Archive for March, 2012

A lot of people are familiar with the classic dystopian literature that you have to read in school.  These titles would include, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and A Brave New World.  A few more people are getting to know this genre through titles like The Hunger Games or the comic The Walking Dead that’s become a hit TV show.  Here are a some other notable dystopian novels I read this year:

Divergent. In the future, all 16 year old’s go through trials to join one of 5 factions, or they risk becoming factionless.  This is the story of one girl, who was raised in Abnegation (the selfless faction) joining Dauntless (the brave).  I thought the concept was interesting, but there wasn’t much information about why society had made the choice to divide everyone into these factions.

Shatter Me. This story is narrated by a girl in a prison/insane asylum whose touch kills people.  A warlord has her released so he can use her as a weapon.  The most interesting aspect of this book was the way it almost seemed like the girl had written it by hand.  It was very notably in her voice and even included things that were crossed out.

Enclave. After massive wars and plague, the story picks up with a human enclave living in the tunnels below a city.  They trade with other enclaves and avoid “freaks” who seem to be plague-ridden monster humans.  A girl, Deuce, becomes a hunter in this society and learns something disturbing about the nearest enclave.  The book  has definitely made me look at subways differently.

Eve. Eve has spent her entire life in an all-girl’s school after a virus wiped out most the earth’s population.  When she turns 18, she ends up leaving the school in unexpected circumstances and meeting men for the first time.  It’s interesting how many of these books involve coming of age and then discovering terrible secrets.

When She Woke. This book is loosely based on The Scarlet Letter.  It’s about a future when many prisoners are released after short sentences, but their skin is marked with a dye that alerts everyone as to what their crime was.  It’s a cheaper alternative to prisons, and in this future you can get marked red as a murderer for having an abortion.  It’s a depressing read but I think envisioning different outcomes of the abortion debate is really important, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice.  There are scary futures possible on both ends of the spectrum.

The Pledge. In this future, each social class has their own language, and all of the classes share one common language.  Knowing other languages is punishable by death.  This book was unbelievable in many ways, but the whole notion of restricting the languages that a person can speak was fascinating to me.

Finally, here’s a recommendation that’s not from 2011, but that I just picked up and read this year:

The Road. After a horrific nuclear war, a father and his son journey to the sea.  Along the way, you discover what happened to the boy’s mother, encounter the typical post-apocalyptic bandits, and start to wonder about the point of living in a world that’s been destroyed.  This book was compelling and depressing – it’s on Oprah’s booklist, so that should tell you something about the depressing factor.

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Have you noticed that dystopian fiction is on the upswing?   My best friend and I share a love of dystopian movies and books, so we were years ahead of this trend.  I’m trying to get her into the TV series “The Walking Dead,” which is about zombies.  I’ve finished all of seasons 1 and 2 in the past 2 weeks, and I’m excited for season 3!  I’m not normally a zombie person – I read very little zombie dystopian fiction, but this TV show is making me a convert.

I’ve been struggling lately to start exercising.  I’d like to have kids in the next year or so and I’ve been consciously trying to prepare my body for that, hence no longer taking anxiety medicine, trying to use my CPAP machine more, drinking water, and now exercising.  One of the most motivating thoughts I’ve had is just how completely unprepared I would be for the zombie apocalypse in my current physical shape.  Yeah, I look pretty healthy, but I start to get out of breath after 3 flights of stairs.  I don’t want to be dead weight, so I’m going to try to start walking and running.

This train of thought has led to me to wonder exactly what skills I could contribute if we were overrun by a plague of the undead.  My husband normally has a monopoly on all practical skills since he runs a construction company.  It’s pretty easy to see how useful being able to fix things and build things would be in that kind of future, but my line of work wouldn’t really transfer.   I don’t think there would be that much call for linguistics or research.  Here’s a list of skills I have that I think would be useful:

(1) People like to help me.  If you’ve ever traveled with me, you know what a bonus that can be.  There’s just something winsome and innocent about me that makes people trust me.

(2) I can knit.  Mostly scarves, but a blanket is just a wide scarf, so if we broke into a Michael’s and got lots of yarn, I could make blankets for us.

(3) I have scary good aim.  I know this because I visited my brother at OCS when he was a Marine and participated in family day, where I got to shoot M-16’s and M-203’s.  It caused a lot of comment among the Marines that my aim was so good and I got a few extra turns with the M-203 (grenade launcher) to see if it was a fluke.  I don’t rate this as my number one contribution because I don’t like guns and might freeze up if a zombie attacked me.

(4) If there were a book on survival, I would read it and learn a lot of useful things about the plants we could eat and how to tie knots, etc.  If anything is in a book, I can learn it.  The problem would be finding such a book on the run.

(5) I’m good at giving shots.  That could come in handy if anyone needs medical care.

