Reconsidering Amazon

I have been questioning my relationship with and my dependence on the website for a while now. I read a first-hand article about what it’s like to work as an item picker in one of Amazon’s distribution warehouses, but I am unable to find the exact one I read. If you’re interested, search for “ warehouse worker conditions.” The article made me horrified. If I had a timed job that made no allowances for variations in scheduling, I’d be a nervous wreck. People fired on the spot for not meeting quotas makes me ill.

Earlier this year, I followed the dispute between Amazon and publisher Hatchett over e-book pricing. This Forbes article does a great job explaining why any of us should care about this kind of thing. I’m not a reader of e-book because I refuse to do one more thing on the computer. For me, the convenience of a reader will never outweigh the delight in reading a variety of books that I can hold in my hands that does not need to be plugged in.

As a writer, it’s a concern. People think e-book should be cheaper because there’s no physical real estate. I understand that. But an author and their publishers put in the same amount of effort into creating and marketing the work you are reading, whether or not the text is digital or on a piece of paper. So sure, take out some cash. Five dollars. Seven dollars. A book selling for $19.99 should sell for $14.99 or $12.99 as an e-book. To put a $10 cap on all e-books makes no sense. You wouldn’t pay for a romance novel at the same rate as a biology text, so why should every e-book be priced exactly the same? Just as in the physical world, the content should be part of what drives the price.

Today, I read a article about four ways that Amazon’s aggressive tactics are crushing local economies. When I lived in Cambridge, MA, buying books from local-owned businesses was much easier than from where I am living now on Long Island, NY. Since my move, I have relied heavily on Amazon for a lot of things. Reading this article reminded me that it’s not just employees and it’s not just my pocket that are being affected, but economies are at stake, which affects a far greater number of people.

Is my $99 Amazon prime membership worth all this? This is on the level of having all our goods made in China because they are cheap. When I go to Macy’s, it sure doesn’t feel cheap to my wallet. Cheap for whom? Business leaders claim it is cheaper for the consumer, but I think that’s not the whole story. The goods are cheaply made, but not always cheaply sold.

At some point, we need to reevaluate whether the prices we pay only matter at the register when the cash leaves our wallets or the plastic gets swiped if the results are that entire communities are depressed and devastated because there are no good-paying jobs to be had.

Maybe we wouldn’t need to earn as much if we didn’t chase cheap goods whose sole purpose is to be consumed once. The sheer speed of the consumption of goods in life means we don’t enjoy what we have. When we don’t , it’s almost like we never had it in the first place. Maybe it means I can’t get what I want fast enough. I’m not sure that’s all bad.


Volunteering with Kitties – Again!

Months ago, I stopped volunteering at a pet store and put in an application to volunteer at a large organization. I wanted to be among other volunteers, work in a large shelter, and get to be around kitties and doggies. After learning about a drop-in event, I attended, talked to a staff member, and put in a new application. A few days later, I got invited to volunteer.

I had already been mulling going back to the pet store. My gym is near there, and I have been dropping in occasionally to see the kitties there. As I felt more comfortable there, I wondered if I wanted to go back. When I really thought about the requirements at the large shelter, I would have to drive at least half an hour away in all kinds of weather and then work a four-hour shift. That would mean a 6+ hour day. I realized I would be exhausted, and the shelter requires a one-year commitment. I wrote them back and politely declined, and then I immediately emailed the manager of the rescue organization that I worked with earlier this year and asked to come back.

Last Friday, I went and cleaned two cages that held three male kittens: a grey boy named Jason, and two brothers, Drake and Scorpio, both tiger cats with white chest and paws. They are so adorable! I picked up Scorpio, who has more white on his chest, and he was immediately all about the purring and snuggling. Drake wasn’t sure what to make of me, but I did get a two-handed kitty snuggle in with the two of them. Jason has been there for a few weeks, so he let me hold him. I think he prefers the safety of the cage, tho.

Maybe I don’t get to volunteer with one of my best friends like I used to, but getting to help out kitties in transition is my calling.

Weather, Curcumin, Exercise, and Fibromyalgia

Despite some stress with my mom’s health issues in August, I managed to get to the beach a couple of times. That put me in a better mood. I think the summer does that to me, specifically, being at the beach, riding the waves, and relaxing to the sounds of the waves. One weekend, my husband and I biked about 10 miles along the Wantagh Parkway, which hugs the shoreline of Jones Beach.

Before we moved to NY, I had a number of conversations with my physiotherapist about the benefits of turmeric in the pain management of fibromyalgia, a syndrome that I have. For those who don’t know, fibromyalgia is a syndrome, not a medical diagnosis, because a cluster of symptoms appear for which there are no known causes or diagnostic tests. WedMD has a pretty comprehensive list of fibromyalgia symptoms.

