Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First day of school

It wasn't the best, but it certainly wasn't the worst. It rained, and fall made itself known through the chill and the blustery wind. I got a $44 parking ticket for hanging out too long in a two-hour zone, and I dropped the first class I attended. But the one I replaced it with, an online chemistry class, looks promising so far: The professor seemed extremely competent, and I'm intrigued by the course's Web-only format. (As my mother continues learning how to teach introductory German using Internet tools, I've challenged myself to figure out online coursework as a student. We'll have lots to talk about between now and Christmas.)

My other class, nutrition, meets for the first time tomorrow night. I got my student I.D. today (hello, $1 off at local movie theaters!) and swapped my abnormal psych book for the considerably more expensive chem text. I'm sad to be holding off on psych, since it really interests me, but it's smart to get started on the chem series (139, the class I'm in, will prepare me for 161, which is the series' first actual course) and to keep my 9-5 free on weekdays (I now have one evening and one online class; psych was noon to 2:20 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays).

It felt weird to be at North Seattle Community College, amongst the many 18- to 22-year-olds, but I'll get used to it. I'm a bit jittery about having assignments already, and quizzes in my near future, but I'm also excited to be taking a chem course that assumes virtually no knowledge of the subject. My 10th grade chem teacher wasn't very good, and that was the last time I took chem. Whether or not I end up pursuing a graduate degree at Bastyr -- which, as it happens, a number of my chem classmates are doing -- it'll be nice to study science again.

There's no reason that someone who focused on the humanities during his undergrad years can't take chemistry and anatomy as a 30-year-old. A liberal arts education is a great chance to become a more well-rounded person, intellectually and otherwise, but that effort has to continue after graduation, and I'm glad to be getting back to it now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Time" on Detroit

One of my high school classmates posted Time's frank assessment of our hometown on Facebook. It's funny: Looking at the photo, I feel nostalgia for my childhood and affection for the city. People who aren't from Detroit probably just see a gray, generic downtown landscape.

Mai Li's birthday party poster

Just the right mix of humor and lasciviousness, IMHO.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Antidepressants on KUOW

This past Monday on KUOW's daily show "The Conversation," host Ross Reynolds interviewed Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Mark Olson about a study that lasted from 1996 to 2005. During its span, Olson found that antidepressant use doubled among Americans. Currently, roughly 10% of us are on some form of psychiatric med. Some of his findings were surprising. Antidepressant use is lower among African-Americans and Latinos; Olson believes this is because medication is less culturally accepted than other treatments, such as talk therapy, in some minority populations.

The largest groups of antidepressant users? Young women, and women between 50 and 64. Women's rate of depression is double men's, and Olson noted that it can be tricky to diagnose it among older people, since aging brings certain challenges that may manifest themselves as forms of depression, even if the individual's all-around psychological condition isn't that of a depressed person. Perhaps the study's most troubling discovery was that doctors are more likely to prescribe medication if a patient mentions an advertisement he or she saw for a particular drug. (Actors were sent to doctors' offices to complain of depressive symptoms; only some of them mentioned having seen an ad, and they were given meds much more frequently.)

Also interesting: Olson said around 40% of antidepressant users quit after a month, which means they don't get the full benefit of the medication. (Mine took a month just to kick in at all; I imagine that some users who feel desperate for relief aren't willing to wait that long.) A few callers talked about their experiences with meds. One woman complained that Paxil proved extremely addictive, even though it had originally been advertised as anything but. She mentioned that Paxil is illegal in the UK and parts of Europe. Another caller said she was on Paxil for eight or nine months, and it saved her life. The change was "like night and day," she said. Yet she, too, had a tough time getting off the drug.

