Sunday, January 30, 2022

Chasing wealth right off a cliff.

Brace yourselves: Here comes that other Curmudgeon's Corner post I was mulling over a few weeks ago. I think the intervening days have mellowed me out a little, but we'll see.

Alert hearth/myth readers will recall that back in No-no-November, I was debating how much longer to carry on with this whole indie author thing. What I didn't share in that post was the grudge I was nursing against certain people in the business -- people for whom the whole point of publishing is to make money. Preferably a lot of money. Oh, some of them talk a good game about how we're all in this together so we should help each other succeed ("a rising tide lifts all boats") and so on. And they preach how you're in charge of deciding what success means to you. But it's pretty clear that they won't consider you successful until you're making enough money to join them at their exclusive get-togethers in exotic locations.

There I was, with a master's degree in fiction writing, ten years in the business, and some sales under my belt. Before that, I'd worked for TV and radio networks. I'd won awards for my writing. But I wasn't successful enough to join their exclusive club. And it rankled.

I sat with that feeling for a while. And eventually it dawned on me why it bugged me: It reminded me of Amway. 

lightsource | Deposit Photos
True story: When I was in my 20s, I was working for a radio station in Huntington, WV, and making almost no money. For a while, I dated a guy who worked for a radio station a couple of hours up the river in Parkersburg. This guy got into Amway, and because I dreamed of a future with him, I joined up, too. I went with him and his sponsors to a couple of rallies -- one of them was in Pittsburgh and I think another might have been in upstate New York. I bought inspirational tapes of other rallies. I read inspirational books, among them Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. I was inspired, man. I had a bunch of new best friends. I was gonna marry this guy, and we'd make tons of money in Amway and dump our radio jobs and life would be suh-weeeet.

But I couldn't sell anyone else on joining me. 

At one of the rallies, the speaker suggested that once you run out of family and friends to offer this great opportunity to, you should go to car shows and boat shows and RV shows, and approach people there who look like they're dreaming about how much they want one of those shiny new things, and persuade them to listen to your pitch about Amway. Because, the reasoning went, these people already had the desire for more money -- all you had to do is show them a way to get it.

I couldn't see myself approaching strangers like that, ever. Plus there was only so much toothpaste and laundry soap one person could use. And Amway's pantyhose was shitty -- it was expensive, and the toes would rip on the first wearing. (Our upline suggested that I file my toenails. Nice, huh? Never mind that I never had that problem with L'eggs.)

Anyway, eventually my "stinkin' thinkin'" won out. The relationship was on the skids anyway, so I told him I had to quit the business. Once I did, I never heard from my "best friends" in Parkersburg again. (Except for the wedding invitation he sent me later. I didn't go.)

To be clear: I am not suggesting that the folks selling the bestselling indie author lifestyle are running a pyramid scheme. But they are selling the same dream as Amway: wealth, independence, "being your own boss." Success. But only success on their terms, and they are very narrow terms based only on how much money you're making and not at all on how well you write.

My Amway sponsor's sponsor's sponsor told us he knew he'd made it when he could afford a Cadillac. I couldn't understand why anyone would want one. 

No matter what anyone says about rising tides, all boats will never be lifted equally -- not in multilevel marketing and not in the indie author business. These guys are selling the myth of the American dream. What really rankles is that I fell for it again.


These moments of insightful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, January 23, 2022

And we're walking.

So I thought I'd post this week about a couple of...oh, let's call them health-related things. 

First: I bought a treadmill. It feels a little like admitting defeat to say that. I mean, the weather here in Santa Fe is about a million times better than it is in DC -- why not just go outside for a walk? Yeah, well, I've been here for about a year and a half now, and going outside for a walk is just not happening on any sort of regular basis. It's partly due to the pandemic; when I lived downtown, going outside was a little scary, what with unmasked tourists of unknown vaccination status wandering around every time I stepped outside my building. But another part of it that I need to have a purpose for a walk. Walk to the library or the post office? Sure. Walk to a museum, or around inside a museum? I'm so there. Take a walk around the block for exercise? I've got better things to do. 

Then, too, as I mentioned last week, the annual legislative session has begun. So for the next month, more or less, I'll be working seven days a week with no breaks during the day. Essentially, I sit at my work computer for nearly every daylight hour.

So if I had any hope of getting exercise at all, I knew I needed to get a treadmill. Here's what I got.

Lynne Cantwell 2022
It's a Urevo 2 in 1 under desk treadmill. I don't intend to use it as an under-desk machine, as I don't have a sit-stand desk, but it will definitely work that way. The handle folds flat around the back end of the machine.

