Too Much to Dream

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(The Dream, Salvador Dali)

The other night, my husband was shouting in his sleep. He sounded like a character in an action thriller. When I woke him up to calm him, he said that he’d had a nightmare, one of the few he’s ever had in his life. Throughout our marriage, my husband has insisted that he doesn’t dream, and I have insisted that everyone dreams, but he may not remember his.

Dreams are freaky glimpses into the unconscious. Over the years I’ve had scary dreams, recurring dreams, and the occasional erotic dream. In many of my dreams I have to climb or traverse a great height. Sometimes I am in an unbelievably high roller coaster that terrifies me. I also often dream about being lost or losing something I need.

It’s interesting to try to interpret what my dreams mean. For example, the online “Dream Bible” explains my fear of heights in dreams as a fear of success. In truth, though, I am just afraid of heights, so dreaming of them is probably just a reflection of that anxiety. Indeed, psychologist Patrick McNamara, PhD., states that there is no validity to most dream interpretation. In Psychology Today, McNamara claims that so-called dream interpretation is usually very subjective. He does, however, believe that one day psychology will be able to crack the codes of our dreams and find the meaning therein. (“The Folly of Dream Interpretation,” July 29, 2013)

Why we dream is also something of a mystery. There are theories that dreams are a way of restoring the mind to balance, an indication of stress or anxiety, a way of spurring creativity, or even markers for some neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia.

The other thing that fascinates me about dreams is how normal they seem while I’m in them but incoherent when I remember them upon waking. As an example, last night I had the following dream: I was in a big city and stopped at a Walgreen’s to buy underwear for my daughter. While I was there, a man offered to sell me silver dollars, which I have actually been planning to get from the bank for an Easter egg hunt. There was no underwear in my kid’s size, so I left to find another Walgreen’s. Somehow I was transported to Minnesota, where my sisters live, and I thought I was there for my niece’s wedding, but it turned out she was actually already married and pregnant. She got angry when I said we were going to “par-tay” because she couldn’t drink. Next thing I knew I was on the sidewalk, and my husband was walking toward me with a mouth full of teeth that had fallen out. I was alarmed and then even more so as I noticed that I too was losing a few teeth. (The Dream Bible would say this indicates anxiety about getting old. No kidding!) We decided to head to the hospital, but my husband wouldn’t listen to me about which direction to take. We drove past an old nightclub called Limelight and found ourselves in a pitch dark neighborhood. Then we came upon some glamorous and glitzy part of the city I had never seen. I awoke before we ever reached our destination, which is a recurring aspect of my dreams.

Dreams remain a fascinating mystery to me. But I am convinced that they are an indispensable safety valve for the brain. When I was in college, I would pull all-nighters to cram for a test or write a paper. On those occasions, as I would finally allow my body to rest, I would start to have waking dreams, sort of hallucinations as my overtaxed brain slipped into sleep.

As for my husband, he remains convinced that he doesn’t usually dream, and that belief will probably remain until the next time I awaken him for shouting in his sleep, “I’m gonna blow your f#*!ing head off!”

 

Sadly, GOP Will Always Be With Us

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The Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare has been very revealing. As members of the House of Representatives discuss the American Health Care Act, or as one Chicago Tribune reader cleverly named it, “TryanCare,” the true colors of the Republican Party are being shown to the public.

Rep. John Shimkus, for instance, wanted to know why men should have to pay for prenatal and childbirth coverage. Aside from the fact that such a question shows a total ignorance of how insurance policies work, Shimkus’s comments reveal  his selfishness. “What’s in it for me?” should be the new GOP national slogan.

Republicans are simply tone deaf when it comes to ordinary Americans. Rep. Jason Chaffetz suggested that people might be able to afford health care if they simply refrained from buying such luxuries as an iPhone. If only a year’s worth of health care insurance cost $600, Jason! But what disgusts me is the likes of this privileged politician whose health care is paid for by taxpayers showing condescension toward Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.

Rep. Roger Marshall was even worse, misrepresenting Jesus by quoting from the Bible, “The poor will always be with us.” Say what? I’m pretty sure Jesus did not mean that we should ignore the poor since we’ll always have them to kick around. Marshall continued to dig his own grave by saying that poor people don’t take care of themselves and don’t really use health care services except in emergencies. That’s because until Obamacare, they had few decent options for obtaining regular health care services, you heartless buffoon.

There is a persistent theme among Republicans that people are poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work. Such attitudes go back, at least in my memory, to the Reagan era, when the black welfare queen was the image of poverty favored by the GOP.

The irony of all this is that Paul Ryan, architect of the new health care law and would be destroyer of Medicare and Medicaid, would not be where he is today if the Social Security system had not helped him and his family after the untimely death of his father. If we examined all the ways “corporate welfare” and other preferences made the fortunes of so many Congressmen and women, they would be hard pressed to defend their ruthless attacks against struggling Americans.

