The Story of Me. Ms. Haft and the Nasty Word

I haven’t a clue how she kept her job..

Copyright Dennis Mitton
f2
I’m stretching it but you get the idea…

I was a junior and in love with writing and with science and, along with every other testosterone-sick guy in school, with Ms. Haft. She was freshly graduated from college and she wore her hair long and her skirts short. It’s still odd to me, but rather than standing or sitting, she would teach while kneeling on her desk. The younger teachers eschewed rows and columns and circled our desks around the perimeter of the room. One day – it’s one of the few clear memories I have of high-school – Ms. Haft walked into the room, climbed onto her desk, knelt down, and in the most droning, flat, and unemotional voice said “fuck”. Pencils, papers, jaws – everything dropped. Every set of eyes shot up from whatever they were looking at and turned to Ms. Haft. The air left the room. After a very long and very pregnant pause, she said it again. Fuck. And then again. Fuck you. Fuck me. Well, fuck it all.

All of a sudden, school got interesting.

She explained that today’s lesson had two parts. Part One was that we would circle the room and everyone would say Fuck out loud in turn. Just utter the word. Just form the sounds pushing air from your lungs and out your mouth. Touch your upper teeth to your lower lip and say it. Fuck. Good god. What harm can come from expelling air and forming a sound?

fWe went ’round our circle one-by-one. A couple students, pale and panting at the idea of letting such an abomination squeeze through their lips, shook their head No. I think one person gathered up and left. Some, given permission to swear for probably the first time, said the word over and over until told to stop. In the end, I think everyone in the room except for two or three, completed the odd lesson.

Lesson Two was much less interesting: words are meaningless. Do you imagine that ‘Fuck’ has any real meaning? Do you imagine that lovers would say such a word to each other? If we never bat an eye when the word is spoken would people continue to use it? Words only have meaning when we agree to their meaning.

But isn’t that exactly what culture is? An agreement that words and gestures and swimming pools and a dozen wives mean something?

The very purpose of words is to convey meaning and no word is meaningless. Words move us to great joy or to great pain. Words can elevate a nation. Words can change your life in an instant. “I’m leaving.” “I Have a Dream!” “Math is hard.”  How many girls have never forgotten when their dad told them that he loves them even though they are chubby? How many adults have never imagined what wonderful things they can do only because someone three or four decades ago told them that “you’re not good at that.” My own father remembered me at four-years-old reaching for his hand once to walk across the street. He said that he slapped my hand away and said “Big boys don’t hold hands”. It was meaningful enough for him to remember it fifty years later.

I disagree with Ms. Haft about the meaning of words but she alluded to something that I do agree with: dark things lose their power when exposed to light. I can’t help but think of this when I read the cuthat another group or government office has been ordered to cut off communication with the press or to shut down parts of their website. There might be a good reason for these actions but, without open and free communication, we can’t know.

I don’t know what happened to Ms. Haft. I don’t remember if she was there for my senior year. The last thing I remember of her was when she caught on that my buddy and I were the sole members of our high-school Maoist club. We dropped pamphlets and commie art in teacher’s mail each morning and beamed for days after Ms. Haft told us that the school board had called a special meeting to discuss ‘communist infestation’ at the school.


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Don’t forget The Genius Next Door

Some kinds of smarts are more valuable than others

carWayne Dyer, whom I disagreed with on almost everything important, talked about talking to even the boring and boorish people around you. He found that when he took a real interest in people that they would unfold to him as fascinating and interesting people. This has always been interesting to me. I’ve written about it a couple of times here and here.

I thought about this idea today when I was talking with someone about getting their car worked on. I knew a guy once, he’s passed away now, who rebuilt my car’s engine in a weekend as a neighborly gesture. He was just a guy down the street – I don’t even know what he did for a living – but most nights you could see his garage lit up where he would putter until bedtime. One Friday my car started to act up. “Act up” is the totality of my mechanical expertise. So I walked down the road and found this guy in his garage and told him about the weird gurgle emanating from my car’s engine. “Let’s go have a look,” he said.

We wandered down to my place and I started the car. He laughed and shook his head. “Turn it off,” he yelled. “It’s your cam bearing.” Or something of the sort – I never really knew. “Ugh.” I was smart enough to know that this was bad. “So I have to take it to the garage? Sounds bad.” “Nah,” he said. “You need to drive it down to my place. We’ll take the engine out tonight and then tear it down and replace the bearing tomorrow and put it back together on Sunday.” I’m sure that I had a look like I was talking to a crazy person. “Really,” he said. “Nothing to it.” And that’s exactly what we did. He was completely nonplussed about it as if it was what anyone would do. I was amazed through most of the weekend. What I saw as confusing and complex was simple to him. He just worked methodically step by step to pull the engine and make the repair and then did the same thing in reverse to put it all back together. It really did look easy when he did it. The car was up and running by the time Sunday football came on. He refused to take any money and said that I could help him with something one day but I truly doubted that I had any skill he would be interested in.

So as I keep saying. Talk to the people around you. Ask them about their story. More times than not you’ll find that you are surrounded with interesting people.


