I had fibromyalgia for many years, and came to agree with the doctors who told me it was a sleep disorder. Now that I am free of its constant pain, I cherish a good night’s sleep. The only other person I’ve known who was so enamored of sleep was a Greek man who remembered having to get up pre-dawn in the Army. Ruined him. A lot of my writing is done in my sleep – I wake up in the morning with the resolution of a challenge, a few choice words, a title to something, an idea for a new project, whatever. I also used sleep when I was studying foreign languages – I read over the vocabulary lists before I went to sleep and remembered them better in the morning. When your mind is asleep, it is still prioritizing, analyzing, and digesting ideas and intentions. Insomnia doesn’t happen often, and one reasons that is so is because I have become familiar with a practice called YOGA NIDRA. There are places online where you can be guided through various Yoga Nidra sessions. I use yogaglo.com. The number one pick on Google is https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-nidra-sleep and I nearly conked out while evaluating it for you. Here are two yoga practices which put me to sleep without fail.
- While lying on your back, breathe in on a count of three, hold for three, breathe out for three. Breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four. Continue until you reach fifteen. You’ll feel a touch of oxygen deprivation when you get into the higher numbers (which might be the secret of this exercise). If you aren’t asleep by then, count backwards to three.
- Begin by tracing, in your mind, the outline of your pinky toe, then your fourth toe, until you have finished the toes. Trace the tendons running from the toes to the heels (try to identify them in your mind), go around your ankle and up the shin, then down the back of the shin, circle your knee (I am sure to make an “x” I front of the knee where the ACLs are), up the front and back of your thigh, around your hip, into your hip joint, out around the back of your sacrum. Then do the same with your other leg. From your hip, move upward to outline your liver, gall bladder, spleen, large intestine, small intestine (I’m getting sleepy just writing all of this), the full length and width of your lungs, your pancreas, you heart and all its chambers, your thyroid gland, thymus, down your throat, around the back of your neck, your shoulder joints, then outline your fingers, wrist, forearm, upper arm on both sides. If you’re not asleep yet, trace the line of the jaw right into the joint, then trace your teeth, outline your tongue, relax your lips, outline your sinuses, honor the pituitary gland, which sits right behind your nose, your eyes, being sure to relax all the little muscles surrounding the eyes, make your eyes into two lakes, the eyebrows, outline the ears, making sure to hit every little nook and cranny. Let your remaining thoughts ascend through the top of your head into the air.
It is said that there are two basic plots: a person goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town. This is a man, or rather two men, on a journey through the cold in starving St. Petersburg during the siege of that city by the Germans in 1941, when slabs of human flesh were available in the market, after all the rats were gone. Given the desperate situations encountered in the book, the premise is whimsical: the Russian general’s comely daughter is going to be married the following week, and the general wants a wedding cake, but there are no eggs. Two men, the author’s grandfather and another man named Kolya, take on the assignment of finding two dozen eggs in exchange for their lives after they commit minor crimes. The charm of the book lies in the voice of the narrator. The author has taken his grandfather’s story as told to him, and turned it into a story. The depravity and suffering he encounters, and the air and snow so cold that toes and lives can be easily lost, could be considered fantastical nightmares not bearing close examination, but given the matter-of-fact, teenage mind telling the story, they all fall into place. I found myself thinking yes, this could have happened. If anything, Grandpa may have avoided telling of even worse deprivations and cruelty. City of Thieves resembles two other books I have recently read: Suite Française, which tells the story of the panicky exodus from Paris when the Germans threaten the city, after which the French realize it had not been necessary to leave after all; and Matterhorn, the story of a group of god-forsaken American Marines in Vietnam who take a hill only to leave it to the enemy after it is captured. The two boy-men in City of Thieves go through similar hell to capture two dozen eggs. It is, you see, the oh-so-familiar plaint about the exploitation of the helpless, of the lengths to which human beings will go in order to survive, and the surprisingly optimistic revelation that a person can remain almost dead for a very long time. It makes my worries about a mole I hadn’t noticed before or a missed meal seem self-indulgent. The cover blurb, written by Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help, is “The perfect novel.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a well written story with engaging characters, a well drawn historical setting, and little superfluous flimflam. In these days of impending Armageddon, it is worthy of contemplation to wonder if I could be as resourceful and brave as the Russians in this book. Have I become so spoiled by warmth (and air conditioning) and ease that I would soon be dead under such circumstances? How many risks would I be willing to take to find an egg for my family? How could I weather the grief? But seriously, it’s a good read.
