Blanket statements

So, my TV watching this evening provoked some thoughts; I know, I know, it’s just TV, but still.

1. Glee and the diabetes analogy — great episode overall. I loved the “Unpretty” song, and it’s not the only bit that made me a little teary. I think most of you would guess that I believe homosexual practice to be forbidden in the Bible, but I also firmly believe that gay people are people and should be treated with the same kindness and respect as any other people. I’m really glad this show is dealing with the issue.

However — and keep in mind this is just one thing out of a whole episode — I dislike the diabetes analogy for mental illness and treatment.

The diabetes analogy goes like this: If you had diabetes, you would take insulin. You wouldn’t expect to just snap out of diabetes, or just accept it. You should consider your mental illness the same way — take your medicine. It’s helpful in a limited way — helps with shame, with guilt, with the sense of “I should be able to beat this on my own.” But this analogy does not serve mental illness completely well, and I’m not sure it serves diabetes and other non-mental illnesses all that well, either.

It makes it seem black and white — clear, clean, and tidy; antiseptic, impersonal — thoroughly understood — without nuance, without a variety of diverse factors and contributors, or at least without them being considered significant.

It removes, or at least reduces, any possibility of being the victim (broadly speaking) of any people, and it removes or reduces any possibility of being personally responsible for the illness.

In reality, maybe your past experiences — what you received from others, what you chose for yourself, and the many experiences in which you were both receiver and agent — have a lot more to do both with your diabetes and with your depression.

In the episode, it’s clear that Emma has some past experiences that contribute to her OCD; perhaps in future episodes her therapist will deal with some of that, in addition to the SSRIs she prescribed immediately. Not that I am anti-psychiatry altogether; I take an SSRI myself and believe it helps. Someday I’d like to not need it anymore; and that is not a black and white question. What it is is a question of deciding what shade of gray I want to live with.

I remember attending a seminar about depression, at some Christian weekend conference thing, and being disappointed that it was all about clinical / medical depression, the kind you need medicine and a diagnosis for. I felt vaguely, at the time, that this approach dismissed, made invisible, my kind of depression, which until PPD hit was more about baggage than about neurochemistry. I feel more strongly about that now. I want people to talk more, and more acceptingly and helpfully, about this component of depression and other mental illnesses; perhaps there are some people for whom chemistry is really the only factor, but I suspect not. Even for those who do have chemical imbalances — myself perhaps included, since the SSRI helps me — I suspect baggage has a significant role to play.

I think we should look at medical illness the same way; to look not just at surface symptoms and treatment, but at all the many factors that could be in play, and all the many actions that could be taken. Robertson Davies’ The Cunning Man addresses this idea, among other things.

2. Raising Hope and sleep training

When we were brand-new parents, we, too, thought there were only two approaches to making babies sleep: Cry-it-out, or various attachment methods such as rocking to sleep and bed-sharing. And indeed, these were the only two options mentioned in the show. And, unfortunately (in my opinion), the family went with the cry-it-out option, claiming the attachment option had made their son a wuss. (As if infants are just like adults, and as if the way you deal with an infant will lock you into dealing with them that way forever.)

When I read — in Penelope Leach, I believe — about a middle way, I thought, this should have been obvious! But no one — just about NO ONE — ever talks about it!

The middle way is this: Your baby is somewhere around three months old. (If she is younger, go ahead and rock her to sleep and then put her down. She’s unlikely to wake again soon, and you’re not going to “spoil” her.) She is sleepy, but still a little awake. You’ve had your bedtime routine — story, diaper change, song, cuddle, feeding, whatever. Put her in her crib or moses basket, pat her for a minute, say good night, and leave. If she cries, return in a couple of minutes — do not pick her up, do not start a conversation — just pat her again, reassure her that you’re there, listening and responding, and that it’s bedtime, and leave again. Repeat until she no longer cries when you leave.

You’ll likely have a few really long repetitive nights. But just a few.

With the way my PPD went, and the kind of baggage I’ve got, and other factors, bed-sharing would not work for me. And rocking to sleep stopped working at about this age — she’d wake a half hour later and need to be rocked again. But with this middle way, I felt that I was still showing compassion and respect — indeed reassuring her that we were there and caring.

It reminds me of the concept of scaffolding — the idea that one role of a parent or teacher is to help a child do just a little more than they could do on their own. You’re not doing for or to — you’re doing with, providing just a little more help.

I wish people would talk about this more often. Cry-it-out is NOT the only other option if you can’t or don’t want to bed-share or rock to sleep forever.



