Education or alienation?

“For many children school is a place where confidence is eroded and one is made to feel incapable, where social relationships degenerate into a competition based on social acceptance and fear of exclusion,” writes Michael Reist in What Every Parent Should Know About School. Although the book focuses on what’s wrong with many school districts and not what’s right with many others, Reist does provide a window into the alienation many disengaged students experience.

“The fallout from such a system is clear: kids who are stressed, kids who lack confidence in themselves, kids who are depressed and addicted, kids who are in conflict with their parents, kids who think they are stupid, and kids who do not know themselves,” concludes Reist.

Multiple intelligences

There are multiple types of intelligence, yet courtesy of No Child Left Behind (a.k.a. No Teacher Left Standing and No Pharmacist Left Unemployed) many school districts invest nearly all of their resources into making every student more than proficient in only two of them, linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. This tends to discourage those students with other talents such as bodily/kinesthetic or visual/spatial – students who tend to excel at jobs that are more hands on.

Lucrative skilled trade jobs

Dirty Jobs Mike Rowe started a foundation to fund skilled trade jobs, or as his website puts it, “Three million good jobs that no one seems to want.” Quoting further from profoundlydisconnected.com, “The mikeroweWORKS Foundation started the Profoundly Disconnected® campaign to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

Developing strengths not weaknesses

The Gallup organization has spent decades focusing on strengths-based development. Their research concludes that it is far more productive to develop one’s strengths than to strengthen one’s weaknesses. In their literature, they cite a 1950s University of Nebraska study that evaluated teaching rapid reading. Surprisingly, the study revealed that those who were rapid readers to begin with made, by far, the greatest improvement. (maximizeyourstrengthsblogspot.com)

One of Reist’s compelling arguments is that keeping high school students so incredibly busy learning a little bit of everything disengages quite a few of them and keeps most from indulging and developing their passions, their natural strengths. When you are not going against your grain, it doesn’t seem like work. There are districts that give students the option of specializing in high school. Long Beach Unified School District has several of them such as their Architecture, Construction, and Engineering A.C.E. program, “This unique program provides guest speakers, fieldtrips, internships and partnerships with industry professionals and businesses.  Whether you choose technical/trade school, college, university, or go directly into the workforce, ACE offers skill preparation and hands-on training for you!”

Learning by doing

In addition to high school student’s long school days of sitting, excessive homework has them sitting further. Prolonged sitting is a health risk even for those who exercise regularly. (Read more about this in 2015 LA Times Even for the active, a long sit shortens life and erodes health.) Reist makes a good case for high school programs that involve less sitting, learning by doing, and incorporate internships and apprenticeships.

“School should be a place where children thrive and flourish and become even more confident and capable than they were before,” concludes Reist.

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Still moving like Jagger…

If I can move like Jagger when I’m pushing 72, I will be ecstatic. How does he do it?

Not only has Mick Jagger managed to dance on stage long past the age most professional dancers retire, but on his own terms. He created his very own athletic, free-form style of interpretive dance, including his virtually infinite dance vocabulary. His moves add a dimension to his vocals and make the Rolling Stones live music even more compelling.

The vision of him performing a split leap high into the air during a 1981 Rolling Stones concert is forever emblazoned into my memory bank. Although he can’t pull off that move anymore, he still commands the stage and becomes one with the music.

When asked by The Plain Dealer’s Chuck Yarborough if he had “some sort of magic Mick Jagger fitness program, Jagger responded, “… I have to work at it, and you can’t expect it to drop in your lap. You have to practice it. It’s hard work to keep it…”

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Is losing weight all about breakfast?

I hate being hungry, and I am not good at it. I get grumpy. I get rude. The only benefit is that, while in the throes of hunger, I manage to teach my two children self-sufficiency. “Dinner! Did you forget how the stove works?”

When I am hungry, I eat. The only way I ever stabilized my weight was by ridding myself of my incessant hunger. But that was before having a job that has me tethered to a desktop computer all day on top of a serious commute on top of spending my weekends driving two kids to playing fields in three different counties. I still work out five times a week, but for less time and with less variety. Over the past two years I have gained 14 pounds.

