Saturday, December 31, 2011

What Would You Do?

Ever since Oprah got her OWN network I have been over indulging in life changing TV.  I am admittedly not Oprah's biggest fan and was very happy when her show finally ended (at least 5 years too late if you ask me).
But I have to admit that a lot of the content that is on OWN is as life changing and as thought provoking as the old Oprah show and, thankfully, very light on the presence of Oprah (big plus).

There is this show called What Would You Do? which is apparently a re-airing of a show from ABC that I never saw.  Hidden camera shows make me cringe.  I hate to see the awkward situations and feel for the people who are put in them.  Candid Camera, Punked and other shows like that have never been my thing.  But this show is different.  It uses actors to create morally questionable situations and then films how real people react to these situations.  This show is not only a great social experiment but it makes you question how you would react in the same situations.  

As good as this show is, several episodes get backed up on my DVR before I have the courage to sit down and watch one.  This is because the show make me cry every time.  I cry with happiness for the innocent people who do the right thing and for all the people who don't.  I cry because I know these scenarios are based on things that have happened in real life.  This show makes me ashamed of the apathy of society and the prevalence of prejudice.  

One episode that sticks out in my mind was of kids vandalizing cars at a public park.  The park was in a middle class neighborhood in New Jersey and the experiment was done on a very busy Saturday morning.  When the vandals were white kids some people called the cops or confronted the kids but a lot of people just walked past.  But when the vandals were black kids the response was almost immediate and much more aggressive.  When questioned, the people said that they would have reacted the same way if the kids were white but that clearly wasn't what the experiment showed.  

It seemed like in this very white middle class neighborhood, the people assumed that the white kids were some kids from the neighborhood who were just fooling around.  But those black kids, no they clearly couldn't live there, they weren't from the neighborhood.  They were a threat.  Because if media has taught us anything its that young black men are thugs and young white men are just goofing off.  Maybe that's a stretch but I can tell you that people often make assumptions about me solely based on my race.  The people who make these assumptions don't seem to have ever had any meaningful conversations with a black person.  Media must play a role in how they form their opinions because it's not coming from life experience. 

The worst part of this episode was how many people called the police to report a group of black people sleeping in their car in the park.  This was not an experiment set up by the show but a real situation that occurred during the planned scenario.  People were calling to say that they thought they were casing the park and potentially going to rob it.  This was a story that the white people created in their heads because they had been taught to fear black people. Because these people who didn't look like them didn't belong in their neighborhood.  These were a few people taking a nap in their car.  I can't express how harmless this situation was.  I wish they would have re-created the situation with a white family.  I bet no one would have called.  
The crazy thing was that these calls came in while the white kids were vandalizing cars.  So these people took the time to call the police to report black people minding their own business and ignored the white people breaking the law.  It makes me sad.  

I wish this were required viewing for everyone.  It should be a required class from elementary school through college, like English, because it is just as important.  Knowing how to properly punctuate a sentence is a pretty worthless skill unless you're going to become an English teacher.  Learning how to accept people from different backgrounds and live in harmony with people that are different than you is essential.  I don't think society will ever be perfect but it would be a hell of a lot better if people talked about these things and didn't pretend like the don't exist.  In every episode I learn something else about myself.  I hope that I am one of the good people that would do the right thing.  But I don't know how I would react if confronted with a situation like this.  That is the beauty of the show.  It's easy to say what you would do when you are sitting on your couch.  But in real life, how many of us would be cowards?  How many of our hidden prejudices would reveal themselves?  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Water for Elephants or Why Zoos Suck

A couple of months ago I read Water for Elephants because I was so tired of hearing about it.  People in my book club raved about it (I joined after they read it). Then Hollywood made it into a movie starring that annoying Twilight kid and the hype increased significantly.  If the movie was half as good as people claimed the book was then I was probably going to see it.  I picked the book up from the library, hoping to be blown away and excited about seeing a great movie adaptation of the book.  I was not. 