I’ve traveled alone to dozens of countries for almost six decades. In most matters, I am undaunted, but I have always hated to dine out alone. I’d rather order room service or pick up a sandwich than take a solo table. This aversion is neurotic, but has a gauzy relation to reality. In 1965, I was driven by hunger to sit down at a café table in Lisbon, though there were only men in the café, and in all the other cafes I had passed. The waiters flocked to me as if I were their baby sister, offering me a free glass of green Portuguese wine, and making recommendations from the menu. I didn’t think that they were disparaging my ability to figure out what I wanted to eat. I thought they were protecting me from advances they might expect from the other, all-male, diners. I felt like a rare bird. In 2004, I was doing research on the endangered status of the Macedonian language in Greece. When evening came, I ventured into the hotel dining room, and the waiter sat me at a table in the bow window, separating me slightly from the rest of the tables. I had been warned that people had gone to jail for asking too many questions about the Macedonian language. Academics in Athens advised me to pay attention to cars that were following mine. It is rare that a foreigner knows semi-fluent Greek, and the hotel clerk became cautious when he learned that though I spoke Greek, my heritage was not Greek. Why was I there? Did the other diners think I was an agent provocateur. Was one of them a plainclothes policeman? That was an unusual situation, but even under ordinary conditions, I feel people are looking at me when I eat alone. In Paris, I often found myself an unwelcome optic, seated near the toilets. Was it my imagination that detected a flash of “Oh no, what are we going to do with her?” when I showed up? I can’t say whether a single man would feel similarly. When Dean Martin died, I read that he ate alone every night at the same restaurant in his declining years – a fact important enough to be included in his obituary. My husband always brings a book when he dines out alone, but I get sauce on the book and it’s awkward to hold it open with one hand while eating with the other. I believe that the root of my neurosis was the embarrassment that I felt in dancing school in the 1950s. I was taller than most of the boys and skinny as a stick, and was often left a wallflower, sitting grimly in my chair because nobody chose me as his partner. Three men have married me, and I wrote a whole book about the men I dated when I became single at 60, so you’d think I would have expiated the embarrassment of dancing school, but the feeling of abandonment must be lodged somewhere near my spleen, difficult to get at and even more difficult to remove. My embarrassment began to turn one evening in New York City a few years ago when my husband and I visited the new restaurant in Lincoln Center. It was full, so we sat at the bar, near an attractive middle-aged woman. I found myself committing the very mistake that I feared others would make if I sat alone at a restaurant bar – I wondered if she was cruising for a date. My husband and I struck up a conversation with her, and I told her that I hated eating in restaurants alone. “Hah! I’d starve to death if I did that. I have a line of tableware, and I go on sales trips all over the country. I’ve eaten out alone more times than I could count.” How ridiculous I was! How old-fashioned! How pre-feminist! Why would I imagine that a successful businesswoman should closet herself in her hotel room out of embarrassment that she was alone? “If I hadn’t come out alone, I would never have met you, “she smiled. “I’ve met the most interesting people of all at restaurant bars.” She had done the field work on this experiment, yet I still demurred. On my most recent visit to my son in Burlingame, California, I was alone at dinnertime. I wanted a fine dinner, maybe not the cuisine my son would prefer. I marched up to the hostess at Il Fornaio and requested a table, “On the patio, if possible.” She scrambled to clear a patio table, and I caught myself wondering if she was thinking she should go the extra mile to accommodate this abandoned older woman. But I smacked my brain down. “Ann, you can’t think that people in Paris are putting you in an obscure corner because you’re a woman alone, and at the same time object that people are going to extra lengths because you’re a woman alone. You’re being hypocritical and illogical!” I was an insult to feminism. I enjoyed the heck out of it. Without chatter, I could savor my food. There is a yoga practice of silent meals, during which you are invited to pay attention to what you are eating – note the colors, the array of tastes, think where the food has come from and to whom you are indebted for it, from the person who planted the seed, to the truck driver who delivered it to market. I carefully crunched down on the sprig of decorative parsley, savoring its bitterness. I tried to identify the herb flavoring the sauce on my gnocchi– I think it was basil, maybe a hint of oregano, too. I took the time to remember the first time I had ever eaten gnocchi, at the table of the Sala family in Merate, Italy in 1961. There was no shadow meal going on across the table, just my own plate, with my own gnocchi. I ordered a glass of wine, and enjoyed pacing the meal without regard to another person’s preferences. Women’s liberation comes from the inside, and some of the outdated thought patterns of my childhood have been slow to dissolve. This aversion to eating alone was one of the last to go. I wonder which ones are left.