This machine has very few bells and whistles. It has no programmed routines and no incline adjustment -- not even a manual one. There's a power switch under the right front edge, and a tiny remote that starts and stops the belt, as well as raising or lowering the speed in .2-mph increments. With the handle in the upright position, there's an additional set of controls: incremental increase and decrease buttons; a pause button; two buttons to bring the speed immediately up to 3 mph and 6 mph, respectively; and a big orange emergency stop button. There's also a tiny ledge for your phone.

For me, the ledge is an excellent feature. I'm not big on watching videos or listening to music or podcasts while I walk, but I do like to read, and my Kindle Paperwhite fits fairly securely on that ledge. (The backrest would fit the Kindle better if it were a little taller, to be honest; I may jury-rig something eventually.)

I hear you, fitness fanatics: "If you can read while you exercise, you're not doing it right!" Yeah, well, pish-tosh. My legs are moving, aren't they? Is this better than sitting on my butt all day or not? That's what I thought. Go away.

Anyway, I've had it for about a week and it's working out great. I'm glad I got it.

The second thing I want to talk about tonight is Noom. You may recall -- although you probably won't -- that I signed up for an app called Noom Coach back in 2017 and told y'all that I'd report back on how it went. Then I never did. Want to know why? Because I didn't lose any weight on it -- or at least none to speak of.

I was reminded of my brief fling with Noom earlier today, when I read a BuzzFeed News story about the app. Like many other things that started out as weight loss programs, Noom now promotes itself as a "health and wellness tool." In the article, they interview the authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. (Intuitive eating was also mentioned in an article in Bon Appetit this month; that one is a fun read about how diet foods have evolved since the 1980s, and I highly recommend it. Although the BuzzFeed article is fun, too. Heck, read 'em both.)

One of Noom's marketing claims is that the program is based on science. It includes a lot of psychological tips and tricks for sticking to the plan, most of which I knew before I started using the app. But at bottom, Noom requires its customers to lose weight by severely restricting calorie intake, just like every other diet. And as Resch told BuzzFeed News: "They’re telling you it could be mind over matter, but it’s not possible. The survival part of the brain is going to do whatever it can to keep you alive... You can learn how to have power over [other habits] but not something that's so physiological and neurochemical. You cannot overcome that unless you're priming yourself for a very serious eating disorder."

One of the biggest dangers with this program -- or really, any weight loss program -- is the emphasis on the number on the scale: if it's not going down, you feel like a failure. Back when I did Weight Watchers (which now calls itself WW because it's about "wellness," doncha know), we were told about ways to track our progress when the scale wouldn't budge (waist circumference and so on). But the weekly weigh-in was a much bigger thing, and it was demoralizing when I hit a plateau. Noom requires a daily weigh-in, which is ridiculous for women -- our weight fluctuates with the time of the month.

Interestingly, Noom is changing tack -- it's marketing to men now. It turns out that men haven't heard all those little tips and tricks that are so ingrained in women's diet culture. But the risk of psychological damage is just as real for men as it is for women. 

Diets don't work, folks. Regardless of whether the purported aim is "health and wellness" or weight loss, you're being set up to fail. 


Oh, hey, here's another thing I learned this week: If you're a woman who has hit middle age and you're suddenly struggling with belly fat? Don't make yourself crazy over it. It's a physiological change that hits nearly all of us in the years leading up to menopause, and not only are researchers just now beginning to understand why, they've yet to figure out how to get rid of it. Swell, huh?


These moments of walking blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! And get some better masks!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

How to start living ethically.

I'm a little bit fried tonight. Pretty sure I've mentioned that I'm temping for the New Mexico Legislature as a legal proofreader again this year. The 2022 regular session starts Tuesday, so we've swung into session mode -- which is to say we're working seven days a week until it's all over on February 17th. It's fun and mostly interesting, but exhausting. I'm already tired, and the session hasn't even started yet.

So I was grateful when I checked the comments on last week's post on making the mundane sacred and discovered a great follow-up question: "But to start living ethically, does one need to articulate their morals clearly to themselves so they are aware of living intentionally?"

It sure looked like a blog post topic to me (thanks, Jo!), and I didn't have anything else teed up. (I did have a couple of ideas, but they're both Curmudgeon's Corner material and they could probably stand to ripen a little anyhow.) So here's my response:

If you believe it would be a good thing to live ethically and you would like to do so, then yes, you should spend some time working out your own moral code.