(6) I’m good at languages, so if we had to travel or encountered people who didn’t speak English, I’d be a good choice for first contact.

Hopefully I’ll be able to add, “Runs quickly” or at least, “I can walk a lot” to this list in the next few weeks.

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I’ll be turning 26 soon, which has led me to reflect on what I’ve learned this year.  Here are some of the lessons that stand out to me, in no particular order:

-Miracles do happen.  My husband’s green card was a miracle.

-Pain fades over time.  So does anger.

-People die.  Make sure you’ve said everything you need to.

-Take a risk.  Share with people something personal you’ve written.

-If someone you know can treat certain people in their life well (their client, a friend) – they can treat you well.  They are just choosing not to.

-The later you stay at work, the more stupid mistakes you will make.

-Counseling only works over the long haul.  Go back again next week.

-There is still no crying at work.

-Sometimes the most powerful thing anyone can say to you is, ‘That was not your fault.’  Be that person for someone else.

-There are values more important than honesty, like loyalty.


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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may be getting the impression that there is some crazy in my life.  You would not be mistaken.  This year, I’ve been learning about setting boundaries.  I think I’m normally a pretty assertive or even bossy person, but there are some areas where I start to resemble an invertebrate *dealing with my family cough cough*.   I had a conversation with some family members a month ago that was very difficult, in which I attempted to establish important boundaries. Basic ones, like if you’re violent I will call the police.  Or, I will take action to help you, but I cannot listen to you tell me personal information I should not know.  I had not read this book at the time that we had that confrontation, so this is more of a retroactive reflection on that intervention.  Although the book deals with Borderline Personality Disorder, I think its guidance for setting boundaries is relevant to many situations when you are getting stepped on.  For those of you who haven’t had your own confrontation yet, here is what I learned from Stop Walking on Eggshells about setting boundaries:

What are some reasonable boundaries?

I was skeptical about the notion of demanding that a sick person (read: crazy person) respect boundaries.  After all, there is something wrong with them or they wouldn’t act this way.  However, the authors point out that if this person is capable of not treating everyone this way – professional colleagues, or friends, or people in public – then they are capable of treating you respectfully as well.  Duh, right?

It’s sad that of all the fundamental rights the authors list, there are really only 2 I am interested in getting.  Sure, it would be nice to have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as real, or to have emotional support, but basically I would settle for, “the right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy and respect” and “the right to live free from emotional and physical abuse.”  I don’t scream at other people, or call them names, or swear at them, or throw things at them.  I don’t deserve that treatment or treat people that way, and they should not treat me that way.  Is it pathetic how basic that is?  Be warned that reading a list of what other people consider to be fundamental rights and then acknowledging that you would personally settle for the two simplest is not necessarily the best thing for your self-esteem.

How do you communicate boundaries?

-Pick a time when things are calm.  (This seems counter-intuitive to me.  Why rock the boat?  Why not just go all out when things are already bad?)

-Be specific.  Not, “Be respectful.”  Try, “Don’t call me names.”  (I knew this from dealing with children.  It’s kind of amazing how applicable you will find any disciplinary strategies you might use on a 2-year-old.)

-Communicate one boundary at a time.  (Doesn’t this imply that you’re going to have to have repeated, awful, heart-wrenching conversations?  I went for communicating the core issues all at once.)

-Start with an easy one.  (See above.)

-Be consistent.  Intermittent reinforcement is damaging.  (This is where I see myself failing.  So I’m going to have to not fail here.)

The authors note that you shouldn’t get bogged down with whether you boundary is right or normal or expected.  Stick with this being your personal preference.  It doesn’t matter if they agree with you about the appropriateness of this boundary, but they need to respect it because you prefer it.  Shabam!

How do you measure success in setting your boundaries?

I liked this list a lot.  It made me feel like I did several things right, despite feeling like shit lately about the fact that my family hasn’t spoken to me in over a month:

-Did you respond as an adult, not as a child? C+ I wasn’t as assertive as I could have been, but definitely wasn’t 11 years old again.

Did you act in a way that demonstrates your self respect? Yes.

-Were you clear about your position? Yes.

-Did you remain focused, even if the BP tried to draw you off track? Yes.

-Did you remain calm and composed? Yes.

-Did you refuse to be baited and drawn into a losing argument? B+.  I wasted some effort trying to explain why it’s not my job to take care of this person, realized we didn’t share the same reality at all, and returned to the fact that this was my boundary.

-Were you considerate of the other person’s feelings, even if he or she did not give you the same consideration? Yes.

-Did you maintain a firm grip on your own reality while maintaining an open mind toward the BP’s concerns? Meh.  I wasn’t there to listen to that person’s concerns.

What if they don’t respect your boundaries?

You can leave the room, or hang up the phone, or stop seeing the person for a while, or stop seeing them forever.

