As Lao-tzu once queried, "What is a bad man but a good man's teacher?" How is a president who wages war any different from a mob boss? Yet, society is pretty darn selective in making such distinctions, e.g. our current wars on terror and drugs. Isn't war a form of terror? So, we should fight terror with terror? Nothing about that reasoning makes sense to me, but by God, we're gonna prove we're the good guys if it means wiping out every last one of ya!  

Other than rendering a medical opinion in the patient care setting, I'm not too keen on giving or taking personal advice. I read a commencement speech this morning in which the author urged new college graduates to focus on becoming kinder and more loving, by "taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves." Although I totally get where he's coming from and agree with the article's basic premise, I think this is terrible piece of advice. Why? Well, for starters, it's virtually impossible to act selflessly when you take yourself seriously. Also, the worst kind of kindness is that which comes from overthinking and moralizing it. It's unnatural and doesn't come from the heart. There's usually an element of expectation or reciprocation involved, as well as a desire for recognition, especially in those who do take themselves seriously. Finally, I don't even see how kindness itself is a moral issue; in fact, you could say that morals arise from a lack of goodness or kindness. I agree with Lao-tzu: "Perfect kindness acts without thinking of kindness." 

Going with the flow,  but not floating the mainstream, 1982

I'm not knocking kindness, just the way we value it as something otherworldly and extraordinary. True kindness is effortless and doesn't require any forethought. It's often overlooked. Thinking about kindness relegates acting kindly to the future, which seems like a waste of right now. Being kind happens naturally when people accept themselves as individual expressions of the universe, going with the flow, instead of floating the mainstream. All human beings are capable of it, without a third party assist.

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self; 
then you can care for all things.