Olson said that patients who are aware of the risks of taking an antidepressant tend to stay on them longer; he advised an extensive conversation with a doctor about the pluses and minuses. He said the study made him think more about how patients are chosen; people who are less depressed may actually benefit less from meds than those who are severely afflicted. The interview wasn't groundbreaking, nor were the callers' comments, but it's interesting to hear media coverage of the issue now that I'm part of that 10%.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On overeating

Today I said the words: "My name is Neal, and I'm an overeater." I wasn't at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, though I hope to attend one soon. I was at my therapist's office, and I was telling him that my recent and past behavior suggest that the "overeater" label might be useful for me to work with. Another option: "food addict," the term preferred by British journalist William Leith, who wrote The Hungry Years, a memoir about his own bout with food addiction that also serves as an investigation of the Atkins hypothesis that carbs, more than fat, are the enemy.

I understand the argument that labels, especially those doled out by some large, authoritative body, can do more harm than good. I get that diagnosing someone as an ADD sufferer or a depressive can make that person feel "broken," and perhaps unfixable. But diagnoses and labels have their positive sides, too. I didn't necessarily go around saying "My name is Neal, and I'm depressed" before starting on Lexapro last year, but I was depressed, and I had been, off and on, for a long while. My mother saw it, my friends understood it, and I knew it on some level, too. When I confessed that I wasn't looking for work last fall because I simply didn't want to (because, in turn, I didn't believe that any effort of mine would be rewarded with anything of value), it was tantamount to an acknowledgment of depression.

When you stop trying because you don't think anything you do will turn out well, because you believe your situation can't be improved, well, you're depressed. Similarly, someone who eats 1260 calories' worth of pasta in one sitting (plus some untold number of calories from the pesto that's mixed with the noodles) is an overeater. I don't overeat at every meal, and I haven't always overeaten in the past. Indeed, as a teenager I was anorexic, and I've had periods of self-starvation since then. (It's the only way I know how to lose the weight I inevitably put on during overeating periods like the one I'm in now.)

What I hope to do this time around is find a healthier, more constructive way to lose weight. I weigh around 222 pounds, which is roughly 30 more than I weighed two years ago, and more than double what I weighed when I was anorexic. While I try to attend waterobics class every week and am now also on a kickball team, I'll need more exercise, and more vigorous exercise, if I want to stay fit in the long term. Also, I'll need to treat my eating the way I've dealt with money management: I'll need immediate and longer-term plans and goals, ideally with a dedicated advisor to help mold and adjust my program as needed. Moorea Malatt, my financial advisor, has done a fabulous job of helping me budget and plan for the near and far future. Now I need someone -- myself, my therapist, or another paid advisor if need be -- to assist me in making my eating habits sensible and sustainable.

I'm willing to try a support group, which is why OA, which is free, appeals to me. Being around other people who struggle with something similar to what plagues you can remind you that you're not alone, and that other people can understand you. In the past, I've avoided OA because I was afraid I'd be surrounded by severely overweight people, whose appearance would be a reminder of what I fear most -- losing control of my eating so definitively that I end up morbidly obese. But it's hard to say what the other members of an OA meeting will look like. Most will probably have at least the "few extra pounds" so often described on dating-site profiles, and some will be heavier than that. Maybe a few will be profoundly large. But being around people of various sizes who fight a common enemy could not only be inspiring for me, it could also teach me to be more tolerant, and less scared, of people who seem to embody my worst nightmare about myself and my possible destiny.

In 1999, I wrote a nonfiction piece called "A Diary of Hunger" for a creative writing class. I remember feeling exhilarated to finally be getting the story of my eating disorder down on paper. The sentences flowed freely, and the piece ended up being one of the best things I wrote at college. I had an urgent need to tell my story, and that's part of what made it effective. The subject tapped into an emotionally significant and vulnerable area for me, and I was able to talk about my history with unprecedented honesty. It's been 10 years since I wrote that piece, and it might be useful to write another -- a document of the last decade's (mis)adventures in eating. I've made some progress, to be sure, and have gained some degree of perspective and wisdom along the way. In Park Slope in 2006, I was actually able to cook balanced meals and eat them slowly and mindfully -- a tremendous achievement for someone whose eating has veered between cruel self-deprivation and unfettered excess.