I grew up slender, but my weight skyrocketed after I flunked out of college for the first time and quit dancing regularly. Blood sugar was not yet in my vocabulary, and I had no idea that I was sensitive to sugar. I spent nearly 20 years on a succession of diets gaining and losing 40 pounds. It wasn’t until I was in a race against my biological clock to conceive my second child that I began researching nutrition and did something I never imagined I could do — I gave up sugar and white flour. Without dieting, but with the help of a support group, those 40 pounds disappeared for nine years.

Sugar Sensitivity
A teaspoon of sugar in my tea I can handle, a scoop of ice cream I cannot. I end up with my head in and out of the freezer all night until the half-gallon of Jamoca Almond Fudge has disappeared. Visit Radiant Recovery for everything you wanted to know about sugar sensitivity, but were afraid to ask.

Less movement means you get to eat less, but that only works for me if I can become less hungry, which requires mastering the art of maintaining stable blood sugar. Researching how to calculate glycemic index and glycemic load gave me flashbacks of flunking organic chemistry; basically, different foods affect your blood sugar to dramatically different degrees. And the equation for each food changes in conjunction with what else you eat that food and its portion size. For example, the glycemic load of eating an apple changes if you eat that same apple with almond butter. For an explanation regarding everything glycemic that won’t give you a migraine, read Jonny Bowden’s blog, The Blood Sugar Factor Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load.

What I settled on was experimenting with different foods and tracking the calories consumed. I forgot to pack my protein bars for Christmas vacation, and during those 10 days I noticed that I was not as hungry. Post-protein bar, I tend to average 1,800 – 2,000 calories a day as opposed to 2,000 to 2,800 calories a day. I also noticed that what I ate for breakfast influenced how hungry I became the entire day.

Yummy Healthy Breakfasts
Protein is a must for stabilizing blood sugar. These breakfasts provide me protein and comfort:

  • Small sweet potato with two fried eggs – For two eggs, the average glycemic load is zero, which balances the glycemic load of the sweet potato.
  • Scrambled eggs with chopped vegetables – Trader Joe’s reasonably priced Healthy Six contains five servings of six raw, chopped vegetables.
  • Steel cut or regular oatmeal with nuts and fruit
  • Non-fat Greek yogurt with almonds or walnuts and cut-up frozen or fresh fruit sweetened with Stevia
  • Non-fat milk and chocolate flavored protein powder – This is the only breakfast I can eat while driving.

The first three I make the night before; I use the office microwave to heat them up.

Eggs and Breakfast
Research galore indicates that eggs for breakfast stabilize blood sugar and promote weight loss. Shape.com’s The Best Breakfast for You offers several breakfast options for those seeking a more slender shape including several that feature eggs.

So far, I have not lost any weight, but I stopped gaining and suspect that given the amount of time I sit, I might need to go back to a Paleo regime.

In case you like TMI… I had gained that same 14 pounds within two years of working at my current job and then lost those unwanted pounds in four months by loosely following the Paleo diet (Paleo Diet Month Two). It took almost exactly another two years of Desk Lady diet to reclaim those same 14 pounds.

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Rick Springfield—Sex and Depression and Rock and Roll

Reading that rock and roll singer/actor Rick Springfield penned his first novel reminded me of his 2010 memoir Late, Late at Night. I had been drawn to it, because it detailed his lifelong struggle with depression.

Curious about the novel, I went online and found an October 2012 appearance of his on Dr. Oz. I was touched by Springfield’s courage in being so forthright regarding the most highly personal of addictions, sex addiction. I also admire his wife for supporting his decision to go public.

I researched sex addiction 10 years ago for a not-quite-done novel whose main character is a highly creative rock musician who kills time creating abstract art, moonlights as an actor, and amuses himself with “mini love affairs,” which become more and more unusual as he sinks further into his addiction. One of the books I found insightful was Don’t Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction by Dr. Patrick Carnes.

Although, as a writer I have always been more fascinated by the shades of gray within human behavior, such as individuals who cannot sustain intimacy, rather than the more extreme behavior one would term sex addiction.

Springfield is not as unlikely a novelist as some might think. Not only did he write an autobiography first, he has been writing songs, interpreting scripts, and creating characterizations for decades.

Despite Springfield appearing slightly mischievous, athletic, and much younger than his 63 years (at time of taping), he recollected a suicide attempt at 17 and intermittent struggles with depression since his teen years. He described how he feels during his bouts, “I feel worthless. I feel like I get no joy out of anything.”