The book is about animal abuse in the circus.  It is not a book that I enjoyed reading.  The author tries to make up for the abuse with a feeble love story but it is not enough to distract the reader.  The images of animal abuse in the book far outweigh the lovey-dovey ones.  This book makes you realize that this behavior, and much worse, is commonplace at zoos all over the world.  Even though the book is fiction the abuse that takes place at these places is very real.   The author indicated that the book was a compilation of several stories that she collected while interviewing actual circus people.  At the end of the book, Rosie the abused elephant, kills her abuser. The murder of the abuser is supposed to make the reader forget about all the abuse and focus on the triumph of the elephant.  Then the two lovers ride off into the sunset with their elephant (seriously, they do because that's realistic) to live happily ever after.   

This afternoon I watched a documentary called One Lucky Elephant.  This documentary tells the story of a man who bought an elephant named Zora for his circus.  This man and Zora went on to perform together for 16 years until the elephant stopped "enjoying it".  The focus of the documentary is finding a place for Zora to live out the rest of her days.  It is difficult for the zookeeper to place Zora because she hasn't socialized with other elephants since she was baby and has formed an unnatural attachment to the zookeeper.  The zookeeper admits that he should have had more than one elephant because they are social animals and they do not do well alone.  Oh yeah and he did use negative and abusive training methods on her but that was how everyone did it and how else were you going to get her to do what you wanted?  Maybe he had spoiled her too much and she had never learned any sense of boundaries.  Maybe there were incidents where she showed herself to be aggressive and potentially dangerous for humans to be around but he had excuses for all of this.  

We're were supposed to feel sorry for this poor guy because he needed to find a new home for his elephant and not focus on the fact that he had created this awful situation in the first place.  At first you think his urgency is due to how much he loves the elephant and how he can't stand to see her unhappy but then it's clear that's not the case.  He plans to bring in new, younger elephants at the beginning of the next season and needs to unload Zora so he can focus on them.  

In the end, after many failed attempts at other locations, the elephant found a good home at an elephant sanctuary.  The sanctuary noticed that Zora slipped into bad behavior every time the zookeeper visited.  An animal expert diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress syndrome.  The expert guessed that it started when Zora was a baby and witnessed her mother being killed when she was captured and continued throughout her life as she was shipped from one facility to another; bonding with a new owner only to be abused by them and then shipped to another location.  Whenever the zookeeper visited he brought up all these old feelings in Zora and she slipped back into old habits.  Once they recognized this pattern, the sanctuary did not allow the zookeeper to visit any more.  

The zookeeper never stopped thinking about himself.  Even as he watched videos of Zora coming out of her shell and learning to be an elephant and heard everything the experts were saying, he missed Zora and he wanted to see her again.  He had developed a number of medical problems and hoped that this would make the sanctuary feel sorry for him and let him see Zora one more time before he died.  At the end of the documentary it had been 9 years since the zookeeper had seen Zora.  Unlike the zookeeper, the sanctuary did what was best for Zora and never let him see her again.  The zookeeper continues to do shows with elephants despite his experience with Zora and his declining health.  

The postscript at the end of the movie listed a handful of countries that no longer allow elephants at their zoos and in some cases, no wild animals at all.  The United States is not one of those countries and probably never will be.  We seem to thrive on turning nature into our entertainment.  So many reality shows and circuses where people try to manipulate nature (Grizzly Man, Sea World, etc.) are popular here and they almost always have a horrific end.  But no matter how many people get injured or killed by the animals that they have raised we continue to make excuses.  We often blame the animal for being too wild and then have it euthanized.  At no point do we consider that these sort of shows shouldn't exist at all.   In a perfect world the only places where people could visit wild animals would be at sanctuaries and safaris.   

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Insomnnia As Always

I have been an insomniac for as long as I remember.  When I was a little kid, I had lots of distractions in my room because my parents went to sleep long before I did and they didn't want me to leave my room.  Video games, TV, books, puzzles, toys, etc kept me busy into the wee hours of the morning.  When I was younger I used to wear it as a badge of honor: "Yeah, I only slept for 2 hours last night and I'm fine."  But as I've grown older it had become less of a cause for bragging rights and more of a medical concern. 

I have tried several over the counter sleep aids, natural supplements, teas and techniques with varying success.  Physical exams and home sleep studies have shown that there is nothing medically wrong with me and that my problem is likely psychological.  I am a stressed out person.  I do not think my life is any more stressful than the average person but  that doesn't prevent me from obsessing over things.  When I was younger my life was very stressful and unfortunately that is when I developed this problem.  