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Are Women Rejecting Victoria’s Secret?

Are curves back in style?

Copyright Dennis Mitton

victoria_s
There is just so much wrong with this picture.

Well, here’s good news for human beings. The MS Business Insider opines that market forces in women’s underwear are shifting away from pencil-thin models toward healthy and more normal looking women. They cite as evidence strong upticks in sales of lingerie at stores such as Adore Me and Aerie who market primarily to the non-waif crowd. It seems that curves are in. Or at least getting there.

Part of this certainly issues from the fact that we – Americans primarily – have grown fatter over the past few decades. Once anything becomes a norm within a culture, it cycles back onto itself as the de facto standard. In this case, it’s mostly a good thing. People are coming to reject the marketing mantra that you must look like this or be shaped like this to be happy and attractive. And exercise research reinforces what is intuitive: fit and strong, as opposed to wan and weak, are important components of a healthy lifestyle for all adults. 

The Insider ties several marketing moves into the explanation including Sports Illustrated’s editorial decision to include different body types in their swimwear issue and a backlash toward Victoria’s Secret for putatively moving their catalog offerings toward soft-core porn. They note model Iskra Lawrence as someone who is ‘curvy’ as having success in modeling and speaking out against the unhealthy lifestyles of models forced to adhere to the ridiculous standards of advertising executives.

Keep a grain of salt handy. Popularity and fashion do and will change. What makes a healthy lifestyle doesn’t. There are controversies about diets and health and sales people like Dave Asprey will always prop up something new as an essential for what-ails-you. But the science of health is steady: good food, moderate and consistent exercise, and meaningful relationships are what make you healthy and happy.


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9 Quick Keys to Healthy Eating

There are no secrets to healthy food

Copyright Dennis Mitton

pepperI have a penchant for short, pithy explanations to things that people – mostly people selling things – try to make complicated. My favorite example is Michael Pollan’s “Eat food, less of it, mostly plants”. There’s a whole lot of health and wisdom wrapped up in those seven words. Along those same lines, I like the advice offered by Runner’s World magazine for The Healthy Runner’s Diet. It lists six rules applicable to anyone interested in health and longevity:

1. Eat seeds or foods made from seeds
2. Eat five different colored fruits and vegetables daily
3. Eat plant foods with their skins intact
4. Drink milk and eat milk products that come from animals
5. Eat foods that come from cold water
6. Eat meat, poultry, or eggs from free-range or grass-fed animals

There are no calculations here and nothing to write down. And you don’t have to be a slave to every word. You won’t sprout hair on your palms if you forget your five colors a day. These are guidelines and not commandments.

I will add another three:

7. There are no forbidden foods. No food will make you die tomorrow. Observe moderation
8. There are no superfoods. No food will impart immediate health and longevity
9. Anyone who tells you to avoid this one food! or to eat this one food! is selling you something

Stay healthy and, as always, please share tips.

Good advice here from Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva

From the blog:

Nutritional science or sales pitch? How-to guidelines.
Twenty Nutrition Facts That Should Be Common Sense
And for the ultimate in stupidity…Dave Asprey’s Charcoal Elixir


If you enjoy It’s the Good Life please pass it on or recommend it to friends. Go to the About/Support page for ways to follow or contact me.

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Book Review: A Short Guide to a Long Life, Agus

Nothing new under the sun. Then why don’t we do it?

Copyright Dennis Mitton

br_short_guideI admit that I’ve been wrong. I’ve long argued that people know what healthy habits are and that we just don’t do them. So I was shocked, recently, when a friend told me that he traded his cake and candy snacks for a jar of peanuts each day. “I’m trying to eat healthy”, he says. “Huh? You’re eating a jar a day?” “Yeah”, he said. “Better than donuts, right.” Now he was shocked. “Probably not,” I said. “Good gawd. Do you know how many calories are in a jar of peanuts? Probably more calories than you need in an entire day. Dude, you’re going to end up weighing 300 pounds.” He didn’t believe me and grabbed the jar. Sure enough, the suggested serving size was one ounce or ‘about 29 peanuts’. That amount conferred 170 healthy calories. Multiply that by sixteen servings in the jar and you are inviting serious health issues. So don’t imagine that everyone knows the things that Agus writes about. They don’t. And few who do know what healthy means actually live by it.

We need good health advice but where to find it? The fact that my local Barnes and Noble bookstore reserves about fifty feet of shelf space for books offering conflicting advice isn’t a help. So when I find a book offering sane advice consistent with other sane advice, I’m happy to endorse and recommend it. A Short Guide to a Long Life is such a book.

The book isn’t sexy and makes few promises. You will not be a skinny rich movie star pooping golden eggs after reading this book. But, even better, if you choose to do so, you can embark on a path to increased health and longevity. The book is small and short and this bothers some reviewers. I like that the book can be read in a couple hours. It makes it easy to grab from the shelf for a quick reminder o the path you’re on. In it Agus lists sixty-five tidbits under three headings: What to Do, What to Avoid, and Doctor’s Orders. I’m sorry but there is nothing new, novel, or earth-shattering here. No magic pills or secret Chinese bulbs that will keep you in perfect health until age 150. What you will find is very excellent advice in all areas of health and well-being. Advice that is time-tested and accurate. Advice that actually will help you live longer and happier.

carrot
You know what they say – seventeen carrots a day will keep the sickness away!