I’ve read that no one in the GOP wants his or her name on the new health care bill. I’m not surprised. I have a suggestion. Let’s call it the Ebenezer Scrooge Health Care Law and give Republicans a big fat “Bah, humbug!”

 

Facebook Fast

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As the penitential season of Lent begins, I as usual will give up my beloved sweets of all kinds: coffeecake, cookies, chocolate etc. But I have also decided to follow the lead of some of my friends and abstain from spending time on Facebook.

Facebook has been a blessing and a curse in my life. It has been great to reconnect with old friends, see photos of their families, and even get into some pretty serious conversations. I have learned so much more about many people I know than I ever would have in casual conversation at the supermarket or on the soccer sidelines.

But Facebook has had some drawbacks, and I feel the need to take a break from it. One of the most obvious drawbacks is how much time it can suck out of your day. There are many days when I spend little time on it, but others when I check it compulsively several times a day, adding up to hours spent on the social media platform.

There is apparently some evidence that spending time on Facebook can lead to depression. This does not surprise me. The reason given for this phenomenon is that it can be depressing to compare your life to all the wonderful things your friends are doing, what they are wearing, how cute their children are and the like. None of this particularly bothers me. I am not that competitive with others when it comes to social standing, looks, or just how much fun someone else seems to be having.

What I find depressing on Facebook is mostly the political divide that has become all too evident since the presidential election campaign began in earnest back in 2015. It is discouraging to see so much animosity on both sides and to realize that no matter how many meaty articles one posts or how well-considered one’s argument is, our friends on the other side of that divide are unlikely to come around to our way of thinking. Even the sheer exposure of current events that I see in my news feed every day, with or without commentary, can really get me down.

So I will be spending 40 days in the internet desert. I will still be posting on my blog, which automatically loads to Facebook. But I myself will not be scrolling along to see what’s up in cyber world. It is my hope that this Facebook fast will give me renewed energy, more time, and the chance to focus on my spiritual life, which is the purpose of Lent.

A New Spin on Curing Cancer

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170211_115416When I signed up to participate in Cycle for Survival, a “spin marathon” to support cancer research, I didn’t have a solid answer to the question on the website: “Who are you riding for?” To be sure, I have known many friends and family members who have been touched by cancer. I have friends and family who are cancer survivors, as well as loved ones who died of this terrible disease. Certainly, I would be riding for them. However, I didn’t know that I would find a much more urgent reason to put the pedal to the metal.

My daughter has been leading a team for Cycle for the past three years in New York City. Her involvement was the result of a very dear friend’s loss of her mother to cancer. I am so proud of my daughter and the support she gave her friend throughout the horrific ordeal of her mother’s cancer and death. That support led my daughter to action that may save the life of someone else’s mother:  involvement with Cycle for Survival.

Cycle for Survival is a nationwide fundraiser for Memorial Sloan Kettering  Cancer Center in New York City. Through the support of Equinox gyms across the country, riders have raised millions of dollars that have gone directly into research and treatment of rare cancers at MSK. Rare cancers are difficult because there is often no protocol for treatment and usually no organization to advocate for each particular type of cancer. Naturally, I’ve supported my daughter’s efforts emotionally and financially over the years. This year, however, my daughter assembled a team here in my hometown of Chicago, where she is currently attending business school. So she invited me to get off my duff and sign up to ride one of the dozens of stationary bikes at Equinox downtown.

There was a lot of energy and heart-pounding music when I arrived at the gym with my younger daughter and a friend. I remarked to my friend, “This place is like a bar without the alcohol!” My older daughter greeted us and helped us get set up on the bikes. Before our cycle session started, though, a young man stood up to speak. He told the story of his sister, a cancer survivor, and how she had gone on to marry and have a baby. Now, however, her infant son is in a battle of his own against cancer and is currently undergoing treatment at MSK. Through my tears, I started to pedal, knowing I had a new focus and an imminent reason to ride.

This disease is so hideously indiscriminate and unfair. What united all of us at Equinox gym yesterday, and what spurs the efforts of so many people across this country in events like Cycle, is that we have all been touched by cancer. It’s up to all of us together to help doctors and researchers wipe out this terrible scourge.

If you are interested in learning more about Cycle for Survival or contributing to this cause, please visit my page at: http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/maryrayis. One hundred percent of all donations goes directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

A world without cancer: That is truly something worth spinning for!

 

Comedians in Cars Being Offensive

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Comedy, like beauty, is in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. One fan’s hilarious is another’s offensive. But there are some topics that just don’t lend themselves to laughter, and abortion is one of them.

NARAL Pro Choice America recently released a video on YouTube that attempts to use humor to make a point about abortion rights. Unfortunately, “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions” completely misses the mark. The short video is a spoof of Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The NARAL spot features a male and female comedian driving around the Los Angeles area trying to get an abortion.

The ostensible point of the 6 minute video is that state laws have made it unduly burdensome for women to receive an abortion. But no matter  which side you come down on in the abortion debate, you are bound to be offended by the callous, leaden jokes about fetuses, religious beliefs, and women’s self-centered reasons for seeking an abortion.