Teodoraturovic | Wikimedia Commons | CC 4.0
Notice I said your own moral code. Now, lots of people adopt the moral code they were taught as children. Maybe their parents taught it to them, or maybe they learned it in church, or maybe they soaked it up from TV or the kids around them or Western civilization in general. That's a moral code, certainly, and a lot of folks just stop there.

But many folks, as they mature, begin to question some of the tenets of this hand-me-down morality. I'm not talking about theosophical questions like the nature of deity or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin -- although people question those things, too. What I mean is things like whether abortion is wrong. Or whether gay marriage should continue to be legal. Or whether the poor deserve to be poor. Or how rich is too rich. That sort of thing.

It often comes to a point where folks with these questions decide their beliefs about these things differ profoundly from beliefs held by those around them. But then they experience cognitive dissonance: Should they stick with the religion they were brought up in because all of their friends and family still follow it? Or do they turn away? And if they do leave the church, how do they orient their personal moral compass? Where is their true north?

For some folks in this situation, joining a different church is enough. But some bail from monotheism entirely.

I'm of the opinion that you don't need to be religious to live a moral life. It's a truism, I think, that many atheists and agnostics live more ethically than a lot of religious people. The difference is that the folks who have broken away from the religious mindset have spent time thinking about where their moral true north is -- and with any luck, they're then able to orient their lives around it.

Pagans have a slightly different dilemma. We don't have the rich theosophical history that Christianity and Judaism do. And while pagan philosophers definitely existed, their full belief system might not be a great fit for modern humans. Sure, the Greeks were deep thinkers -- but they also thought slavery was okay. And Roman women -- even the ones who weren't slaves or prostitutes -- weren't allowed to vote or hold political office.

But modern-day Pagans can do the same kind of deep thinking about ethics and morality as anyone else, and we can develop our own moral code. Our gods may not have inspired a holy book, but they have their virtues, and we can choose to live up to them.

It was Socrates (according to Plato) who said an unexamined life is not worth living. If you want to live ethically, but on your own terms, that's a great place to start.


These moments of deep, bloggy thinking have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Making the mundane sacred.

I usually agree with John Beckett, the Druid priest who blogs over at Patheos Pagan. But I had a problem with today's post from the get-go.

His post is in response to a question he received on a post-class survey: "How can we learn to see mundane activities through a sacred lens?" His TL;DR response: we can't. Because as soon as we consider the mundane sacred, the sacred necessarily becomes mundane.

That's going to be news to the members of certain Native American tribes, not to mention monks of various religious orders. 

It's easy, I think, for most of us to see how Catholic monks would consider day-to-day activities as sacred. They've pledged their lives in service of their Lord, so anything they do that helps the community thrive becomes a sacred duty -- even peeling potatoes and scrubbing floors. While Buddhist monks don't pledge their lives to a deity, they do separate themselves from the world in order to achieve enlightenment. Buddhists employ various types of meditation to reach this state, and enlightenment can strike any time -- even, say, when doing the dishes. 

Quasarphotos | Deposit Photos
As for Native Americans, the first thing I thought of was the Navajo Beauty Way. For the Navajo, as I understand it, beauty isn't just superficial; it's a way of life. It's living in balance with the land, with other people (including non-human people), and with their spirits. If a Navajo has somehow fallen away from the Beauty Way, whether by their own actions or through no fault of their own, rituals may be done to set them on the right path again.

I am broadly generalizing here. But the common denominator, as I see it, is in the attitude you employ as you go about your day. You don't have to be a monk or a Navajo to attain this, either: If you have settled on what you consider to be your moral imperatives, and you build your life around them, then everything you do that gets you to the goal of living your truth could be considered sacred. In other words, it's not the stuff around you that's sacred, although depending on how you believe it all got here, it could be; the important thing is how you interact with it.

Let's say you're a lawyer. What they teach you in law school is that everybody -- and I mean everybody -- is entitled to representation before the law. If that's your moral imperative, then you theoretically would have no qualms about representing a defendant who has admitted to killing multiple people in the most gruesome manner possible. Sure, your client is a horrible human being, but they deserve -- they must have -- a lawyer who will advocate for them before a judge and jury, and even plead for mercy.

That's one sort of moral imperative. But what if you're a lawyer whose moral imperative is that killing is wrong? Or what if you've been okay with representing killers for a while now, but something has changed? Maybe your latest client shot up a school, and you have kids who are the same age as the victims. (Full disclosure: I soured on being a news reporter when I had to cover a story about a scumbag who killed his three-year-old stepson because he wouldn't eat Thanksgiving dinner. He buried the boy's body in a truck toolbox in the Great Dismal Swamp. My daughters were toddlers at the time.) Now you have a moral dilemma. How do you resolve it? Do you move into another field? Or do you keep doing your job, even as you feel yourself falling farther and farther away from what the Navajo call the Beauty Way?