I am not a big fan of turmeric, so adding it to my food presented a problem. At a local natural foods store, I came across a supplement called CuraMed by Terry Naturally. The supplement claimed to have 750mg of a clinically studied element of turmeric called curcumin (BCM-95). They also make a less potent version called CuraMin. I started that first and noticed a slight reduction in pain. After finishing a bottle, I let some time lapse, and then decided to try again, this time with CuraMed.

Sometime in the middle of August, I got a call from my gym, LA Fitness in Lake Success to come in for a fitness test that came as part of the gym membership I bought in February. Since I paid for it, I decided to go in. I should have known it’s an in to a sales pitch to buy a training package. Once I got there, I was hustled along to the manager, JM, with some serious sales skills! Even when I knew what was going on, there was a part of me that wanted to say yes. I ended up putting him off for a day to talk to Mark about it, but I signed up for a package. IU figured that, if I’m going to be in pain, it might as well be from trying to get healthy with exercise instead of just the same old same old fibro pain.

That was a month ago. Since then I have been going to the gym four days a week, twice to do weights (one with a trainer) and twice for some other reason – yoga or other classes). Today I went in and rode a bike for about 40 minutes, just to do something different.

I looked back on this last month and realized a few things:

  • The CuraMed supplement has eased off my depression. Whether it’s because it’s acting as an enhancer to the generic Cymbalta I am taking or because it is actually working on some level as pain relief on my fibro, I have no clue. I am actually still in a bunch of pain, but my mood has improved significantly.
  • I have experienced elements of euphoria after exercising which is more than just exercise itself. I know what it feels like to have endorphins rush through your system after a good work-out. This seems to be almost a bit of a mania. Tonight, I got home after a workout and danced around while I made dinner, and then had some champagne with my husband to celebrate our one year anniversary of our move to NY and my one year anniversary of my Master’s graduation.
  • That I can probably talk to my doc about coming down on the dose of my generic Cymbalta. I went on it because it was reported to help with sleep for fibro patients. The days I exercise I sleep much more soundly than when I don’t, which is at least 4 days a week.

All in all, I have been feeling  better despite the marginal improvement in pain. All I can do is keep on hoping that, one day, things will come together and I will cease to be in chronic pain every day that interferes with my life as it does now and has done for years.

Retreat Into Reading

Not only am I a polyliberamorist, I am also a readdict. You know you’re a readdict when you plow through 2-3 books and then plow through 2 more within a 5-day range.

This readdict’s post is brought to you by the libers The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen and The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson. You know when you’re going through an information-assilimation faze and you can’t read fast enough to accommodate the voracious hunger of your brain? That’s where I am.

I picked up Mark Sundeen’s book in the last month or so at the same time that I bought Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. But it wasn’t until I returned three books to the library that I picked it up. Not only is Sundeen’s writing excellent, the story of Daniel Suelo (aka soil nee Shellebarger) is gripping. Suelo is a fascinating person who, brought up in and living by tenets in his Christian faith, removed himself from the soul-crushing modern world, found a way to stop using money, and to support himself on wits, survivalist skills, and the support of a community of family and friends.

Even though I am no longer Catholic, I realized along the way that a lot of the way I see the world, the values that are important to me, and lessons I learned about what’s important in life came from my faith. To some degree, a change in or lack of faith does not mean that every single thing you ever learned from your past, nor could you do so even if you wanted to. The things I like about myself, about how I believe, the values I hold are things I like, find value in, and believe in their goodness. Why would I want to change that? I do not feel guilt about keeping that which brings meaning to my life and helps me feel as good about myself and my actions as possible.

Reading Daniel’s story, I found that I felt a kinship with this man I do not know who seeks to live his life with faith that God will provide for him. This is not because I share this exact belief, but because I share Suelo’s desire to live as closely to his beliefs as possible. He has put a lot more action into that than I have. I have things I need to work on: Reducing clutter, reducing my dependency on the money system, and living my life the way I want to live. I can’t say I am doing all those things right now.

The more I read Daniel’s story, the more I thought, the faster I read, the more silent I fell inside my head. It becomes almost brain-wrenching to try and change direction from reading vortex into linguistic projections (e.g. blogging). I want a countryside cabin where I can retreat, where I can be alone with only the birds and bugs to be my audience.

From the story on Suelo, I plunged into the Manifesto, a book that has sat on my bookshelves unread for years. The tagline: How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work, and waste seemed like the kind of book that would make a good segue from Sundeen’s book.

I was right.