I still remember the night, also in 2006, that I went to meditation class, then proceeded to eat far too many cookies during the snack time that followed. Rather than moving directly to self-loathing, I tried to observe myself without judgment. I walked back to my apartment, took my blanket up to the roof, lay on my back, and looked at the stars. This felt like the first time I'd ever overeaten without mentally collapsing into paroxysms of shame. What had happened had happened, and I'd survived without descending into self-hatred -- the very feeling that sustains the vicious cycle of overeating.

We overeat, I suspect, because we're upset about something, and we're increasingly upset at ourselves the more we overeat. A perfect feedback loop, yet one that I'm determined to break. My name is Neal, I'm an overeater, and I want it to stop. Soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who knew?

The truth has finally come out regarding Jennifer's Body star Megan Fox. Color me not surprised.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

President Obama's holiday greeting

Anyone who can call Kanye West a jackass one day and issue a heartfelt message like this the next is my kind of leader. L'shanah tovah, Mr. President.

R.I.P., Mary

The female third of Peter, Paul & Mary has died. 2009 certainly hasn't been a very good year for beloved celebrities who remind me of my childhood. I had a Peter, Paul & Mary T-shirt as a kid -- in fifth grade or thereabouts -- and was mercilessly mocked for it. PP&M might have been easy to make fun of, but their harmonies were gorgeous, and their best songs seem immortal to many people of my parents' generation, and even to some of my peers (albeit mostly the Oberlin-educated ones). Though I didn't appreciate my fellow students' taunts, I'm proud to have so brazenly displayed my love for PP&M in elementary school. I adore indie pop and rock, but I sometimes think back with affection to the unusual tween I was, well schooled in folk and classical music but ignorant of the stuff most kids were listening to.

Be well, Mary Travers. I hope you're frolicking in the autumn mist somewhere.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coming to theaters near you (in 2011): "Battleship"

Yep, the popular electronic board game is being adapted for the big screen, with Peter Berg (Hancock) at the helm. I imagine we'll be seeing Chinese Checkers: The Motion Picture soon enough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

R.I.P., Patrick

Whether you knew him best from Dirty Dancing, Ghost, or Donnie Darko, he was always a memorable screen presence. We had the time of our lives, dude.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life stages

In the spring of 2002, when I was an intern at Seattle Public Theater, we staged a production of Romeo and Juliet. The cast included Kenna Kettrick, daughter of then SPT executive director Catherine Kettrick, and Bryony Thompson. Now Kenna and Bryony, along with a bunch of other talented young actors, are part of the Bathhouse Ensemble, which has already mounted two productions. According to a recent article in the Herald-Outlook,
Ensemble members are college students and recent graduates who range in age from 18 to 24 and attend schools from Bennington and Brandeis, to the University of Washington and Cornish College. All ensemble members have participated throughout their high school and sometimes middle school years in SPT Youth Drama productions.
It's exciting to see such a promising local theater company form, not only because it proves what a valuable program SPT Youth Drama is, but also because one of my favorite Seattle companies, Washington Ensemble Theatre, was also the brainchild of theater students (albeit the UW graduate kind). Godspeed, Bathhouse Ensemble! I'm eager to attend one of your future shows.

Kathlyn in Abu Dhabi

My filmmaker friend Kathlyn is in the United Arab Emirates for work through October, so she's started a blog to document her experience.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hope springs eternal

