Bye-bye, beer. Farewell, fruit.

In my last post, I explained how glad I was to have stumbled upon science writer Gary Taubes. As of that post, I’d only read The Case Against Sugar. Since then, I’ve also read his Why We Get Fat and about half of Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The more Taubes I read (and hear, having listened to a half-dozen podcasts featuring him as guest), the gladder I become. Two weeks ago, I was scratching my head, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with my health and how to get it back on track. I perceived my recently diagnosed asthma and allergies as symptoms, not root causes, but I couldn’t figure out the root cause(s). Similarly, I couldn’t understand why generally eating Whole 30-style wasn’t taking me back to health the way it had before. Continue reading “Bye-bye, beer. Farewell, fruit.”

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The Case Against Sugar

Since my just-younger sister turned me on to Overdrive, an app enabling folks to check out ebooks and audiobooks from local libraries, I’ve perpetually had ten books–the maximum permitted by my library–on hold. I’ve mostly used the app for these books, ignoring books currently available.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile was a notable (delightful!) exception to this rule. Based on how much I loved that mid-night, non-hold find, I should’ve expanded my book searches. And yet, despite this, I ignored most books currently available … until last week, when I checked out The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes.

It might have sat on my phone unread but for a bad allergy/asthma reaction last Sunday. I’d gone to a theme park with my family and some family friends, only to find it progressively harder for me to breathe. It took me a couple of hours to realize I should check pollen levels; when I did, I saw they were “moderate” for some of my allergens. Continue reading “The Case Against Sugar”

The kingdom saved her

Soon after my husband and eight-year-old son returned from a weekend away camping, my son began playing a video game. “He’s had no screen time for two days,” my husband said. “I think this is fine.”

I agreed. Still, when eight-year-old Li’l D explained the game he was playing, I was a little surprised by the gruesome factor. “That sounds much, much more grim than the king-based game I played when I was a kid!”

He asked me about that game. I gave him a one- or two-sentence overview, and told him how I’d actually written about my king game a couple years ago. A couple years back, I’d read a book that had brought it all back to me.

I asked Li’l D if he’d like to hear about the book. And then, thinking about it a second longer, I asked if he’d like me to read him the post I’d written about both the game and, perhaps, the book that–decades later!–reminded me how much the game meant to me.

I read him my post.

“You wrote that? That was you?!” he interjected when I got to the Warcraft part.

I confirmed that I’d written it, and just about held my breath when I waited for him to tell me whether he also wanted me to read him the book that had thrown me back.

He did, and so I bought the book, Ready Player One, and shared its prologue with him. My arms rippled up and down with goosebumps as my six-year-old self and my eight-year-old son shared space.

I am so excited to share the rest of the book with Li’l D in the weeks ahead.

For now, I’ll share with you my post about the book, and a kingdom.

The kingdom saved her
May 29, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a first grade girl whose parents could go from outwardly calm to nuclear in fractions of seconds too small to count.

She lived in a state of nearly perpetual distress, never knowing when her parents might blow up at each other, or her. Never knowing when they might take out their anger on each other, or her. Never knowing when some small misstep on her part might yield terrifying consequences.

She found small salvation in the form of a device her father called a “computer.” On this computer, she could play the games SCUBA Venture and Facemaker by herself, or with only her younger sister nearby. Unlike people, the computer yielded predictable results, so that the little girl felt safe and comfortable when she sat at its keyboard and told the computer what to do by simple sequences of keystrokes.

Her very, very favorite thing to do at the computer was play a game called King’s Quest. The game was better than predictable. It was exciting. She could use her letters and words to explore a whole new world in which she was the potential hero, not a sad, scared little kid.

She’d type her commands and watch excitedly as her avatar did as commanded. And even when she was stumped, she was delighted, because in every moment there was the opportunity to find the answer … and save the day.

Her family moved before she started second grade.

She no longer had access to the computer, but found comforting escape and endless possibility in books all the same.

Her mom sent her to a “computer oriented” middle school. “It’s the wave of the future!” her mom told everyone who’d listen. “If my kids know computers, they’ll be able to do anything!”

She took Journalism in middle school because that meant she could spend more time at a computer. She liked writing, of course, but she really liked sitting at a computer and being connected to something less hurtful than her own daily life. At night, she dreamed of flying, but by day, the computer was her set of wings.

When her middle school best friend got a Nintendo, she spent every moment she could playing Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. She’d dream video game dreams and see Tetris blocks in every day objects. She came to describe the sore thumbs she experienced after hours of extended play “Nintendo thumb.”

She had no way to explain the comfort she felt while playing, but she was comforted in ways she couldn’t begin to articulate.

Her freshman year of high school, she took part in a college student’s study about teenagers using the relatively new “Internet.” She told herself she took part only to escape Social Studies, but the truth was she ached for computers–and the possibility for escape they represented–in ways she still couldn’t articulate.

She looked up lyrics for her favorite songs. She tried to find maps for old German roads, because she’d been told that was a possibility, though she considered it more of a possibility than an actuality at that point; none of her searching yielded useful results.

When the school’s IT administrator asked if she’d like to borrow a computer as part of a new district program, she fairly well leapt at the opportunity.