I’m about ⅓ of the way through Hodgkinson’s book, but a lot of what he says resonates with me and would probably resonate with Suelo as well. The suggestions that are made in Hodgkinson’s book are kind of like Suelo Light. The idea that you can make changes to bring yourself closer to self-sufficiency seems a lot more reasonable and even possibly doable than it would be to give up using money altogether and go live by your wits in caves in Moab. Not many people have beliefs that would drive them to even test out such a system, let alone by able to implement it for over 14 years as they aged well into their middle years.

I spent my 20’s locked into finding my way into the money system because I couldn’t admit that I didn’t want any part of it. I didn’t want to have to put into practice my beliefs about finding work I truly loved because I could only imagine being a starving artist who would never be good enough to make money at her art.

I spent my 30’s trying out a better money making path in computers, only to leave behind 10 years of working with miserable, unhappy coworkers. No matter where I went, the griping and the resentment drove me to madness. I decided to side step my way out via graduate s school. I graduated with writing confidence, but not a strong desire to write technical documents.

Now in my 40’s, I think I’ve made my final attempts at getting my value through the system. I am working on my health and my writing – fiction, nonfiction, and blogging. I seem to be making a little bit of progress in both areas. If anything keeps holding me up, it’s a life-long belief that what I do will never be good enough so why bother trying?  This time around, I have the answer.

Because I want to.

Confessions of a Polyliberamorist

I have a confession to make: I love reading more than one book at a time. Sometimes it feels like I dive into a relationship with a new lover, only to set them aside and dive into a relationship with a new one, going back and forth until both are over.

Currently, I am in the middle of three books: Witches by Erica Jong, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride, and Philomena by Martin Sixsmith. And when I say I am in the middle, I am about half way through each of these books.

Witches is a fun, well-written journey through witches and witchcraft. The pages are beautifully illustrated by Joseph A. Smith. And I mean all  the pages. Even the table of contents and the font are given over to building a story of mystery woven with history. If you want a leisurely stroll through witch history, past and present, this book is a good place to start.

In addition to witch history, I read a lot of self-help and psychology books. I picked up Will I Ever Be Good Enough? after a recommendation by a friend with a mutual interest in family relationships. If you think you are the daughter of a narcissistic mother, this book is helpful. I can’t say that it fits my situation very well, and I found myself reading and skimming quite a bit. The topic seems to be well written by a psychologist with personal experience, and I would recommend it, if you were interested in the topic.

I borrowed Philomena from one of my sisters, and I picked it up again yesterday after cleaning up the printer desk and a shelf above it. I started reading last night, and spent more time this afternoon. Martin Sixsmith is a former journalist who knows how to build suspense. Maybe it’s the story, but, with each sentence, Sixsmith layers one feeling of growing terror on top of another. The cruelty of those who claim to speak for God blows my mind. My heart goes out to children and parents everywhere who are separated from each other by means beyond their control.

All these book-lovers, all these fleeting relationships. I can burn through books faster than a fire burns a line of fluid. One of these days, I might find myself satisfied with one and only one book at a time.

Remembering 9-11

On September 11, 2001, I went to work at a company that made stationary. In a semi-private room with stools at long wooden tables, the workers would fold paper according to a certain pattern. I was a relatively new addition to the team of women who performed these tasks.

Sometime after 9am that morning, someone said that a plane crashed in New York. Someone turned on a radio, and we sat at the long tables folding stationary and listening to the events in New York City unfold.

I was shocked. What the hell was going on? How could a plane crash into a building in New York City? New York City!

I strained to hear the details of what was going on while folding paper. I was the only New Yorker in the room. People around me listened in the way that people removed from a tragedy listen. I felt like my home was being torn apart, and it made me antsy. I felt more affected by the events than the people around me seemed to be. I felt a sense of terror, isolation, and aloneness.

When a second plane crashed, I started to panic, thinking of my sister S who lived and still lives in New York City. Then later, another crash at the Pentagon. I felt frantic, torn between an urge to do my work at a new job and a desire to flee the place immediately and run home to New York to be with my family.

With all the calls going into New York, the phone lines were jammed. After several tries, I was able to reach my sister who was working mid-town. She could see the smoke rising up from downtown, but she was far enough away not to be in imminent danger. If I didn’t go home, at least I could be a bit reassured that my family was safe.

The more I learned, the more shaken I became. The idea that thousands of people were murdered within a few hours on American soil by terrorists made me physically ill. People running down the stairwells. People doused by airline fuel and killed by falling debris. Firefighters and rescue workers flooding the area to do damage control and to save lives, some of whom died. People walking to get away from the disaster, deserting the downtown area.