What happens after you set boundaries?

I’m sure this depends on whether the people in your life are amateur crazy or varsity crazy, like the people in my life.  I would expect that they will try to punish you and then try to test you to see if you are serious.  You may have to decide how much you want this person in your life, and if the pain of not knowing them exceeds the pain of continuing to know them.  Please remember that just because you come from crazy, doesn’t mean your destiny is to live a life with this madness in it.  You can do better than your family did and you can choose who is in your life.  Their crazy does not have to be your legacy.

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This week’s postings are heavy, so here’s a poem I like from October of 2005, because we just don’t get to use the phrase “flaming braziers” nearly often enough in everyday conversation:


The Chinese burnt offerings to their ancestors; the Jews burnt them for Yahweh.

Some people cast their money at your altar, while the wretched fling themselves whole

Begging for your cleansing fire to burn away their sins, their regrets.

Today, Father, if I stood like Isaiah before the flaming braziers at your throne

Like every “good Christian” I would gladly offer all of me.

But if I stood on earth with flickering shadows on my face

Contemplating a solitary bonfire in some primordial forest

And I dedicated that pagan blaze to you, I would incinerate my agenda

And humbly ask to borrow yours.

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I’ve been reading a book this week called Stop Walking on Eggshells about “tak[ing] your life back when someone you care about has Borderline Personality Disorder.”  Before you ask, no – the person in my life I am struggling with has not officially been diagnosed with this disorder, but the general idea behind reading this book was to help me learn how to make healthier boundaries in my relationships with my family.  I hate self-help books, so I thought I would condense the few useful facts I gleaned from this book and save you the effort of wading through 260 pages of why your feelings are valid, using I-statements, actively listening, etc.

What is BPD?

According to the DMS-TR (2004), it is “a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by 5 or more of the following:”

1. Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment

2. Unstable relationships alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation (you are their savior, or you are a traitor)

3. Unstable self-image or sense of self

4. Impulsivity in at least 2 areas (like spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, etc.)

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior or threats

6. Mood instability

7. Chronic feelings of emptiness

8. Inappropriate rage

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

What’s the bad news?

According to the DMS, about 8-10% of all people with BPD commit suicide.  This does not include those who engage in risky behaviors that lead to death, like drunk driving.  BPD’s can be skillful at convincing you that if you don’t do whatever they want, you are being selfish and uncaring.  If you set boundaries, you should be prepared for the BPD to act out and make “countermoves” to test those boundaries.  Some people with BPD may cope with feeling out of control by giving up their power in some form.  They may join the military or a cult and seek to have other people make their choices.

Common misconceptions?

-It’s my responsibility to solve this person’s problems, and if I don’t, no one else will.

-If you really love someone, you should take their abuse because you are better able to absorb pain than they are.  

-This person can’t help being sick, so I should not hold them accountable for their behavior.

Coping mechanisms for dealing with someone with BPD?

-Minimize any visible reaction.  Don’t let them get a rise out of you, or they may repeat that behavior.

-Focus on the fact that you can’t control what other people choose to think or how they perceive reality.

-Stop “sponging” up the BPD’s rage or pain and start reflecting it back to them.  It’s not your angst.

-Set boundaries (which I will address in the next installment).

What is the biggest thing I’ve learned?

There is a section in the book on not withdrawing, and I was brought to my knees when I read this passage: “There is nothing wrong with leaving if you feel attacked.  In fact, there are times when it’s a good thing to do….The damage comes from remaining passive and silent, absorbing the other person’s criticism while your sense of personal power and self-esteem deteriorate,” (emphasis mine).  How many times have I sat through a phone call while this person raged and made me feel like shit, thinking that I could take what they were dishing out, but that they could not handle it if I hung up?

This post has been a downer, but soon I’ll be putting up a post about setting boundaries, so get ready to make some changes.

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Many people have forgotten about the draconian anti-immirgrant laws in Arizon that prompted so much controversy last year.  As a nation, we should not be so quick to move on from these injustices.  It’s important that we remember them and witness their impact on the those with no voice here in the US.  Since the laws that were initially passed in Arizona, several states have passed similar measure.  Arizon’a legislation came out when my husband was still in this country illegally.

Driving to work and listening to NPR one morning, I heard a story that made me pull the car over and cry.  It was about the fear that many illegal immigrants in Arizon felt knowing that the police were required to determine their legal residency even during a routine traffic stop.  Many immigrants were packing up and leaving the state.  One woman interviewed reported that she had given away the majority of her possessions because, “If we were going to have a lot of luggage in our car, it was going to look like we were escaping from Arizona,” which would make them suspicious to police.  She took her 18 year old son, 16 year old daughter, and 6 year old son to Colorada.  The drive to Denver took 19 hours and she was afraid to stop, so she put a disposable diaper on her youngest son.