My mom and I recently exchanged views on Facebook regarding Obama's health-care speech. First my mom:
Obama's address was a home run, as far as I'm concerned. He will be the last president to deal with this issue. I believe him, I believe in him and what he favors, and I trust him. We are so lucky to have him as president. People need to remember the last 8 years and look forward.
Then me:
From your mouth to God's ears. I really hope he'll be the last one to address it, but I imagine in the future we'll need to fine-tune whatever passes this year. I'm beginning to wonder whether "the American people," that amorphous body, will ever stand for a plan like what European countries and Canada have. The fear of socialism is so ingrained here. When they poll Americans, a majority want reform, but they also don't want change, because it's scary. They want some magical plan whereby all the problems get fixed without anything really changing. If the Obama administration can make it illegal for insurance companies not to cover preexisting conditions, that will be big. Ditto removing the cap on lifetime coverage. I'll be grateful for whatever passes, knowing that Republicans (and, to be fair, many of their constituents) are very, very resistant to any real change. At least the Blue Dog Democrats were affected (positively) by last night's speech, according to NPR.
Her uncautious optimism inspires me, but I wonder how much of it is warranted. I guess we'll know soon enough.

Robin lives to cook another day

Despite being teamed with a grumpy partner on the "French protein/French sauce" contest and nearly biting it during the high-stakes quick-fire challenge, Robin Leventhal, one of Seattle's two Top Chef contenders (and the only one I know personally), survived tonight's episode. Various Kibbutzniks have already begged me to ask her to dinner; maybe we can get a taste of her TV-worthy cooking sometime soon, if we promise not to pepper her (no pun intended) with Top Chef questions. Having eaten many, many times at her restaurant, Crave, I know just how good her food really is.

Obama's speech, live-blogged

Courtesy of the Times. Liz and Shaul wanted the president to take a stronger stand on the public option, but both agreed it was a decent speech. Liz summarized it as follows: Obama told the Republicans to stop being assholes, and made it clear that he intends to get some kind of reform passed. I think that about covers it. I did like the way he used the letter from Ted Kennedy to segue into the notion that health-care reform is a moral issue. That was a typically smart, powerful Obama move.

Cat on a hot steel cab

Or whatever cabs are made of. Found the image at the Capitol Hill Seattle blog, which even non-Hill residents might enjoy.

Sign of the week

Reed snapped the photo at Uwajimaya, presumably with his fancy iPhone. Nothing says vegetarianism like halibut and pork!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Modern anomie, thy name is Facebook

A friend just posted Peggy Orenstein's March Times piece on her Facebook page. (Where else?) I wonder whether another social networking site will eventually dethrone it, or whether it'll take a Luddite backlash to end its quiet reign of terror.

Class guilt

Today, for the first time in my life, I visited a food bank. I showed a recent piece of mail to prove my current address, presented my driver's license to prove that I'm me, and filled out a brief form. Then I got a laminated card that told me how many cans of fruit, dairy products, grain products, proteins (beans, in my case), and cans of vegetables I could claim. (Fresh veggies were apparently just up for grabs.) While I was shopping, a volunteer started shouting at a tall, skinny woman whom he accused of stealing. She and her boyfriend were running some kind of scam wherein one of them exited out the back door rather than the front one. They were trying to make off with more than their share, the volunteer alleged. The woman was ejected from the food bank and told not to come back. Outside, people in line shook their heads, and another volunteer expressed amazement. Stealing from a food bank!

From my perspective, it's just a sign of the times, like the nervous-looking crowd today at WorkSource, the state-run employment support agency that provides workshops and other resources free of charge to the un- and underemployed. I took a three-hour class today on writing effective résumés and cover letters, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, thanks to the humor and enthusiasm of the teacher. I plan to go back later this month for the workshop on interviewing. I didn't feel particularly guilty taking advantage of WorkSource's free class, since I am unemployed, and my unemployment isn't voluntary. Being at the food bank, on the other hand, made me a little uneasy. Was I taking food from the mouths of people who needed it more? The form I filled out included the question: Are you homeless?