September 11 is also my husband’s birthday. That night, we went to our go-to Chinese restaurant for dinner. The news was on the television. Staff and customers had their eyes focused on the TV. I couldn’t take it anymore. We had to get our food and leave. I cried before we even left the place. I couldn’t watch it.

Lives lost due to hatred. People just going to work, their futures cut short. Families devastated. I could barely handle it and I was over 200 miles away, my family was safe, and no one I knew was injured or killed. I couldn’t imagine what anyone in the area went through that day without feeling ill.

For many years afterwards, I refused to go to the World Trade Center area. The change in the skyline was a reminder that things changed. If you lived in NY, the World Trade Center Towers were one of the defining features. You knew where you were looking and what building it was.

On a high school trip into the World Trade Center, I remember taking the escalators up to the elevators. Our destination was the observation deck on the 102nd floor. You could walk right up to the thick glass windows that stretched from the ceiling down to the floor and beyond. Even though I was afraid of heights, I walked up to the glass and looked straight down. I remember standing there, the view, and the vertigo that kicked in. I walked back towards the center of the room and stayed far away from the glass, but I could still see the expanse of the New York City metro area, including Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The NaNoWriMo writers critique group that I attend in NYC meets at the Whole Foods on Greenwich Street from which you can see the new World Trade Center. I still haven’t gone to visit, and I don’t think I will. The area has changed. We have changed. I am changed. I have no reason to go to the spot because I remember.

I remember what it looked like, how the site of the World Trade Towers made me feel. I was proud to be part of a beautiful city with impressive architecture and some of the tallest buildings in the world. I remember the view and the thick glass walls. I remember the helplessness, fear, shock, horror, disgust, anger, devastation, and the deep sadness.

I remember a floundering president who became galvanized, instituting world-changing policies and starting war in response to the tragedy. I remember a nation supporting one of its member states and its citizens rising to the occasion by giving support and offering to make personal sacrifices of their own rights in order to join the fight against terrorism. I remember New Yorkers focusing on the future, on rebuilding, on continuing with their lives as a big fuck you to terrorists. You won’t stop us. We will survive.

I remember that thousands of innocent lives were lost because of hatred. I remember heroes sacrificing themselves to save others. I remember the lives of the lost, and I remember the people who loved them. I remember love.

A Return To Work

After two months, I sat down to work on my novel (working title Butterfly Wings). 

Somewhere in mid-July, I gave up my Camp Nano goals. I was already struggling to meet my word count goals, and then my uncle died. The next week was a blur, between the funeral and recovering a bit. I did not recover enough to get out of my slump.

Then my elderly mother fell, got a concussion, gashed her brow that required nine stitches, and broke the fifth metacarpal bone in her right hand. The cast caused arthritis flare ups in her hand, and she spent most of August in and out of pain. I brought her to the hand specialist twice, and he gave her a cortisone shot in the hand. She yelled out in pain. I crumpled.

Then, just as her hand was starting to feel better, she got sciatica. After a couple of days where it only got worse, I got her into see her rheumatologist who had treated her arthritis. I wish I had put it all together sooner. She got steroids and an RX for physical therapy for her back to match her RX for PT for her hand.

In the meantime, a book I had wanted to read finally came into the library: The War of Art. Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. by Steven Pressfield. As soon as the next paycheck is in our account, I am picking up this gem. The layout makes this topic eminently readable: three parts broken down by subjects that are no more than a couple of pages long. Many of the topics are one page. If you have a particular issue, just mark the page. Reread it when you need it.

The second section called Turning Pro enumerates the ways that amateurs differ from professionals. One important way is that the professional knows that a craft can be honed, does not things personally, and strives to keep improving. Nothing stops them. They write come rain or shine. Pros know that inspiration comes when you sit down to write. Anything. Just write.

After lunch today, I took my laptop to Starbucks, got a decaf, and sat down to read over my novel starting at the beginning. I reread the story summary, and began reading and editing what I had done. Since I no longer remember where I was, I need to start over. I worked a couple of hours on it before heading home to prep for yoga class.

On my way home, I realized that what I wrote wasn’t as bad as I thought. First off, it was never bad in the first place. If I get feedback from my writers group, I know I will get many suggestions. New eyes will bring new perspectives. Then I can return to the work again and improve it. But it’s never going to be anything but written once if I never return to look at it again.

What are your dreams? What are mine? They are what we decide they are. I have thought I wanted to be an artist since I was a child. I had no one tell me otherwise. So why not? Just move forward. No one really cares what you do. Really. They don’t. You might say that someone would be threatened by you pursuing your dreams. And you need their approval why? Unless your entire life depends on that one person, you have no excuse.

The truth of the matter is that no one owns us or can tell us what to do or hurt us or get in our way. We only think they can.