Sex as an Antidote to Depression
Springfield recounted how sex helped ease the depression, albeit temporarily, “There is no outside source that can heal that depression. Although sex helps.”

He deadpanned, “The orgasm is the only time you are truly at peace.”

Springfield explained how he used sex to escape from his symptoms, but that ultimately it was not effective, “It’s a great coping mechanism. It’s a dead end. It’s an outside source.”

Depression Triggers
Regarding what causes the depression, “I get overwhelmed really easily,” Springfield said. He also discussed how the demands of the entertainment industry could trigger depression, “There’s always work to do. I get depressed when I write. I get depressed when I don’t write. I get depressed when I don’t work. I get depressed when there’s too much work.”

Integrative Remedy
Springfield took time off from the music business to focus on figuring out how to beat depression without using extramarital sex or alcohol. He settled on an integrative approach that, at times, included medication. In addition to music, meditation, writing, and his pet dog became his most effective weapons.

The Link Between Creativity and Depression
Springfield is far from the first famous creative to struggle with depression. There are several theories as to how creativity and depression are linked; they are probably linked in more than one way. My theory is that those born with sensitive and empathetic temperaments sense other’s feelings and pain, which drives them to create as a way of releasing the accumulation of intense feelings. Psychologist Elaine Aron wrote a number of books about sensitive temperaments including The Highly Sensitive Person.

Also, creative brains are able to jump around, make unusual connections, and go in many directions, which, at times, can be overwhelming as it can be very difficult to follow through in multiple directions, and that frustration can lead to depression.

CreativeSomething.net’s blog, The Link Between Creativity and Depression and How it Can Be Good for You, expresses another theory, “…Countless psychologists and psychiatrists tend to agree that major depression is amplified in those who tend to ruminate on their thoughts. Rumination… is one of the major keys of thinking like a creative genius.”

The blog explains another link between the two, “For creatives, this depression is what amplifies motivation to do their work better. It’s not enough to keep doing what you’ve been doing as a creative, you have to do more, and do it well.”

Scott Barry Kaufman’s blog for Scientific American, “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness” assesses several studies. He writes, “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible.” Too much information can lead to overload.

The Dark Side of Creativity: Depression + Anxiety x Madness = Genius?” by William Lee Adams for CNN is another blog that explains studies that explore the link between creativity and mental illness including depression.

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Anticipating Sinead O’Connor’s Memoir

Sinead O’Connor’s memoir could be as gripping, insightful, and empathetic as her song Black Boys on Mopeds if its sex scenes explore the emotions and the spiritual energy that are part of sexuality along with the quest for intimacy and connection.

When I wrote Dream Walking, a coming of age novel, one of my goals was to write sex scenes that were compelling to read, but multi-faceted. My main character is a blocked creative, and her creative outlet became picking up men.

I could not read Fifty Shades of Gray, which struck me as phony and contrived. Two flawless novels with sex scenes that capture the emotional journey as well as the excitement:

The Cheerleader by Ruth Doan MacDougall

The Detroit Free Press said, “One of the truest portraits of an American girl ever written . . . Everything works in MacDougall’s book.”

Forever by Judy Blume

“I wanted to present another kind of story—one in which two seniors in high school fall in love, decide together to have sex, and act responsibly,” Judy Blume

 

 

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Must read biography – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is about passion, the creative process, the digital revolution, and so much more. In addition to portraying the phenomenal vision, energy, magic, and explosive temperament of Jobs, Isaacson masterfully takes us into the board rooms, the R&D rooms, and the bathrooms of Apple, Pixar, Disney, Sony, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, The New York Times, and Corning amongst others.

Although Jobs redefined “control freak,” he gave Isaacson unlimited access to every aspect of his life and made himself ignore the research process.

Isaacson tells the story of how each of Apple’s products came to be made in compelling mini chapters. For example, before the iPod could be born, Jobs had to first invent iTunes which involved convincing several major record companies to revolutionize the way that they did business. Another mini chapter details the decision process behind choosing the ungrammatical “Think Different” campaign.

Despite Jobs passion for every facet of designing, manufacturing, selling, and experiencing Apple products, his abrasive management style got him ousted from Apple in 1985. Jobs eventually became CEO of Pixar and then CEO of both for several years. He gambled his personal fortune and nine years of his time on developing Pixar’s animated movies.