With that computer, she’d dial local bulletin boards and eventually (much to her mom’s ire) create her own. In the process, she’d learn that telling people only to call overnight didn’t mean they’d actually observe her request. She learned, too, that her mother would gripe about being called by computers and about her daughter’s 2 a.m. use of the phone line, but that she’d allow it all the same … because if her kids knew computers, they’d be able to do anything, including escape poverty and abuse.

In 1995, she created her own webpage, because she could.

The girl tried to return her computer, but was told the school district had no use for the beat-up old thing. She kept it, and used it to write her college papers.

She couldn’t take it with her when she began law school, so she bought a laptop, as required by her school. She made silly photo edits and wrote blogs before they were called “blogs,” but seldom played games.

When she moved overseas, she brought her laptop with her, having little idea that the first online friend she’d ever made would visit her in Japan, or that they’d fall in love, or that he’d entice her to buy a new computer so they could play World of Warcraft together when their bodies were apart.

There in rural Japan, she’d play her Tauren character and feel the same sense of relief and release she had playing King’s Quest two decades earlier.

In 2016, years after starting something she begrudgingly called a “blog,” she’d find herself reading two books.

One book, Alexander Hamilton, was just about the opposite of everything she felt while working with or thinking of computers.

The other book was one about which her husband had raved for at least two years. He’d bought both the audio book, to which he’d listened a half dozen times, and an electronic copy, which he’d also read multiple times.

She was bored reading Ready Player One, at first. The world-building was necessary but not necessarily engaging, to her.

But then she picked up the book again and found she’d left off right where the world-building ended.

She found herself in the story, and she was entranced.

As she raced through the story, she found herself living in several virtual realities at once.

Her physical self was curled up at one end of her worn, uncomfortable old couch. Her mental self was in at least two other places. Mentally, virtually, she was within the story the author told.

But she was, astonishingly given how long ago it all had transpired, also within another virtual reality: the one in which her six-year-old self played King’s Quest and hoped that she might be the one to save the day.

She felt echoes of her own life in the very different story, and understood that past computers and games that had seemed to be back story had continued to play very much in the foreground despite her failure to recognize them.

As her two young sons crawled all over her, she finished the story and felt satisfaction with something far deeper than the resolution of a single printed story.

Somewhere, in some dimension, she felt her six-year-old self very much alive.

That six-year-old hoped, and dreamed, and told the computer what she thought might save the kingdom.

She tried, without success, to save a kingdom … only to discover, three decades later, that while she’d never saved the kingdom, the kingdom had helped to save her.

ready-player-one

Seeds of Healing, Seeds of Love

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in one of the angriest posts I’ve yet written. That post has been private for months, but I’ll share portions of it here. Doing so is important for elucidating why one passage of a book I just finished moved me so deeply.

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

Among others, these ACEs include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Abuse – physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
  • Neglect – physical and/or emotional
  • Witnessing violence
  • Household mental illness

According to a Kaiser/CDC study of ACEs, “most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE.” Further, people with four ACEs “have a huge risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.” Continue reading “Seeds of Healing, Seeds of Love”

The Upside of Allergy Testing

Five and a half years ago, I was tested for allergies after sustained exposure to toxins. I was found to have a couple mild allergies, and crossed allergies off my list of possible causes for my misery.

Two Tuesdays ago, I got an inkling that I might have crossed it off too early. Continue reading “The Upside of Allergy Testing”

The Western Way

I recently finished Richard E. Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently … and Why.

I read this book with both fascination and appreciation. The last couple of years, I’ve been perplexed by the chasm between perceived and actual openmindedness among Americans. The perception of expansive receptivity is countered by a reality marked, rather, by limited appreciation for all the possibilities and interdependencies that do–or could–exist in the world. While I could see the chasm, I couldn’t come close to assigning words to its dimensions. The Geography of Thought gave me a shot at those words.

Nisbett is careful to define what he means by “Asian” and “Westerner.” He’s also attentive to differences within these overarching groups, pointing out distinguishing features of subgroups even while addressing what’s similar.

The core of the distinction between the two overarching groups is expressed by different approaches to *dependence as a worldview. Nisbett sums these up as “independent” (Western) and “interdependent” (Asian). Continue reading “The Western Way”

Walking in the Grass

Recently, I’ve started walking in the grass as often as I can.

When I randomly checked out Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile from my library last September, I had no expectations for it. I certainly didn’t imagine it would eventually impact where–and how–I walk!

In Antifragile, Taleb points out that “robust” is hardly the opposite of fragile. While something fragile exposed to stress might break, that which is robust merely endures it. It’s neither hurt nor improved by exposure to stress. That which is antifragile, on the other hand, grows and thrives from exposure to some stressors.

One example he cites is muscle growth from deadlifting. By introducing muscles to the stress of increasingly heavy weights, muscles prepare to handle even heavier loads. Stress inspires growth. By depriving ourselves of stressors, then, we’re potentially depriving ourselves of growth.

Taleb offers plenty of other examples of this phenomenon, including reflections on the benefits of fasting, but many have faded from my memory in the months since I read Antifragile. It was only at random that I recently recalled a note on how always walking on even surfaces is another way we deprive our bodies of challenges that help them grow. Continue reading “Walking in the Grass”