You know it’s bad when I find myself agreeing with conservative political writer Heather Wilhelm, who wrote a scathing and spot-on opinion piece that appeared in today’s Chicago Tribune under the headline “The abortion lobby’s horrifying new ‘comedy’ act.” I share her bemusement about the comedic nature of comments about not wanting to bring any more bratty toddlers into the world and avoiding certain abortion clinics because demand will be high due to the Coachella Festival last month.

Far from furthering the pro-choice cause, “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions” paints women who seek abortions as selfish, superficial, and unfeeling monsters who care not a whit for human life at any stage. I’m also puzzled that the YouTube video features a Prius commercial to match the sporty red Prius used by the comedians. If ever there were a piece of entertainment that advertisers should avoid like the plague, it’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions.”

The subject of abortion is an incredibly important and divisive one. It’s worthy of serious and thoughtful discussion, not flippant parody. NARAL, you need a new public relations team.

Boxing: Not the Greatest

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Stories about the recent death of boxing heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali have focused on his athleticism, his larger than life persona, and his social activism. But not much attention has been paid to the severely diminished life he led due to his time in the ring. Ali suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for over 30 years, and experts believe that repeated hits to the head likely caused the disease.

Over the decades, there have been some movements to ban the sport of boxing. No one can deny that boxing is a brutal sport, but many people cite other contact sports such as football as being equally, if not more, likely to cause harm to the athletes involved. As the mother of a football player, I must admit that recent studies on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) make me worry about my son’s involvement in the sport.

However, there is a major difference between the sports. Football requires blocking and tackling as part of the strategy to move the ball (or prevent its movement) down the field. Indeed, in many sports, there is the potential for serious injury due to bodies and heads colliding. But in boxing, the whole point of the sport is to knock one’s opponent out. If two men did to each other at the local bar what boxers do in the ring, there would be assault charges.

I realize that there are rules of engagement in boxing and that there is an art to the sport. I know that great boxers require hard work and discipline to be good at their sport. But at the end of the day, what they are doing is beating the crap out of each other.

The other thing I object to about boxing is that the boxing world is not regulated in the way other professional sports are. The vast majority of boxers come from impoverished circumstances and are ripe for exploitation. For every Cinderella Man, there are many more boxers who make little to no money for the brutal beatings they take on a regular basis.

The popularity of boxing reminds us that human beings can be bloodthirsty. Watch a crowd at a match, and you will see an ugly part of human nature that I don’t feel we should be encouraging. In her essay for The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates describes boxing as “the most spectacularly and pointedly cruel sport.” I would have to say I wholeheartedly agree.

Legalizing Pot’s Not So Hot

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In recent years there has been a sea change in the way Americans view the use of marijuana. As more and more medical uses for the cannabis plant are developed and the stigma of pot use decreases, proponents have called for legalizing it. Several states, in fact, have recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, and even more have laws allowing medicinal uses of pot.

I have mixed feelings about the growing acceptance of this mind-altering substance.  I support the ability of patients to use marijuana to ease pain or for other legitimate medical uses, and I believe the sale and possession of the drug should be decriminalized. Far too many people are rotting away in prison for minor drug offenses, creating a financial drain on the state and unfairly burdening individuals with lifelong criminal records.

But I do think we should move with caution on out-and-out legalization of weed. For one thing, today’s marijuana is much more potent than the stuff my contemporaries were smoking on the quad at college in the 1970s. This makes it far more incapacitating than partakers might expect. It’s also hard to determine at what level in the bloodstream pot causes sufficient impairment to make such functions as driving unsafe. Because THC can stay in the bloodstream for long periods of time, testing its levels on drivers is unreliable. It’s true that there are far more drunk driving fatalities than ones involving pot. But this may be due in part to the fact that alcohol is legal and widely available while marijuana is not.

Also due to its illegal status, there is not enough knowledge of how the hundreds of other compounds in marijuana affect our health. I have been told by a clinical psychologist that regular use of pot can decrease motivation. Obviously, there’s a reason for the stoner stereotype.  Along with decreased motivation, pot use can cause anxiety and paranoia in some users.  This should concern parents of teenagers in particular. Once marijuana becomes legal, it will become easier for underage users to obtain, much in the same way that teens find easy access to alcohol.

The common argument for legalizing marijuana is that it is nowhere near as dangerous or detrimental as alcohol. I am not sure we can make such a case without more study and experience with widespread use of the drug. For example, the state of Colorado has seen an increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits since the drug became legal.  Besides, the fact that alcohol use is fraught with dangers and health issues is no reason to add another potentially harmful substance to our list of legal drugs.

I would like to see marijuana considered a controlled substance available only with a prescription from a physician. To me that is the best way to balance general safety with the needs of patients for whom pot is beneficial.

When it comes to legalizing pot, our motto should be: Proceed with caution.