There is a good bit of Grandma’s advice here – grow a garden, don’t skip breakfast, have children (!) – but lots of new stuff, too, like scheduling your life on computer or getting a DNA screen. I especially liked the What to Avoid section where he slays a host of health myths: forget juicing (“Does your body really need ten carrots all at once?”), ignore `detoxes’, and no, GMOs are not going to kill you and your children.

I think this is a wonderfully handy little guide that makes a useful reference. Two thumbs way up. Read it all the way through or read a chapter and then work on it for a week. Either way will lead you to better health.

Purchase here on Amazon.

David Agus at the Aspen Ideas Festival: Look At The Data
David Agus, MD homepage here
More good advice here from Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva

From the blog:
Nutritional science or sales pitch? How-to guidelines.
Twenty Nutrition Facts That Should Be Common Sense
And for the ultimate in stupidity…Dave Asprey’s Charcoal Elixir


If you enjoy It’s the Good Life please pass it on or recommend it to friends. Go to the About/Support page for ways to follow or contact me.

Cheers!

What do you stand for?

Faith and football? Huh?

faith
I guess this is how you get the girl in Arkansas?

Last night, after the kids were down and the dishes put away, I plopped down onto the couch with my wife and watched fifteen minutes of the Bachelor opening. For those lucky souls who don’t know what this is, it’s another reality show where lots of high-drama people are tossed into a pot and stirred until said drama ensues. It’s predictable, silly, and mindless and no doubt contributed to the rise of The Donald.  

During the season opener, most of the lovelorn wannabes are given a couple of minutes to tell their story as they stroll through the streets of their town. One woman was from small-town Arkansas (what else is there in Arkansas?) and talked about her boutique and about how dreamy the bachelor is and then said something interesting: she capped her introduction by saying that life, for her based on her small town Arkansanian roots, revolves around ‘the three F’s of faith, family, and football.

It sounds like a cliché but I wonder how many of us could funnel what’s important to us down so succinctly. And just how powerful it is to be able to lay it down with a slap on the table: this is what I stand for!

What do you stand for?


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Day Two of the New Year- Frazzled Yet?

Slow down and enjoy the changes

So it’s day two of your new workout, diet, romance, debt payoff plan, career building plan, be-the-most-fantastic-damned-person-on-the-planet plan…and you’re already feeling the weight of your former sins? It’s okay. Remember that it took you a long time for you to get where you are today. It’s okay that you aren’t model-thin in a weekend. (In fact, it’s always okay that you’re not model-thin!) It’s okay that People Magazine hasn’t called yet asking for a photo shoot. It’s okay that The Food Channel hasn’t bumped Giada in favor of your down home cooking.

It might be that your plans weren’t entirely doable. Maybe you bit off too big of a bite?

frazzled
Slow down! Enjoy the changes you are making.

So rewrite your plans in tiny steps that you can accomplish easily. This is the only way habits are formed. One tiny little step at a time.  Call it the Cigarette Plan. A long time ago I did research into the biochemistry of addiction. Mostly with alcohol but all additions work generally the same in your brain by increasing feel-good hormones each time you do your thing. After a time, your brain is reset so that you need that little bump just to feel normal. This is why few people remain happy with one drink, one toke, or one big sniff of cocaine. The insidiousness of cigarettes is that each drag reinforces the feel-good feeling. Over the course of a day, then, a smoker trains their brain to enjoy cigarettes, what, four-hundred times a day sucking twenty times on twenty cigarettes? It’s no wonder that addiction experts consider smoking to be one of the hardest habits to break.

Use this to your advantage. Start to develop healthy or happy habits in little bits. You don’t have to run a marathon in a month. If you want to, that’s great. If you don’t’ want to then commit to walking for five minutes a day. Five minutes! Read a classic for five minutes at bedtime. Learn one German word a day on your drive to work. Commit to eating a one piece of fresh fruit every day. This is exactly how habits are formed. One tiny piece at a time. So, for whatever it is, start today, right where you are, and do one thing. Commit to doing it again tomorrow. This is how you change your life.


If you enjoy It’s the Good Life please pass it on or recommend it to friends. Go to the About/Support page for ways to follow or contact me.

Cheers and have a wonderful day!

Here are a couple of posts about the Slow philosophy which encourages, well, slowness, as well as relationships, doing things, curiosity, and, every once in a while, imagining life not tied to machines…

Go here and then here.


Here are a couple of resources for easy goal setting and tracking. They help some people and annoy others. Figure out what you like…and do it.

The Way of Life App – for those who want to track progress
From Business.com – 11 Best Tools for Setting and Tracking Goals

Personally, I use Wunderlist for my goal tracking and list making. And let me tell you, I like lists!