I'm the furthest thing from homeless, and I think my risk of becoming homeless in the immediate future in extremely low. My mother owns a house outside Detroit; worse-case scenario, I'd move back there. I'm also not poor in terms of my upbringing, or my family's current standing. We have money; I have an inheritance fund that I still receive monthly installments of $1,000 from. I just don't have any work-based income right now. Maybe visiting the food bank every week as a way to supplement purchases from Rising Sun, the cheap grocery stand eight blocks from our house, and the occasional PCC or Whole Foods splurge (though I'm trying to avoid those now), isn't causing some truly impoverished local family to go hungry.

Still, texting a friend outside the food bank, I felt like a tourist. Hell, I felt like one when I reached the checkout and the guy bagging my food asked: "No meat?" I didn't want to confess to being a vegetarian; it seemed privileged and precious and not in the spirit of taking as much food as you're allowed, because hey, maybe that's the only food you can afford this week. I didn't feel like figuring out which produce was worth taking home. I didn't want to take an unlabeled can of corn. Some kind of bourgeois instinct kicked in: Unlabeled stuff is sketchy. Don't do it!

As a friend pointed out, I had a day that exposed me to the lives of the poor and unemployed. I may be the latter, but I'm not really the former, and while I'll definitely revisit WorkSource, I'm not sure about the food bank. I'll have to give that some thought.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Not kosher

Seattle-based Top Chef contender Robin Leventhal recently whipped up this little masterpiece:

Her caption: In celebration of International Bacon day.... 3 am Culinary Creativity: Bacon Sauteed Matzo Brei with a Coffee-Star Anis-Molasses syrup....OMFG, i am a VERY BAD JEW!

A fire that still burns

David Grann's New Yorker article about Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas for triple infanticide despite expert analysis that made him appear innocent, is remarkable, heartbreaking, and worth reading every single word of. I couldn't put it down until I finished it. Beautifully structured and written, with a memorable figure at its center and many illuminating passages on the criminal justice system, the death penalty, and the nuances of arson inspection. One of the magazine's finest articles this year.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Food ref

The artwork above, created by Alli Arnold, accompanied a 2004 piece I wrote for the Weekly about Seattle's Jewish dining scene. In light of Jew-ish.com editor Leyna Krow's recent post about the relative abundance of kosher options in town, I figured it was worth digging up. If only for the awesome illustration.

Call me Ishmael

Car on the fritz? Consider investing in a WhaleMobile. Craig's List, you're an ongoing study in human wonderfulness. Long may you live! (Thanks to Dane for sending this my way.)

Intermarriage does not = abduction

I've always disdained anti-intermarriage campaigns built entirely out of xenophobic paranoia and offensive hyperbole, and this is a prize specimen. As one commenter notes, you don't strengthen ties between Israel and the Diaspora by insulting a significant percentage of Jews' spouses. How misguided and vile.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The man behind the curtain

According to NPR, it's getting harder for those who spew bile online to maintain their anonymity. As someone who's been cyber-harassed, I appreciate that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A superb "Arkanoid" clone for Mac

Arkanoid, colloquially known as "Breakout" (it's basically Pong solitaire with several twists), has long been one of my favorite retro arcade games (of which I admittedly have many). Imagine my joy, then, to discover that a fantastic clone of the game exists for Mac -- and it's free! The graphics and sound are top-notch, and the "special" bricks -- the ones that spice up what would otherwise be a deadly dull game -- are quite creative. As an added bonus, the large assortment of boards is littered with nerdy homages to icons of the computer and video-game worlds, including this little beauty:

Also worth noting: Hardwood Euchre, a 15-day trial version of which you can download for free. It's well designed, easy to use, and fun to play. In fact, the game is enough to make me want to assemble a Kibbutz euchre club. (For those who didn't grow up in the Midwest: It's like bridge but with fewer cards.)

221.8 pounds

That's how much I currently weigh, as of this afternoon, per the doctor's scale. According to the Body Mass Index, I'm obese. Then again, the BMI is a questionable tool, as a helpful Flickr set illustrates. Particularly effective are the images that juxtapose a confident, beautiful person with the "obese" label:

Cassie is "obese"
5'4", 175 lbs., BMI 30