Today, I was talking with a friend about kids and their perceptions of and attitudes toward violence and anger.

Tonight, Amy and I watched Cinderella — her first movie, and years after I’d seen it last.

She loved it, generally, but was upset by the way the mice kept attacking the cat and vice versa, and the way the king kept jumping around and flailing his sword and throwing things. (She also wanted Cinderella and the prince to stay in the palace and not go walking / dancing outside.)

My friend was talking about how her child has mentioned how other kids talk — talking about punching or wanting to punch people, or choking stuffed animals, slapping them in the mouth and eyes, and that sort of thing. How it makes her think twice about saying even something as innocent as “We’ll just bonk him on the nose” about the scary ghost imagined downstairs.

We agreed that we want our kids to know they’re worth standing up for — to know they are allowed to defend themselves. But that it’s not okay for them to start a fight, and that it’s best to try to resolve conflicts without physical violence. That it’s not okay to throw or break toys, or hit people, but that it’s fine to punch a pillow or bang a blanket.

In real life, of course, cats catch and eat mice. But they don’t talk or wear clothes or try to trick one another or use forks, dishes, or other “weapons.” It’s nice to see a hero outwit and defeat an enemy… but why is the cat an enemy, and not just a natural predator? This cat is named “Lucifer” and is clearly portrayed as a villain.

How would you talk to your child if they were upset about the mice and the cat in this movie?

(Fortunately, she didn’t notice the “leave the sewing to the women” line in the one song.)

And the king — well, I guess it reinforces, negatively, what I’ve tried to teach Amy about how to handle frustration and anger and impulsiveness in general.

I know, it’s just a kids’ movie, and they had to add stuff to make it movie-length and all… but these are the things my kid noticed and was upset about. Good thing we chose Cinderella and not one of the movies that has any “real” fighting in it.

Some thoughts on Thursday morning

1. As I mentioned on a friend’s blog, I am learning to distinguish between depression, anxiety, and so on at a base level, and at a meta level. In other words, I am learning that often what becomes really paralyzing, debilitating, devastating, is not the base level emotions and moods, but how I feel and think ABOUT those emotions and moods. It’s the despair ABOUT the depression, the fear OF the fear: I’ll never get away from this, I’m going to ruin everyone’s life, God isn’t going to deliver me in any sense that I can actually feel as deliverance, etc.

2. Yesterday I was just starting to feel better after the stomach bug hit us all really hard Monday afternoon. I was scheduled to play some background music with my friend Beth at her church, so I needed to tune. My energy was rather low, so I tried to tune as quickly as I could, but was vacillating between “excellence” and “good enough.” After I finished and shoved the dulcimer in the case, I was thoroughly grumpy, half wanting to get it out and try again, striving for more excellence this time, and half knowing that a second attempt would likely not result in better tuning and would certainly result in a more tired and grumpy and anxious me.

Beth says, generally, “Just try to get a B.” Joe urged adopting a “good enough” standard. Anne Lamott suggests treating one’s self like a beloved relative — giving the same grace, the same leeway, the same benefit of the doubt. Almost everyone says “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I keep trying to figure out how to integrate this repudiation of perfectionism with the doctrine of sin, which all three of the people I mentioned would fully affirm.

For one thing, when God reveals sin to us, it is not with condemnation, if we’re in Christ, but with compassion, and with reconciliation in view. That’s beloved relative treatment.

For another, excellence is not in the Ten Commandments, or even the two greatest commandments. Except excellence in loving. Faithfulness in small things is perhaps not the same thing as perfectionism. Perfectionism is about the task — excellence in loving is more about relationships, and takes into account one’s own and others’ limitations, boundaries, priorities, and so on.

(Of course, one could get perfectionistic about excellence in loving, too.)

(No dirty jokes, please.)

3. Speaking of dirty jokes, I started reading Leviticus the other day. I don’t know — I was just in the mood. Seriously? I don’t think I’ve ever just been “in the mood” for Leviticus before, but there it is.

I noticed that the two passages that forbid homosexual practice, which also forbid incest and bestiality, also forbid intercourse during menstruation.

If one of those four things is okay, are all four okay? If one of them is obviously wrong, are all four wrong?

Is the last one wrong because conception is impossible during menstruation (which the text does not say), or just because the menstrual blood was considered impure (as the text says)?

4. I got home in time to watch Lie to Me last night. I am enjoying this show. Two things stuck with me after this episode.