The data is in, the tears are being shed, and “nothing works,” “we can’t do anything about it,” “it’s the price of freedom,” are not solutions to our lamentable situation. Here are a few thoughts on how we can turn the great ship of our culture around. Some of them can be done by individuals, others would have to be done by governments or the media, with our support. There are surely many more -- these are what I thought of this morning. What else is there?
- Stop having “active shooter drills.” Call them “fire and safety drills.”
- Collect research on the most effective ways to protect oneself both at home and outside. Compare Senator Thune’s “become small” advice with some good advice.
- Do a comparison of domestic experiences with guns. Comparing us with other countries is helpful, but makes many people defensive. Is the death-by-gun rate in highly regulated U.S. states/cities lower than in lightly regulated states?
- Find out about gun regulation legislation presently under consideration. They nearly passed a law allowing more silencers, and I’ll bet there are a lot more laws in the wings. Your representative or senator may be able to provide this, and even if they cannot, they will notice that you asked.
- Share stories of victims who were not killed, only wounded. Occasionally there is a story in the news about them but not nearly enough. As a rule of thumb, there are many more wounded than dead.
- Share individual stories of people affected by gun violence; family members, observers, law enforcement officers, soldiers, and so on.
- Keep a running ledger of all the people killed by guns in the U.S. In the same week as Las Vegas, five people were killed in Lawrence, Kansas. We didn’t hear about them.
- Expand the ledger on the money received by politicians from the gun lobby. I have only seen figures so far about the NRA contributions, how about the gun manufacturers or other pro-gun groups?
- Find out what John McCain, who has gotten over seven million dollars from the gun lobby, does with the money. Does it benefit him personally? Does he share the money with Republicans running for office? Pay office staff? Take private planes? Leave it in the bank? Where does it go?
- Research the history of our gun obsession. Where did it come from? Why is it somehow related to religion and geography? Why the urban/rural divide? How did colonial and proto-Americans use their guns, and how many had them?
- Detail the differences between a blunderbuss and modern weapons.
- Place gun legislation in the context of other legislation where politicians have been bought (pharmaceutical industry, energy companies, big tobacco, etc.)
- Focus on white people. Pro-gun people can’t let go of “Chicago,” which is a code word for out-of-control black people. This is a white person problem -- we made the laws, enforce the laws, and can change the laws. I don't know this for a fact, but I'll bet as many white people, proportionally, are killed as black people, yet the news does not reflect this.
- Focus on tourism. I have been turned off traveling, for example, to Texas, by photographs of people walking openly down the street with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders or holsters on their hips. Make it visual. As you travel, post signs or photographs which shock you. “Leave your guns outside” at a Dunkin’ Donuts (I don’t know if any such things exists, I’m just imagining) would shock the hell out of me.
- For an academic take on gun control, read this, and find other essays and tracts. It was written just before the Heller decision which made gun ownership the right of an individual, not only a “militia.” http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/debaron/essays/guns.pdf.
- The Dickey Amendment is a provision first inserted as a rider into the 1996 federal government omnibus spending bill which mandated that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” (Wikipedia) The effect of this amendment was the prohibition of any studies of gun deaths as a public health problem. Pressure your representatives to act for repeal of the Dickey Amendment. The last time it was renewed, with only Republican votes, I understand, was just after the Newtown shootings.
- Learn your local and state gun laws and regulations.
- Support organizations which advocate for gun control. In New Jersey, there is Ceasefire New Jersey. I have not done extensive research on this, but you can begin here: https://blog.greatnonprofits.org/9-organizations-making-progress-towards-gun-control/. Michael Bloomberg is one of the well known people funding and supporting gun control groups.
- Take Gabby Giffords’s pledge: “I promise you that if we cannot make our communities safer from gun violence while protecting gun rights with the Congress we have now, I will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s.” The organization founded by her and her husband after she was permanently affected by a gunshot meant to kill her, is Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC.
- There are a thousand other ways to turn things around, but my final suggestion is that you settle in with a deeper personal philosophy which undergirds not only your views about gun control but your views about everything. I follow the Rev. William Barber, a minister informed by his Christian background but ecumenical in practice and outlook, an inspiring speaker, and a spreader of peace. http://www.breachrepairers.org/ Whatever your view of powers greater than you, there are others within your group who are fighting gun violence. Find them.