Famous for making the impossible happen, Jobs convinced Corning CEO Wendell Weeks to quickly produce a signature component of the iPhone, Gorilla Glass. Weeks who initially balked at the request recollected, “We did it in under six months. We produced a glass that had never been made.”

When Jobs defied his board to create the first Apple store, he indulged his passions for architecture and retailing by becoming involved in every detail from seeking the perfect Italian marble for the floor to the design of the windows and layout.

Unfortunately, Jobs could not will away his cancer, nor could he follow medical advice to adjust his extreme eating habits in order to help him battle the disease that did him in.

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products,” Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs should be required reading for every business major. Although the first 55 pages dragged, I relished each and every of the next 520 pages and captivated my 4th grader and 8th grader with selected passages.

First published Jan 2012 @ WritersWhoRock.com

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The Mystery of Suicide and L’Wren Scott

Why would fashion designer L’Wren Scott, a beautiful, highly accomplished woman, kill herself? Although it has been reported that her label was financially troubled, her practical and elegant designs were on the verge of becoming accessible to many via Banana Republic.

Suicide has nothing to do with character and everything to do with brain function. Distorted thoughts make suicide seemed like the reasonable solution to the intense pain those thoughts create. We can see the career and personal options Ms. Scott had, but she could not.

In an August 2014 presentation at the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) California conference, film producer, author, health activist, and actress Mariel Hemingway shared her insight into the mindset of someone who commits suicide, “They believe that leaving is the solution to everyone else’s problem…. they come from such self loathing, such a dark place.” (The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air her documentary Running From Crazy that examines the factors leading to the seven suicides that her family experienced.)

Within the novel The Bell Jar, author Sylvia Plath insightfully described this progression of distorted thoughts. As her protagonist Esther becomes more and more depressed, her perceptions become darker and darker, and she further and further isolates herself. As the mental anguish Esther experiences becomes acute, it becomes painful to turn the page as Esther effectively builds a case for herself that suicide makes sense.

What is fashion, but wearable art? Highly creative individuals with enough drive and daring to make a living out of art and realize their creative vision sometimes have brains that tend towards depression. Highly analytical and highly creativity brains crave intense stimulation. That perfectionistic drive to create can isolate one and sometimes enable one to not know what is most important in one’s personal life.

Why anyone would end his or her own life began to fascinate me in high school. I fell in love with a couple of Ernest Hemingway’s novels and his short stories before learning that he had ended his own life. Then I fell in love with the dark humor in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and became aware that she had killed herself.

And then, one of the most honest, powerful, compelling rock-n-roll singers who ever lived, Kurt Cobain, killed himself in 1994. Reading between the lines of Charles R. Cross’s sensitive and insightful biography of Cobain, Heavier than Heaven, I could see the chaos resulting from the untreated depression that most likely fueled his drug addiction.

The Stigma Factor in Seeking Treatment
In some professions, being treated for a mental illness such as depression can be detrimental to say the least. Because of the stigma, those experiencing depression also often lose out on the outlet of discussing their struggle with friends and associates.

Treating depression is not an exact science. Mental health is a complex equation and many doctors do not take an integrative approach that examines nutrition, lifestyle, spiritual conflicts, family systems, hormonal fluctuations, and many other variables. At 49, Ms. Scott could have been experiencing perimenopause, which could exacerbate tendencies toward depression.

Ironically, in some ways those who have struggled with addiction and mental illness and adopt an all-encompassing spiritual approach towards reconstructing their lives have an advantage over those who have not struggled with addiction along with mental illness.

With Hope
I met a mom who lost her beautiful, high-achieving 14-year-old daughter Amber to suicide, “As a freshman she played varsity soccer and still had time for her family, her boyfriend and her friends. She was silly. She was bold. She was encouraging. She was determined.

“We now know, Amber was also profoundly sad and didn’t believe that anyone else had felt the way that she did.  She didn’t reach out for the help that was available. She masked her pain in the midst of all her talents and accomplishments. She hid her pain from a community of people who truly loved her.” (From With Hope‘s website.)

Amber’s suicide seemingly came out of nowhere. Her courageous mom started With Hope, a foundation dedicated to preventing suicide through outreach including educating high school students about depression, what could be the subtle clues of someone contemplating suicide, and what to do if one suspects a friend might be suicidal.

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