First, that disgust, not anger, is the language of hatred. Something to chew on in addition to my thoughts on God’s wrath, from yesterday.

And, the scene near the end where the reformed murderer gives grace to the widow of the man he killed. She is holding the gun she bought a month ago, saying she doesn’t care how much he’s changed, he took her husband and can’t take that away — he’s telling her if she has to shoot him, he understands, and validates and affirms over and over what she says, and tells her he is sorry. Was it unbelievable? Maybe. But still a powerful image.

Disturbing video

I was minding my own business running through the Tag Surfer when I came across a post of this video, which shows pictures and video of aborted fetuses.

I watched it without sound.

It is full of biased language — innocent children, murder, no one cares, all that sort of thing. I can fully understand why people would be really, really irritated at the way the underlying assumptions are so in your face, as if no one could imagine thinking of a fetus in any other way. I would greatly prefer the video to skip the words and go straight to the pictures (after the graphic content warning, of course). Facts, not propaganda.

And yet, looking at those tiny hands and arms and legs and faces, and severed ribcages and guts — even the littlest ones at seven or ten weeks gestation, but oh, so much more the twenty-four week fetus being wrapped up in butcher paper to be disposed of — it seriously knotted my stomach and made me want to vomit.

Honestly? I don’t know how anyone can see such pictures — or even just plain photos of fetuses in utero, still whole and developing — and think of a fetus as anything other than a distinct person.

I understand the rhetoric, the politics, the values, the beliefs of the pro-choice folks, and I disapprove of much of the pro-life movement’s methods, and yet — look at these fetuses. That’s NOT a mere blob of mama tissue.

Spinners Waltz

My friend Dan Landrum wrote this tune for his then 4-yr-old daughter, whose criteria for dresses was that they must float and twirl like a dancer’s when she’d spin. There’s a beautiful video at his site that shows ballerinas dancing to Dan’s playing.

I have been doing art and music in some form all my life. Then in high school art class, while flipping through the wide variety of magazines for ideas, I found myself so drawn to images of dancers. There is something so much more fully expressive about dance than even music or art — it’s more whole body (even though my whole body is involved when I play music, it’s not quite the same). There’s something about that controlled, intense, wild energy, such power, such ethereality…

I got to dance all four years of college for my P. E. credits. The classes I took were all modern, with a strong ballet influence. Of course I wasn’t terribly good at it, but I loved it so much. No other exercise has come close to what I felt when I danced. Dance isn’t exercise — it’s not movement for the sake of physical health, it’s movement for the whole person’s health, and for other people’s health, for beauty and truth. It’s more cathartic than anything else I’ve ever done, and made me feel about as beautiful as I’ve ever felt.

(I don’t feel beautiful very often.)

We even had live music for our class; I would love to play for a dance class, and even more if I could then take a class in exchange. I just think dulcimer would be too sustainy for a dance studio. We had a piano player. Before I knew Ashokan Farewell by name, I danced to it and loved it.

And spinny dresses? Oh yes. Long and flowy things… I wish I could wear them more often.

And now I have a daughter; will she be a spinner? Will she dance? Will she find some other thing that is the most full expression, the most cathartic, the most beautiful-feeling thing she can imagine?

So you think you can dance

This was an American Idol type show for dance — after auditions, a number of dancers were selected to compete for votes. Each week, each one would draw for a partner and style of dance, including various ballroom styles, lyrical and jazz, hip-hop, and more. The lowest-scoring ones would get to do a short solo to try to win enough votes to stay in.

I like dance.

In high school art class, I remember sorting through the various magazines for ideas, and being moved by many of the pictures in dance magazines. Something about the poses, the costumes, the energy, the expression.

I took modern dance in college and loved it. Kinesthetic art! Each element — whether stretching on the floor, practicing footwork at the barre, or moving across the space — was wonderful. Something about being centered, being absolutely grounded in one’s body, and using one’s whole self to express beauty and energy. The connection and response to the music, too. We were fortunate to have an accompanist in our class, and he was excellent. He always chose music that was well-suited to the movement, and he played it well.

I haven’t danced or gone to dance concerts since then — except for some contra dancing, which is great fun but quite different.

So I really enjoyed this show.

I didn’t expect to like the hip-hop and ballroom stuff, but I did. In fact, I liked them sometimes more than the lyrical numbers, which in this context seemed too slow and arbitrary.

The other thing I liked about this show was that it had a nicer atmosphere than Idol. The judges were usually able to give constructive criticism in encouraging and supportive ways, and no one went out of his way to be insulting.