In The Pipe Woman Chronicles, Naomi Witherspoon resolves a similar dilemma by becoming a mediator. And then she meets a Lakota goddess and a hot Ute shapeshifter, but I digress. 

And I guess I've digressed pretty far from the point of this post, which is this: I believe that if you're working toward living an ethical life -- in other words, living up to your own standards of morality -- then every step you take toward that goal can be considered sacred. Even doing the dishes.


These moments of moral blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Do the right thing: Mask up, maintain your social distance, and above all, get vaxxed!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A year of low carbing.

Never fear -- I am not going to turn this into a diet blog, or a dieting blog, or a lifestyle change blog, or any permutation thereof. I don't pretend to be an expert on anything except myself. And I'm not trying to become an influencer, nor am I looking for sponsors.

I also didn't mean to start this post with a disclaimer, but there you have it.

I just wanted to let y'all know about a thing I've been doing for almost a year now. It's a low-carb diet, kinda sorta, and I kinda sorta came up with it myself -- which is to say it's not keto or Atkins or carb counting or any of those. 

If it's anything, it's based on an out-of-print book called The 30-Day Diabetes Cure. The link is to Amazon but don't buy it from them (how often do you hear me say that?) because they're charging a ridiculous amount for it; try Better World Books instead.

Some background: I've had type 2 diabetes for about ten years now. For a long time I was in denial -- mainly because the first thing any doctor will say to you, when you turn up in their office as diabetic or pre-diabetic, is to lose weight. But I'd been dieting since I was eleven years old and had lost hundreds of pounds, only to see them all come back -- and bring friends. At last, I concluded that diets don't work, and that in fact they only serve to line the pockets of the diet and fitness industry. But doctors don't want to hear that. If you tell a doctor that you're not going to go on a diet, they label you as uncooperative -- or worse.

I tried to cooperate -- a little. I went to see a dietitian, who tried to sell me meal-replacement shakes "to jump-start your weight loss." That's a diet, honey, so nope. Later, I saw another dietitian, who tried to get me to track what I was eating and how much and all that stuff. "Does that feel like a diet?" she asked me. Hell, yes, it does, and it's exactly what I swore I'd never do again. She eventually passed me off to another dietitian, who seemed enthusiastic when I mentioned low-carbing (I'd read online that it could work for diabetics - here's a recent study), but of course she wanted me to track my carbs and -- all together now -- THAT'S A DIET.

What I needed was for somebody to tell me which types of foods to stay away from. But nobody wants to do that, and I have a feeling it's because they're in cahoots with the food manufacturers and Big Pharma -- industries that would rather sell you highly processed foods, fake sweeteners, and expensive drugs so new that there are no generics for them. But that's a whole 'nother blog post or three

Anyway, this book: A clerk in a vitamin-supplement store here in Santa Fe recommended it to me. "Diabetes is all about what you eat," she said. And I thought, if this book will tell me what to eat to bring my blood sugar down, I'm in. So I ordered a copy and read it. Then, a year ago this week, I started doing it.

For the first ten days, you get no sugar, no alcohol, and no carbs. Most veggies are okay, but no fruits. That's supposed to bring your blood sugar down to normal. Mine was pretty high at the time, even with the super-expensive drugs I was on, so I didn't get to normal in ten days -- but my readings did drop a significant amount. So I kept doing it.

It's been a year, as I said. I've been off the super-expensive drugs for months. My blood sugar is still not quite normal, but it's close. I've lost about 25 pounds and have kept it off, which is huge for me; if I were concentrating on losing weight, I would have given up in frustration months ago.

Here's a funny thing: I'm not interested in sweets or high-carb foods. I suspect it's because I'm not eating them, so there's no craving to trigger. In fact, I can taste hidden sugars in restaurant foods now -- and I don't like them.

That doesn't mean I'm eating bland meals. Here's my dinner tonight: ham and provolone with brown mustard on almond-flour rolls, broccoli slaw, and a dill pickle spear. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
The key is to include lots of veggies and make most of your food from scratch. But I'm not a kitchen slave; the broccoli slaw dressing has five ingredients and whipped up in about two minutes, and the slaw itself came in a bag from Trader Joe's.

I'm not saying this will work for everybody. But it makes sense that if eating carbs raises your blood sugar, not eating them will lower it. And I've never had a doctor, or a diabetes educator, or a dietitian flat-out tell me that. I had to find out on my own. 

So now I've told you.


These moments of non-dieting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! Wear a mask!