I think people are looking at me when they probably aren't.  I replay conversations in my head.  I have imaginary arguments with people.  Sometimes it feels like at the end of the day, when I have nothing left to do, all the stresses come rushing back and fill my brain with ridiculous thoughts.  Melatonin has been a lifesaver in helping me fall asleep but I generally wake up 2-3 hours later with heart palpitations.  Stress tests and a cardiologist have confirmed that I don't have a heart problem and, of course, this is likely a stress reaction as well.  

My husband thinks I need to see a psychotherapist to get to the root of my sleep problems once and for all.  I have avoided seeing a therapist for all my life.  My brother and mother saw shrinks regularly and both of them seemed more screwed up because of it.  I know that there is nothing wrong with getting therapy and I don't judge people negatively for doing it but somewhere in my mind it would make me weak.  That's ridiculous but that's how I feel.  

I know that stress and sleep can affect your metabolism and your ability to lose weight.  I know that I have damaged my body with all of these years of stress and that if I don't figure things out soon I will have no choice but to take Ambien or some other prescription drug that will not solve the problem but will treat the symptoms to the point that I can function.  With all the exercise that I do, I know that my body does not have ample time to recover.  I'm sure my lack of sleep is related to my slow recovery from relatively mild injuries.    

So I've decided on a compromise.  I'm going to try a self-hypnosis sleep CD along with the melatonin.  Hopefully it will work but if it doesn't, I will make an appointment with a psychotherapist.  It would be great to be able to relax and let go of things.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Getting My Martial Arts Mojo Back

In 1995, at the end of my freshman year in college, I started studying karate.  From the moment I started taking karate I was borderline obsessed.  I was doing karate most days of the week for several hours at a time.  All of my friends and social life revolved around karate.  After a karate workout I felt like I was on top of the world.  No matter what stresses were going on in my life I always felt better after karate.  I've was lucky to find a karate school in my style in every place I lived for 10 years.  During this time there were brief periods when I didn't study karate but once I got settled in that was usually the first thing that I looked for. 

That all changed when I moved to Syracuse in 2005.  Not only are there no karate schools in my style here but most of the schools in this area are contract schools.  Contract schools guarantee you a black belt in a certain amount of time as long as you pay a certain amount of money.  These schools generally have multiple locations with a large focus on children and lots of TV commercials.  I have no desire to attend a contract school.  I have been lucky that all the schools that I have attended were traditional schools.  Not everyone progressed at the same rate.  No one was given a rank just for showing up.  You worked hard and earned your rank.

I tried three different martial arts schools during my first 4 years here.  The first was a contract school that didn't train very hard.  The second was a group of martial artists from different backgrounds who weren't following any set regiment and whose lack of organization and discipline drove me crazy. The last school was the most promising because it was in my style.  Unfortunately it was a 90 minute drive from my house and they focused on sparring much more than on karate.  It had been 4 years since I practiced with a formal group in my style by the time I tried the last school.  I was so out of practice that I felt like I had to relearn everything that I once taught other people.  If I was going to have to relearn things I might as well start fresh with a new style.

Then zumba came into my life and I wasn't so focused on karate.  I love teaching zumba and think I will branch out into teaching other fitness classes now that I have my group exercise certification.  But as much as I love zumba it has not filled the void left by martial arts.  I still miss martial arts and the high it gives me.  Sometimes I feel like a fraud when people that have known me for a long time want to talk about karate.  Because I'm the black belt, the karate chick, the asskicker.  At least that's who they know me as.  But I haven't been that girl in a long time.

So I walked into this place in the mall a couple weeks ago that I had passed a million times and written off as a contract school.  But after checking out their website and talking to the instructors it was clear that it wasn't a contract school at all.  I was hooked after the first workout.  I feel like I'm walking taller and feeling more like my authentic self after just a couple of weeks.  The way that I interact with people.  The way I look at things is different as a martial artist.  I don't know if I will be able to achieve the same level of success that I did with my other style but that's not the standard that I'm holding myself to.  Just having martial arts in my life makes me feel like my authentic self.  Like a better me and I like that.