When I got to work and people asked me why I had been crying, I said my allergies were acting up.  I don’t have allergies, but it didn’t feel safe to talk about these immigration laws.  I was worried I would somehow reveal something about my husband’s immigration status by appearing too upset.  Maybe I would blurt something out in a moment of fury. The type of fear that would cause a family to get rid of most of their possessions overnight and flee a state without even stopping to take bathroom breaks should not exist in the US.  I love this country, but when I read about states like Arizona and Georgia and Virginia, I don’t even recognize this country.  It’s sad to me how quickly we’ve moved on as a nation to other issues.

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You are a poisonous lullaby, honey infected with plague.

Your hands that hold me conceal razor blades.

You rock me gently, smother me sweetly

Demand that I carry your condemnation.

Your silence is venomous, your words toxic

And when I kiss you, you only see Judas.

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I sold a car on Craigslist this week and wanted to pass along what I learned.  Here are 10 tips for how to sell your car quickly and efficiently:

(1) The easiest way to put together the text for your Craigslist add is to search for the specs for your car model on a site like Edmunds.  You can wrack your brain trying to remember what features your car has that you take for granted (anti-lock brakes?  a 6 CD changer? automatic windows?), or you can use the Google.

(2) Craigslist allows you to post up to 4 photos.  I suggest a side view, front view, view of the dashboard, and then view of the backseat.  I would post them in that order since the side view is probably the most instructive.  You’ll want to save 2 versions of your photos: high resolution and low resolution.  The low resolution photos are faster to load on Craigslist and will load more quickly for most viewers.  However, some potential buyers will request the higher resolution photos, so you’ll want to keep those on hand.

(3) You can put something like “serious offers only” in your ad to try to weed out people who are just  bored.  It probably won’t help.

(4) Collect some of the basic information that people will ask you about the car and save it in an email draft.  Then you don’t have to take much time when you respond to their emails.  People will ask about the VIN so they can check carfax.  They’ll ask about your mileage on the highway and in the city and whether your car has ever been in an accident.  The more intrepid and curious may even ask how long you’ve had your tires and how many more miles they should be good for.

(5) When you set the price, ask for about $1000 more than you actually want.  This gives you some room to lower the price if the person wants to negotiate, and who knows?  Maybe some poor schmuck will actually pay you that much.  If people email you asking for your absolute bottom-line price (and they will), you can say, “We’re asking for $price-on-Craiglist, but we’re open to serious offers.”  This doesn’t really mean anything, but puts the ball back in their court to tell you how much they want to offer.  You should not be the first to drop the price – they need to tell you how much they want to pay.

(6) When people ask to see the car, if you live in an apartment complex, you don’t need to give them your apartment number.  We have this invention called the telephone, so there is no need for people to know which apartment is actually yours. They can just meet you outside your building.  (I automatically sent 2 people my specific apartment number before it occurred to me that I don’t need to give strangers that information.  Sad, but true.)

(7) If they want to test drive the car, and you are female, I recommend having a guy around.  Some people on Craigslist are crazy.  If you are a WASPy American, I recommend having someone who comes from a culture that negotiates prices around.  You’ll need the back-up.  In fact, maybe you just shouldn’t talk and you should let your non-WASPy friend take the lead.

(8) About 10 people will ask to see your car, get your address, and find out what time you will be available, for every 1 person who actually comes.  Don’t plan your schedule around selling the car.  Just tell people times you will naturally be home or you’ll make yourself nuts over the no-shows.

(9) When someone decides to buy the car, ask for cash or a cashier’s check.  If they are going to give you a cashier’s check, go to the bank with them to watch them get the check.  Alternatively, call the bank that issued the check and verify that it’s a valid check before you hand over the keys.  Cashier’s checks can be faked.

(10) You’ll need to remove the license plates from the car.  If you really like the person, you can leave the plates on and have the person go to the DMV and transfer the plates to their name.  If you go this route, you should call the DMV and verify that it’s been done.  Don’t forget to take the car off of your car insurance!


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I’ve been reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks because I’ve never gotten to take a creative writing course and I thought this might teach me what I missed.  This week I’ve been reading about characters and I was struck by this quote:

“Characters are sometimes defined by their backstory.  And sometimes they are who they are in spite of their backstory.”

I want to give a shout out to all of those people who come from a depth of madness that you would never imagine just by looking at them.  I want to acknowledge those people who get up each day and put on their work clothes and earn a living and come home and spend time with their families, who put on a happy face and go grocery shopping and get stuck in traffic and pay taxes.  Those are my people!  It seems like no one sees that you are doing so much better than where you came from.   Living well in spite of your backstory is hard, but each day you get up and choose to make something of yourself is a day that you are a bad-ass.

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